Wellbeing in tech has come into sharp focus over the last 12 months, as the physical and mental health of the UK workforce has continued to rise up the corporate agenda within businesses large and small. This explains why Vapour’s own employee wellness initiative – in collaboration with Champion Health – attracted a lot of media attention when it was launched in 2020.
So, we’ve invited the company’s founder Harry Bliss to share his advice to other businesses keen to kickstart an employee health programme.
Harry, over to you…
A welcome – and in some respects unexpected – outcome of the awful time we’ve recently experienced as a business community, is the notable uplift in the number of organisations paying greater attention to their employees’ health.
An undeniably less welcome – and extremely harrowing – finding, is that suicidal thoughts across UK workforces have doubled since the start of the COVID-19 lockdown.
This is a statistic nobody wants to read. But to ignore it, and pretend it doesn’t exist, could be even more devastating.
Demand for our services has rocketed by a staggering 1000% in recent months, which hopefully suggests that business leaders are stopping and taking action when it comes to their colleagues’ physical and psychological wellbeing. But still so many businesses don’t know where to begin.
The better safeguarding of employees’ health is not likely to be a quick fix of course. However, breaking the process down into achievable and realistic steps will ensure that progress is made, as quickly as possible.
So, here are five key pieces of advice regarding what to do next:
1. Make employee health a true priority
Paying greater attention to employee health shouldn’t just be a priority because it is in ‘management vogue’. It represents employers’ fundamental duty of care to staff. A genuine commitment to evaluating and improving the physical and psychological wellness of colleagues, is therefore required at management level. Ideally it should cascade down throughout the whole workforce too, so that better health becomes a cultural cornerstone of the business.
2. Don’t rely on dummy data
It’s a bold statement to make but an important point to acknowledge, and that’s that absence data lies. Some of the unhealthiest workplaces in the UK have seemingly encouraging attendance figures, but employers must realise that someone can be at rock bottom and still show up for the job.
In fact, industry stats indicate that there are five times as many people at work while experiencing a mental health condition, than there are colleagues absent from the workplace when encountering the same problems.
In a business with 20 employees, for example, there will typically be seven colleagues feeling high levels of stress and four may have contemplated taking their life at some stage.
The situation can be likened to back pain in some respects – a large number of people continue to come to work despite chronic musculoskeletal problems, but the underlying issue still remains.
With so much focus – post-lockdown – on getting people back to work, it is therefore crucial to drill down into the data that paints a true picture as to the genuine health of employees. And technology can help when it comes to understanding colleague wellbeing.
3. Gather the metrics that matter
The first step to uncovering whether anything is wrong when it comes to the health of the workforce, is to gather the metrics that matter. Speak to the employees themselves, but give them a ‘safe space’ in which to talk.
An independent assessment tool, with utmost reassurances when it comes to colleague confidentiality, is one of the most effective ways to determine how people are truly feeling, and the involvement of a trusted, professional third party goes a long way to encouraging participation. The promise of immediate results and - importantly - proposed next steps, also reinforces the employers’ commitment to the process and the follow-on support that will be provided.
Knowing which questions to explore is also key. Topics including sleeping patterns, musculoskeletal complaints, hydration levels, nutritional habits, physical activity levels and mental wellbeing, are just some of the areas that should be covered.
4. Take action
Linked to the previous point, it is important that – once the data has been collected – there is a plan in place as to what to do next. Otherwise, the whole process could look like an ‘empty’ employer gesture, which is likely to do more harm than good.
If an individual’s personal report points to them being well, they can still be provided with tips and advice to maintain their health and resilience.
If the findings indicate potential ill health, in any respect, helpful ‘signposts’ may empower people to take positive next steps.
The data – once aggregated and anonymised - needs to be evaluated by the management team too, so that strategic actions can also be implemented across the organisation. Having read thousands of research papers on the topic, the scientific evidence surrounding the business case and moral case for improving and better protecting employee health, is unequivocal.
Professional, clinical support may be required to help companies decide what to do next. There are almost too many options, so it may be difficult to know where to turn. But a stronger grasp of the data will enable relevant decisions to be made.
We’ve delivered 400 virtual mental health training sessions over the past few months for example, to bolster knowledge and skill-sets within organisations large and small, across the length and breadth of the country. But what is right for one business may not suit the next, so don’t be tempted to adopt a ‘one size fits all’ mindset.
Key workers could be experiencing compassion fatigue for instance, people who work night shifts for their entire career are statistically more likely to have a shorter life expectancy, suicide rates are high within city banks and the construction sector, and teachers generally encounter the greatest levels of workplace stress. I could go on. But these are all sweeping statements of course – understanding a company’s own data, is crucial.
5. Maintaining momentum
As alluded to above, supporting the workforce with their physical and psychological health is unlikely to be a quick or easy process. But a bite-sized plan which fuels ongoing conversation and/or progress, will help momentum to be maintained.
Ongoing check-ins are important too, not only to evaluate progress but also because health is unlikely to remain constant over the passage of time. Factors in individuals’ personal lives will also come into play, and although an employer may not be able to directly address this, they will be able to help someone manage what they are going through.
I come back to my previous point. It makes business sense to protect colleagues’ wellbeing – irrespective of the root cause of any ill health – as the cost of mental illness is an estimated £1600 per employee. But from an ethical standpoint, the rationale for doing more, is not even quantifiable.
For more information about the work of Harry and the ever-growing Champion Health team, please visit: www.championhealth.co.uk