Have employee wellbeing schemes overstepped the mark? Many are now questioning whether we should redraw the boundary between personal and professional lives, but others argue that wellbeing support is essential to help employees feel more secure and motivated. We explore both sides of the argument and examine how businesses can use choice to empower employees to make confident decisions over personal aspects of their lives.

The last few years has brought the impact of work on people’s wellbeing into sharper focus, particularly when the pandemic hit. Remote working and a forced stop to activities that people enjoy put more strain on employees, and many employers responded by amplifying their support. Wellbeing provision ranged from more one-on-one conversations about life outside of work to providing access to things like exercise and social connections.

Employers’ interventions during the pandemic were widely valued. Most employees (70%) say they were satisfied with their employer’s wellbeing support during Covid-19. The question is, should employers continue to offer the same level of support now that companies around the world have reinstated a form of normality?

Many employees and employers alike are questioning whether wellbeing support has become too involved. Some people are uncomfortable with mixing their personal and professional lives, while others see greater support as a positive step that helps employees achieve more of their personal and career goals.

Views towards the employer/employee relationship

There are valid concerns that personal information shared with employers could be used against employees when they want to progress. A Financial Times article explains how: “Those catch-ups with your manager might have been done with the best of intentions but can you be sure the information you disclosed about a partner’s illness, or your caring duties, will not be used against you?”. People need assurances that their personal responsibilities or difficulties will not be taken into account, but this will be challenging for employers to substantiate.

There are also generational differences in opinion towards wellbeing. LinkedIn research found that just 31% of baby boomers welcomed employer investment in wellbeing compared to 51% of millennials and 66% of Gen Zs. It is clear that younger and older generations hold different views towards the employer/employee relationship.

The role of wellbeing in the employee experience

Although many people believe that wellbeing support enhances the employee experience, others find that too much can have the opposite effect. Some argue that wellbeing packages prevent employees having choice over how to use their remuneration. Indeed, employees should have the flexibility to make decisions about how they manage their wellbeing. However, stripping all benefits is a step too far. Through their financial weight, businesses can gain access to better deals and pass these onto employees.

It is also crucial that employers do not use wellbeing support as a way to offset workplace stress. EU rules state that employees cannot work more than 48-hour weeks, but that would still be 9.6-hour days. Long working days are often accepted in today’s workplace.

A valid argument is that rather than offering wellbeing packages, employers should tackle the root cause of work-related stress and ensure employees have realistic and manageable task lists and remits.

The need for wellbeing provision

Employers cannot ignore the commercial benefits that come from better supporting employee wellbeing. One major advantage is improved engagement. In the UK, for example, it is estimated that 32.5 million working days were lost due to work-related ill health in 2019-2020. Employers do not only have to manage employees’ absences; employees are also less likely to be engaged when they are at work if they find it stressful or straining on their body.

Businesses also need to recognise that they play a role in their employees’ wellbeing. Nearly half of EU workers (44.6%) report facing risk factors that are known to contribute to work-related ill health. Employers have a responsibility to better care for their employees. We also know that a third of employees (33%) say that financial worries impact their sleep. Given that financial wellbeing is directly linked to employment, it is clear that employers could do more to design remuneration packages in a way that gives people the security they want.

A broader argument in support of wellbeing investment is that traditional benefits packages were designed for a patriarchal society, which is not representative of the way people live and work today. A few decades ago, it was the norm for men to work and women to look after the home and children. Fast forward to present day and duo-working couples and single workers manage both their work and home commitments simultaneously. Put simply, employees are now leading busier lives, and they need wellbeing support to prevent burnout.

Wellbeing support that better reflects today’s workforce

We believe that wellbeing is an important part of self-determination. It gives people the security and confidence to pursue their career goals without feeling that they are sacrificing their life goals too. However, it is evident that wellbeing support needs to be delivered in a way that is more suitable for everyone. Doing so requires a rethink in the employer/employee relationship:

  • Firstly, employers need to understand the way in which their organisation and operations impact employees’ wellbeing. With this understanding, they can address the origin of work-related poor health. Benefits packages with wellbeing support can then be used to give people the option to bring more security and confidence to other areas of their lives.
  • Secondly, employers should create a culture where people feel they can talk about issues they face but are not forced to divulge information they do not want to. By providing support, rather than prying, employers will empower their people to make choices about how they want to manage their wellbeing.
  • Finally, it is important that employers reassure their employees that any information they share will not stand in the way of reaching their career goals. One way to do this is to offer career development support to build self-esteem and skills, so that people can overcome personal difficulties and continue to progress at work if they want to.

Empowering employees to make the right wellbeing choices

The overriding aspect that needs to be implemented through a wellbeing support scheme is choice. Employees should be able to decide what they tell their employer and choose the support that best suits them. Giving employees a raft of wellbeing solutions to choose from enables them to alleviate pressure in the areas of their lives on which they feel it most.

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