When we met with members in November, we talked about how they are improving health and wellbeing in their organisations, the challenges they have faced and how they have overcome them. Cost can be a barrier to implementation and we’ve explored that in our 'A healthy workforce doesn’t have to break the bank' article. But there are others.

Most senior managers and safety professionals today would accept that supporting the health and wellbeing of the workforce is a good thing. ‘Well’ staff are more likely to work safely, be more productive and less likely to leave. Staff working for companies who care for their wellbeing are, typically, happier and healthier. In spite of this, there are some real challenges facing those implementing a health and wellbeing programme. We asked our members to share what barriers they had faced and how they overcame them.

Getting hold of good data can be a problem, especially relating to mental health.  Recent research found that over 90%[1] of those taking time off due to stress gave their line manager a different reason for their absence. Even where staff do declare mental health issues, HR systems may not be well suited to collecting the data. Without it, it can be hard to make a case for investment in mental health programmes. Members felt better systems and more open dialogue around mental health should address this over time. 

Management buy-in is vital – where leaders do not recognise the value of health and wellbeing programmes, they may not release the necessary resources e.g. allowing staff time to attend. One member suggested tapping into the interests of senior teams e.g. if your MD is sporty (s)he may be more open to initiatives which aim to get staff physically active. Members also stressed the need to provide training for line managers to give them the necessary skills to spot and address wellbeing issues.

Staff buy-in, ironically, was the biggest challenge mentioned after cost. Staff may struggle to see how health and wellbeing initiatives relate to them – given the demographic of parts of our industry they may resist getting involved for fear of how their peers might react. They may suspect the motives (e.g. behind health screening) or simply feel they don’t have time. Members addressed this by involving staff in the design and implementation of their local programmes.

Working patterns can affect how accessible health and wellbeing activity is for staff.  Staff on zero hours contracts can be harder to reach and may actually be more likely to suffer from stress e.g. due to uncertainty over working hours. Shift workers may not be available at traditional times to participate in activities. Some members overcome this by paying these staff to attend outside contracted hours e.g. to take part in health screening.

Time pressures due to workload and client expectations can lead staff to feel that they cannot take time out to participate in health and wellbeing activity. However, this in itself could be a leading indicator of future health problems. One solution is to focus internal messages on the potential cost to the business of long term health and welfare issues and encourage line managers to free staff up to participate in activities which will reduce this risk.