Social wellbeing is now the most widely provided support for employees, but mental health support is the most wanted, according to research carried out by Towergate Health & Protection among 500 HR decision makers.

The research showed the priorities of the support being offered in the workplace:

Support offered to employees:

  1. Social health 59%
  2. Mental health 56%
  3. Financial health 45%
  4. Physical health 44%

However, this order of priority does not tally with what employers believe is actually important to their employees:

Support employers say employees actually want, shows that support for mental health is actually seen as the most important:

  1. Mental health 36%
  2. Physical health 21%
  3. Financial health 21%
  4. Social health 12%

“The pandemic and working from home really pushed social wellbeing up the corporate agenda. This is positive, but health and wellbeing needs constantly evolve. Employers must consider what employees actually want in terms of support, and examine the particular demographics and specific risk profiles of their employees. For any health and wellbeing programme to be effective, it has to be relevant.”

“It is interesting that employers are not providing the support that they themselves believe their employees want. This could be down to requirements having recently changed, or finding some areas of support easier to implement than others. Financial health may well rise now in terms of demand among some employees, with the cost-of-living crisis, but in fact issues with physical, financial, and social health all have a knock-on effect on mental health. What is clear is that employers need to know for certain what support employees want and value, so that they can make their provision relevant to their unique workforce.”

Debra Clark, head of specialist consulting at Towergate Health & Protection


What is Social Wellbeing?

Social wellbeing is about being a part of something, that feeling that you belong. This can be through the company values and mission and ensuring these align with your people. It can also be viewed through their ESG or ESI approach or their view of D, E & I and how they give back to society. This could be around policies, but is as much about culture.

Companies could offer out volunteering time and encourage people to voluntary work. It also links with reward and recognition, so feeling that what you do is valued and makes a difference – to your colleagues, your clients, the environment etc. Branding and uniforms can also further support this sense of being part of a “tribe”.

A business can encourage this further and more broadly, by bringing more like minded people together through social ‘chat’ functions, clubs (running, yoga, walking, knitting, reading … etc) so that works becomes more than just your work team in terms of connection.

How to discover what support employees want?

Finding out what support employees want can be as simple as asking them. This may be in the form of an online or even a paper-based questionnaire.  It is a good idea to do this both when people join the company and at regular points throughout employment, as needs change. Likewise, not all employees will have the same needs.

This insight into specific needs within the workforce means that support can be tailored, and that will be key in engagement and utilisation. It can also be used to benchmark against other companies and industries to see how benefits compare. In turn this can be used to help recruitment and retention drives.

Linked outcomes

The four pillars of health and wellbeing work in conjunction. Concerns or lack of support for one element will impact the other vital mainstays. Employers need to consider what weighting they give to each aspect of health and wellbeing and, vitally, what aspects are most important to their employees. To make support relevant, exploring employees’ particular demographics and needs is a good place to start.

Development of health and wellbeing support

One positive from and since the pandemic has been development in areas of health and wellbeing provision available, particularly making it more accessible via virtual solutions. There are now many digital tools available to promote health and wellbeing and to improve access to support. For example, access to physical health and wellbeing support has become much more readily available through virtual GPs and fitness apps; financial guidance is available online; counselling can now take place remotely, as can support for social wellbeing.

Cost the biggest barrier to providing H&W support for 58% of employers

The greatest barriers to employers offering better health and wellbeing support to employees are:

  • High costs: 37%
  • Administration costs: 21%
  • Administration time: 19%
  • Too few employees to make it worthwhile or cost effective: 18%
  • Lack of interest from employees: 17%
  • Difficulty in making support equally accessible to all employees, e.g. home workers: 16%
  • Unsure how to provide better support:16%
  • Difficulty in effectively communicating support to all employees: 15%
  • Too many employees to provide everyone with better support:13%
  • There are no barriers:12%

More effective implementation

Employers’ concerns over costs are not just about the expenditure for the benefits themselves but of associated administration fees and cost-effectiveness relating to the number of employees. There are a huge number of ways to assist employees in their health and wellbeing, with options to suit all budgets. There are also ways to reduce administration costs and to ensure support is cost-effective for any number of employees. If associated costs are the issue, then employers should perhaps be looking at new ways to deliver health and wellbeing support, rather than not providing it at all. It’s also important they look at existing policies, and ensure full use is made of all support.

Requirements of support

The research found that flexibility and affordability were the most important factors for employers in choosing to implement an external health and wellbeing programme. However, to see the benefits to the employer as well as the employee, the elements of engagement and employee understanding need to be given greater weight. Health and wellbeing support should be a two-way process, providing feedback on the needs of employees and including risk profiling.

Most important factors to employers in choosing an external health and wellbeing programme:

  • Flexibility: 53%
  • Affordability: 49%
  • Comprehensiveness: 33%
  • Engaging: 32%
  • Digitally delivered: 30%
  • Offers increased understanding of workforce, including profile and needs: 28%

“Health and wellbeing support can, and should, be a reciprocal matter. While the main intention is of course to support employees, it should also be positive for the company, not just in supporting their employees well, but also in terms of greater understanding of their staff and increased engagement. The benefits of less absence, quicker returns to work and increased productivity all have a direct and positive impact on bottom line profit too.”

Debra Clark, head of specialist consulting at Towergate Health & Protection