Five Common Myths About Improving Staff Health

improving Employee health and wellbeing can be easier than you think...

Improving staff health is a big deal not just for business performance, but for employee morale, motivation and engagement too. Here are five common myths about improving staff health through wellbeing programmes - and the real truth behind them.

Many employees across the UK are still feel the pressures of the recent recession, as well as the squeeze on finances that Brexit will undoubtedly cause.

Whilst marginal improvement was widely reported at the end of 2018 and continued into 2019, wages are falling in real terms and skills shortages can leave plenty of people feeling a bit overstretched.

This pressure can lead to employee burnout and increased levels of stress - which can, in turn, manifest in more serious illnesses such as diabetes, peptic ulcers and heart disease. There are also mental health issues associated with increased stress levels, including depression and anxiety - which will have an equally large impact on employee performance.

So, why aren’t more employers paying attention to the mental wellbeing and physical health of their staff and helping them improve it? It could be because there's no shortage of misinformation about how it can be done.

Let's take a look at five common myths around improving employee health and wellbeing, and bust them once and for all.

Myth: Staff health programmes aren't important and shouldn’t be a priority in the current economic climate

Truth: It's actually more important than ever that organisations make smart decisions and invest wisely in their employees, including investing in staff health programmes.

As mentioned, the ongoing uncertainty of Brexit is casting quite the shadow over UK businesses, and many could be at risk of losing EU workers who don't want to stick around - regardless of whether or not the rules change.

Encouraging employees to stick around is key, and keeping them performing at their peak during tough economic times is perhaps even more important. Investing in your employees’ health demonstrates that you care about the wellbeing of your employees and will help you improve staff retention and employee engagement, as well as lower staff absence.

Myth: Improving staff health is costly

Truth: The median absence cost is £522 per employee per year, and it's considerably higher in the public sector - as much as £835 according to the CIPD’s 2016 Annual Absence Management Survey.

And with the cost of replacing an employee who has resigned due to sickness or ill health being around one and a half times their annual salary, not putting in the work to improve staff health can be even more costly. In total, staff sickness costs the UK around £77 billion in lost productivity.

Employee wellbeing programmes don’t have to be costly, and many benefits providers will have affordable options that bring them in reach of even the smallest businesses. Most importantly, though, they can help you reduce costs in other areas. It's an investment in people that can really pay off.

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Myth: Employers are not responsible for the health of their staff

Truth: Employees who suffer from ill health can have a significant negative impact on the workplace. 

Productivity falls, and colleagues who are trying to cover their own roles as well as their absent co-worker’s work are more susceptible to stress and burnout. Long-term sickness can also negatively affect employee morale. That’s why it makes good business to invest in staff heath.

Employers also have a duty of care to their employees under UK employment law. This doesn't just mean health and safety - it also means that you should provide communication channels so employees can raise concerns, and discuss issues they're worried about. If people are letting you know they're struggling with their physical or mental health, you should be doing something about it.

Myth: Health and wellbeing programmes don’t produce lasting changes in people’s behaviour

Truth: Like all employee benefits, launching a programme with a fanfare and then not following up will result in falling participation rates. You've got to commit to it, and consistently remind people that services and support are there, encouraging your employees to make the most of them.

Even just small changes in employees’ behaviour can be extremely positive, such as eating more fruit or being more active. And it is possible to make both small and large behavioural changes last for a long time. You just need to nurture that behaviour.

Myth: staff won’t value it

Truth: This is probably the most damaging myth. There's a lot of research out there about how employees really do value health and wellbeing programmes, and how the best employee benefits programmes include health and wellbeing benefits as part of their mix. 

A study from Metlife found that nearly two-thirds (61%) of employees who were “very satisfied” working for their employer said they were so because of their company’s health benefits.

Of course, not every benefit will be right for everyone and choosing the right employee benefits package for your workforce is important - after all, some won't be interested in a gym membership, others won't need counselling. But the very fact that they're there if people need them really does reflect well on an employer - both to present and future staff. And for the people who do need it? Well, they definitely will value it.

Many organisations feel that health and wellbeing programmes are just nice to have - but only if there are sufficient funds to resource them. It’s time for employers to wake up, smell the coffee, and start taking employee wellbeing seriously. 

By doing so organisations, employees and customers will all benefit – it’s a win-win for everyone!

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