Diversity, Equality & Inclusion

Employees’ health and wellbeing – how important is it for employers?

By Business & Finance
21 September 2018
employee wellbeing

In the Employee Experience series, sponsored by Irish Life, we look at the most important initiatives for better employee experience. Health and wellness programmes are becoming ever more popular but are they really helping?


How health and wellbeing initiatives improve employees’ lives and employers’ retention rates.

Employees like to know that they are cared for and valued by their employer; showing you are concerned about their health and placing great importance on their wellbeing is a very strong way to get this message across. 

Health and wellbeing initiatives in the workplace should be more than just paying lip service to the latest trends; they can have deep and lasting effects on your employees’ health, alertness, stress reduction, mental acuity, productivity, teamwork and engagement. If the company that plays together stays together, then ultimately employee retention will also be stronger. 

Time and time again, scientific studies have proven that the cost of not having a workplace wellness programme in place is actually greater than the cost of implementing one. If you factor in high rates of employee turnover, the working days lost to absenteeism (and indeed to presenteeism) and in a more general sense employee morale and energy levels, not giving workplace wellness the attention it deserves can be very costly to the business.

Health and wellness initiatives can make a difference even before an employee joins the organisation – in a competitive recruitment environment, candidates are influenced by more than just a salary, and look for a benefits package and attractive perks. It’s important, if you have a workplace wellness programme in place, to leverage this and use it as part of your shop window to attract prospective employees – on-site gyms or contributions towards sports club memberships are increasingly valued, along with health insurance.  

A tailored approach

Advertising wellness initiatives internally is an area where some companies fall down. It needs to be driven not just by HR, but embraced across the company and adequately publicised. For instance if there is a lunchtime yoga class, get the message out on intranet, noticeboards and social media, and make sure that the company culture backs up the message—that line managers don’t make workers feel guilty for taking that lunch hour away from their desks. 

It’s also important to consider training for management to nurture a culture of transparency and supportiveness when it comes to wellness issues. Training will also help management learn how to notice and deal with signs of stress and related mental health issues which workplace stress can both cause and exacerbate in the case of pre-existing conditions.  

According to a white paper produced by specialist recruitment firm Robert Walters, when asked which initiatives they would value most in a workplace wellness program, employees ranked the following most highly: flexible work options (76% of respondents), ergonomic/flexible work stations (32%), wide-ranging/generous leave policies (31%), on-site gym or fitness facilities (31%) and a healthy eating program (29%).

What works for each company is different and asking your own employees what interests them is important to make sure your initiative speaks to their needs and interests–there’s no point putting on a pilates class if they’d rather be playing tag rugby. A session before work might suit some early birds, while parents taking advantage of flexible working hours to do the school run might be better served by lunch hour activities. 

Less stress

Wellness programmes also make for a better working atmosphere. Employees who engage in some form of physical activity will be fitter and less stressed. Team sports help people from across different functions in the organisation to meet and can encourage camaraderie and potentially cross-collaboration in the workplace. 

With stress being one of the major factors in many illnesses, particularly chronic inflammatory conditions, and unfortunately, work often being one of the major causes of stress, it’s important that employers seek to redress that and look after the wellness of their people. Teaching employees how to manage stress, encouraging them to move more and to incorporate exercise into their lives, and offering healthy eating options in staff canteens are all valuable methods of improving the health and wellbeing of the workforce. 

At the end of the day, employees are more motivated and productive when they feel their employer cares about their quality of life enough to instigate initiatives that address their physical, emotional, financial and social health. Providing these types of benefits not only motivates and engages employees, but it’s also a key part of a successful retention strategy.

The Employee Experience Award sponsored by Irish Life will be held in October and nominations are open now. Categories include: Diversity, War for Talent, Agile Working and the overall Employee Experience Award. If you wish to nominate your company please fill in a very short questionnaire here.