5 mins with Damian Ross…Wellbeing on a budget

Damian Ross, regional manager at Generali Employee Benefits Network discusses the importance of wellbeing on a global scale.

What did you address at the Wellbeing in the Workplace conference?

I discussed how to achieve wellbeing on a budget, with a particular focus on UK companies with subsidiaries abroad. Pretty much every HR manager knows they should be “doing” wellbeing but getting senior management buy-in is notoriously difficult. The problem is that everyone gets hung up on return on investment: firstly how to measure it, and then how best to interpret it.

What if that issue was removed from the equation? What if you didn’t need to factor in ROI calculations because you hadn’t invested much – if anything – in having all the wellbeing benefits you could possibly need at your fingertips? That could be music to HR managers’ (and FDs’) ears.

Why is it important for SMEs in particular to hear this?

There’s enough evidence out there to show now that wellbeing matters to employees and it matters to business. The economic outlook continues to be uncertain, we’ve got an ageing workforce and a talent deficit. These things affect every company: no matter what their size. HR leaders across a broad spectrum of industry sectors – and with employees in the UK and abroad - know that wellbeing is the key to a more engaged and productive workforce. Yet those from SMEs in particular can face a somewhat bigger challenge than their larger corporate counterparts thanks to tight budgets and lack of resource and expertise. This is further exacerbated where companies have subsidiaries – and hence employees – abroad as there is a need to ensure local compliance, competiveness and consistency of approach across countries.

Why do employers need to address wellbeing?

Prevention and early intervention are key to helping companies ensure that their employees are healthy and happy. This may sound simplistic but it’s no mean feat considering the extent of contributing factors to presenteeism and absence. By tailoring wellbeing products, services and initiatives to need, employers will find themselves well on the road to a happy and healthy workforce, the benefits of which are manifold and include an improved business ‘brand’ which helps greatly with recruitment and retention, plus a reduction in absence which helps reduce costs and improve productivity.

How can employers manage employee wellbeing?

The key is to find out what employees in a particular company need and value. Communications are key – in the shape of surveys and also face-to-face focus groups. Alongside this, absence tracking and early intervention helps ensure that HR is always on top of absence and potential trends, putting in place targeted ways to help employees get back on their feet before a small problem becomes a big one.

As for the benefits and services needed to meet all of these needs, they’re probably already available to you - although you might not be aware - via your group income protection (GIP) in the UK. Many employers will already have GIP in place to help cover the costs of mandatory and voluntary sick pay obligations. This is available for a very small percentage of payroll and comes with a vast range of wellbeing benefits and services at no extra cost. These are made available to all employees of a GIP policyholder (in other words the employer) whether they are insured under the policy or not, plus their dependants. They range from EAPs, Best Doctors and eldercare support services to personalised pathways in mental health, cancer, heart disease, chronic paid and fatigue. And some providers even offer a communications service, allowing for tailored employee communications. On top of that, some providers will also help clients fund any initiatives that fall out of the remit of all these services where a specific need is identified. These types of add-on services, available in many countries around the world, address the cultural and health needs of your local employees.

So why is it important to you to get this message across at Wellbeing in the Workplace?

It’s telling that today’s workplace wellbeing programmes cover less than 9% of the global workforce – primarily those who live in industrialised countries or work for large, multinational firms. Employers are perfectly placed – and indeed have a vested interest in – putting in place targeted programmes, according to need in the particular countries in which they operate and supporting national health and wellness focal points – for example, mental health issues in the UK, heart disease in Canada, cancer mortality in France and the obesity crisis in China.

In short, getting the message out there that wellbeing benefits can be made accessible to more employers is vital.