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6 Dec 2023

A Workplace In Balance 2024

Chapter 1: How companies can balance team mental and physical health

Heading into the new year, with budgets and plans due, you may be wondering how best to support your team's health and wellbeing next year. Attracting and retaining top talent is always a priority for any ambitious business, and there's nothing more rewarding than creating a workplace where people are happy, healthy and doing their best work. But knowing how to frame the problems, and which practical steps to take to deliver on this vision can be tricky.

To help inspire you heading into a new year we interviewed a top expert in this subject, Zoe Eccleston and have broken down her insights into a series of articles on different elements of a complete workplace wellbeing strategy. Zoe has over 20 years of experience in corporate health and wellbeing and after designing wellbeing programmes for RWE, npower, British Gas, PepsiCo, Vodafone and Bloomberg, she now consults organisations in implementing innovative, individualised, health specific programmes.

For the first in this series, we're starting with the basics: how do mental and physical health relate to each other in the context of workplace wellbeing programmes, and therefore how can you get started thinking about what will have the greatest impact for your team?

History of mental health as a workplace wellbeing priority

Mental health has emerged as a significant concern for people leaders, gaining prominence around 2010, but the origins of a greater employer focus on the topic can be linked back to the 2008 financial crisis. It's not a novel concept anymore; it's now considered alongside, and of equal importance to physical health. 

Stop neglecting physical health

In the past, HR professionals emphasised the importance of considering mental health as well as physical health. But now, I'd say you need physical health alongside mental health because the focus on mental health has somewhat overshadowed physical health, which many are neglecting. 

It's intriguing; I'd bet that if you surveyed people on whether to implement a mental health or physical health programme, most would opt for the former due to its higher visibility. However, establishing a proactive physical health programme can significantly address mental health concerns too. 

This separation of mental and physical health programmes can be challenging. It's all interconnected - emotional health, social environments, and more. It's a complex, integrated system that's hard to compartmentalise.

Use data to build your company's strategy

To effectively address employee mental health, it's crucial to return to the data and analyse it to understand the root causes. For instance, if mental health issues stem from workplace culture, you must tackle that issue first. You can gather insights from various sources, such as EAP data and exit interviews. If people are leaving due to cultural reasons, or cite culture as a driver of unhappiness at work you need to address workplace culture. Data can be immensely powerful. 

In one organisation, high sickness absence rates were coming from a particular manufacturing line. By monitoring this data, it was discovered that the issue was a manager on that line. They weren't creating a positive working environment, causing employees to go off sick and ultimately leave. 

So, data-driven insights can guide the implementation of targeted benefit programmes. If the problem is financial, you might introduce financial support. If it's related to a young workforce struggling with parenting, you might offer expert childcare support. 

Tailor your support to specific needs

The key to offering support is identifying specific issues rather than broad strokes. Mental health has, in many ways, become an umbrella term for a range of conditions, life events, and situations. To effectively address them, we must unbundle these issues and tailor solutions accordingly

It's like having a bucket of water and adding different colors of paint for various problems; if you mix them all, you end up with a messy, indistinguishable concoction. So, it's essential to separate and address each issue individually for a more effective approach.

For true workplace wellbeing, think about health holistically

Mental health as a priority in workplace wellbeing emerged back in 2008, due to the financial crisis. While mental health has garnered significant attention, the focus on physical health should not be neglected. In fact, it's increasingly important to consider physical health alongside mental wellbeing. Data analysis plays a pivotal role in crafting a successful wellbeing and benefits strategy. Examining data sources such as EAP records and exit interviews will point you towards the root causes of health and wellbeing issues, meaning organisations can address them more effectively. To tackle the diverse range of employee concerns, it's crucial to tailor solutions to each employee’s specific needs.

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