By Simon Thomas, Director – UK Employee Benefits, Generali
It is becoming increasingly likely that employers will come under greater pressure from Government to not only address employee wellbeing – particularly with regards to disability support - but evidence it.
With a soaring disability benefits bill the drive is on to get more disabled people into work. Starting with its £4.2 million Challenge Fund, albeit a drop in the ocean, the focus of the fund is on encouraging employer initiatives to keep those with mental health and musculoskeletal conditions in work. Undoubtedly the mandatory feedback from the successful applicants will shape future Government thinking.
Perhaps more pressing though is the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s new report. It recommends that by April 2020 the Government requires employers (with 250 or more employees) to monitor and report on the recruitment, retention and progression of disabled and ethnic minority staff. Support in the areas of mental health and musculoskeletal health could be significant.
This could prove testing for some companies that have yet to invest in workplace wellbeing, or indeed maximise the services to which they currently have access.
Promising initiatives unearthed
Whilst we can measure the outcomes of specific wellbeing initiatives, the sticking point is always evidencing the financial benefits. As Deloitte pointed out in its 2017 report, At a tipping point? Workplace mental health and wellbeing: “Measuring the return on investment for workplace mental wellbeing initiatives poses a barrier to incentivising companies to invest”.
Put simply, there is yet to be a definitive study published that shows for every £ invested in employee wellbeing £x is delivered towards cost savings and profit. There may never be one.
Even though RAND Europe’s latest research, focussing on the wellbeing landscape at work (commissioned by Public Health England), found there are many promising and measurable initiatives in the workplace wellbeing landscape - particularly with regards to mental health, sleep, menopause, musculoskeletal health - the ROI evidence question remains largely unanswered.
Therefore we need look at what we do have. Significant, persuasive qualitative and quantitative indicators have evolved over the past few years which continue to show that poor staff mental and physical wellbeing costs: physically, mentally and financially – all of which obviously also have a knock on effect on corporate reputation.
Indicators that poor wellbeing costs
Deloitte’s report suggests the annual cost of mental health to business alone could now be as much as £30 billion. It noted that a 2007 Centre for Mental Health study assessed that 10% of this bill was for replacing staff, 30% for sickness absence and 60% due to reduced productivity. Most importantly, it concluded that early intervention could enable employers to save 30% or more of these costs.
In 2016 the Office of National Statistics reported that 22% of absences are caused by musculoskeletal conditions (including back and neck pain and upper limb problems) and 11.5% of sickness absences were mental health related (including stress, depression and anxiety) resulting in 15.8 million days lost.
More recently, the Chartered Institute of Professional Development (CIPD) Health and Wellbeing report surveyed members who said that mental health conditions, (including anxiety and depression) rose by over a third from 41% in 2017 to 55% in 2018. Significantly, respondents also said that health and wellbeing initiatives have had positive results in the last year with 44% indicating better employee morale and engagement, 35% reporting a healthier, more inclusive culture and 31% recording lower sickness absence. Meanwhile, the quarter of respondents reporting ‘no achievements’ were those operating reactive rather than proactive wellbeing activity.
Partner with providers to get results
It would appear from just this synopsis of evidence that doing nothing is not an option if employers want to maximise productivity and, consequently, profitability.
It’s significant that the employee benefits sector is investing heavily in adding wellbeing services to group risk and health policies - from counselling (helplines and person to person) to virtual GP services and even mental health resilience training. They know that such investments help reduce claims with a corresponding effect on their bottom lines. If they are saving on claims it follows that their customers are too.
It is clear that there is much more research and work to be done. But there’s no time to hang about for this. Not if the government forges ahead with its mandatory reporting requirements, not only with regards to disability either. If the CIPD’s calls are heard, wellbeing reporting could be extended to entire employee populations. The push to maximise existing benefits and services and work openly with providers to assess outcomes is here now.