‘HOW-TO’ Guide: Create an agile health and wellbeing strategy for 2022

A long open road forward saying 'start 2022'. The sky is partly cloudy and there is green grass on either side of the long road.

An agile wellbeing strategy can help you respond to employees changing health and wellbeing needs, whatever the year ahead holds in store.

The past 18 months have created a huge shift in the importance employees place on being helped to stay healthy. Our latest Health at Work Report shows that 86% of employees now believe their employer is responsible for their health and wellbeing, with almost two-thirds (62%) saying the support provided makes them less likely to move elsewhere.

Yet no one can predict what the year ahead holds. New challenges, ranging from long covid and the NHS backlog to burnout and fatigue, are already affecting different people in different ways, meaning it’s never been more important to create a responsive strategy.

So here are five ways to go about using your data to prioritise what support to put in place, and how to review and refine this, to create an agile health and wellbeing strategy for 2022.

1. Make it data-driven

Data matters because it gives true focus on what’s actually needed, as well as measurable goals and targets. Sickness absence data tells you what’s causing people to become sick. While Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) data tells you what people are worried about and what might become an issue in future.

Exit interview information might reveal where people didn’t feel well looked after. Health assessment and ‘know your numbers’ initiatives will reveal useful lifestyle and biometric data relating to diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular risks to calculate the risk of hidden diseases.

Employee surveys, pulse surveys and forums can provide insight on how people feel about the level of support provided and issues that might cause them to become sick. All of which provides a valuable wealth of information for understanding what health and wellbeing challenges your workforce faces at any given time.

2. Decide what to prioritise

Although there might be some obvious areas to tackle when it comes to reducing issues that are generating sickness absence. It’s also important to look at how different areas of wellbeing are impacting on the wider business strategy.

If high levels of stress and poor work-life balance aren’t causing people to become sick, but are causing them to leave the business, how much is this costing in terms of recruitment, training and reputation? If people working from home have become more sedentary how has this increased the risk of musculoskeletal injuries and how much could be saved by supporting them now before they become too sick to work?

Compare your data to national averages to see where your business could be doing better. Use your analysis to make the case for which health and wellbeing goals to focus on in the short, medium and longer term. Don’t forget about long-term, preventative health goals as these often cost the least to rectify, with behaviour change education, yet can generate the biggest returns.

3. Create an action plan

A strategy without an action plan is just a wish list. Once you know what areas you need to focus on, get buy-in from senior stakeholders and set benchmarks and goals. Don’t just think in terms of sickness absence, also consider employee engagement, retention and attraction. You might even want to look at customer satisfaction which is also linked to employee engagement.

Next, think about how you’ll champion employee wellbeing. What communication channels are in place? What grassroots groups or wellbeing champions can help promote any initiatives, or role model the culture change often needed to boost health? Senior managers will also need to be encouraged to lead by example when it comes to sustaining the good work-life balance needed to make the time for exercising and eating healthily.

Also look at which seasonal awareness days you can link in with, ranging from World Mental Health Day to Men’s Health Day and Know Your Numbers Day. These occasions get a lot of media attention, so it will be far easier for you to get your message across if your initiatives tie-in with them. Similarly, employees are highly motivated to make lifestyle and behaviour for the New Year in January, so this is also a good time to promote new initiatives to help them get healthy.

4. Review and refine

Although it can be helpful to have a seasonal calendar of wellbeing initiatives planned, be prepared to adjust this as needed. For example, if you were planning to do something on smoking cessation for Stoptober, in October, but your data tells you people are exhausted and stressed, setting another challenge might not go down well. So, flex your approach to encourage self-care instead.

If new challenges emerge, e-learning or webinars can be quickly rolled out to help employees understand how to help themselves with specific challenges. Existing occupational health and EAP resource could also be redirected to support employees. For example, by using existing health and wellbeing advisors to support people affected by long covid instead of more generic issues.

If your health screening data shows certain demographics might be at more risk of emerging health risks, devise extra campaigns targeted specifically at these individuals. This will not only reduce the risk of people going off sick or becoming unproductive, but also boost your reputation as a caring and diverse employer.

Make it cost effective

Demonstrate any cost savings, in terms of reduced sickness absence or increased retention, to your stakeholders to help justify funding for further initiatives. Also look at how salary sacrifice schemes might be used to reduce the cost of providing benefits to both employees and the business.

If you want to use biometric data about the state of people’s actual health, but can’t afford a full health MOT for everyone, can you offer a basic screening service for employees to pay extra if they want the full service? Alternatively, invite them to do a self-assessment and share their data, in keeping with data protection rules. This will provide the business with anonymous aggregated data to flag up which areas would be best for further support.

Also look at how to provide services outside of traditional face-to-face models. These might include postal health screening, AI-driven mental health counselling, via apps or online consultations. This will achieve far more than simply keeping costs down – it will also ensure services remain accessible to people working from home (by choice or government mandate) depending how the pandemic progresses over the next year.

Laura Wade is Divisional Director (Wellness) of ToHealth, a proactive wellbeing and neurodiversity provider that helps employers and managers boost health and performance.