Avoid the pitfalls that make wellbeing initiatives fail

Most corporate wellbeing initiatives are destined to fail.

Despite an ever-increasing focus on health and wellbeing since the Covid 19 pandemic, with companies spending significantly on these initiatives, corporate wellbeing programmes are not hitting the mark, and in the large majority of cases are not valued by employees.

This is mainly because they don’t match the needs of employees, which is backed up by research conducted by Lockton People Solutions in Ireland. This showed that amongst Irish employees, 85% do not feel their overall needs are met via their benefits offering.

By 2060, life expectancy will rise beyond 90 years across Europe. Portfolio careers (with people frequently moving between roles, industries, and locations) are becoming normalised. Many are now opting, or needing, to work beyond the traditional retirement age. Against a backdrop of increasing incidences of cardiovascular disease and mental-health-related work absence1, this is a worrying trend. For many, ill-health may impact their ongoing quality life up to and beyond retirement.

Improved design of a benefits offering, tailored to requirements, and communicated well are fundamental to shared organisational and personal growth.

Disconnect between employees and benefits package

Recent evidence published by the Industrial Relations Journal (opens a new window) reports that in a survey of over 46,000 workers, there was no difference in wellbeing between those who engaged with workplace initiatives and those who didn’t. In most cases, although usually well-intentioned, wellbeing programmes are not designed with employees’ needs in mind, are not directly linked to a clear vision or endorsed in a credible way by leadership. As such, they lack meaning, relevance, and purpose.

Research conducted by Lockton People Solutions in Ireland found that for Irish employees:

  • 60% feel their employer is not doing enough to support their specific physical, mental, or financial wellbeing needs.

  • 40% do not engage with any workplace benefits at all (due to lack of relevance or poor awareness of/about how to access their benefits).

  • 35% of workers would forgo a higher salary in lieu of flexible work opportunities.

The mismatch between current and future employee health and wellbeing requirements is a major risk for organisations, their people, and society.

The importance of preventative measures

Wellbeing is an umbrella term that encompasses many areas such as physical, mental, and financial health, as well as lifestyle factors. The importance and relevance of these to employees will differ based on their stages in work and life. In this context, it also includes flexible working and leave policies. Therefore, any wellbeing programme which forms part of a benefits offering should be relevant to employee requirements that cover a broad spectrum of interventions.

With double-digit increases in health insurance premiums over the past 12 months, medical cost inflation, increased life expectancy, and a pensions gap, a shift in thinking and practice from reactive care to a preventative model is critical. A first step in building improved longer-term health outcomes (for example, in biomedical markers such as blood pressure, high-density cholesterol, self-rated mental health scores, or improved management of household finances and day-to-day expenses) is encouraging health-seeking behaviours such as more participation in wellbeing initiatives.

Engagement and organisational change

Employee engagement is one of the most important drivers of productivity and business growth, as it is underpinned by staff’s overall health and wellbeing. Engagement is the strength of the psychological connection that employees feel towards their work, teams, leadership, and organisation.

Communication is a primary tool to drive engagement, forming an integral part of the wellbeing solution. Effective communication must involve multiple media channels, and feature on a continuous basis to truly bring it to life in a way that resonates with employees. You need more than an email or poster.

Organisational culture and the employee experience must coalesce around any benefits and wellbeing offerings to deliver true value-add and meet business priorities. When employees understand the resources available to them and how to use them, this can provide a springboard for shared personal and organisational growth.

Unless and until this happens, corporate wellbeing initiatives will continue to fail.

For more information, please visit our People Solutions (opens a new window) page, or contact:

Tom Curran, Head of Wellbeing

E: Tom.Curran@lockton.com (opens a new window)

1 Bourke, Roper & Lenihan (2023). Healthy Workplace Ireland: A Survey of Mental Health & Well-being Promotion in Irish Firms. Cork: Cork University Business School, University College Cork.

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