Flexible working as part of a wellbeing strategy
Employers are rolling out wellbeing strategies at an exceptional rate. According to “Employee Wellbeing Research 2017: The evolution of workplace wellbeing in the UK” 45% of UK companies currently have a clearly defined wellbeing strategy. This is up 30% in 2016. Of those that don’t, 46% are planning to implement within the next year, 24% in the next few years, and 25% have it on their ‘wish list’.
The research shows that physical and mental health are top of the agenda, with employee assistance programmes being the most common wellbeing initiative to be offered by employers (89%), followed by discounted/ free gym membership (78%), and health screening (63%).
The fastest-growing areas of wellbeing in 2017 are financial education and sleep management (with the number of companies offering sleep management in their wellbeing strategy expected to double).
But how many employers consider flexible working as part of their wellbeing strategy?
We have been working recently with Mercer on a white paper on adaptive working. Amongst other things, Mercer’s research indicates that flexible working is prized above pay as the number one factor that employees look for in a job.
So why are employers increasing their wellbeing offering?
- Recruitment and retention: job candidates, particularly millennials, are increasingly looking at the benefits and perks offered by their prospective employer, not just the salary. Enhancing employee engagement and health has also been proven to result in reduced staff turnover, thereby reducing the costs of recruitment and training.
- Productivity: A happier, healthier, and more flexible workforce is proven to be a more productive workforce. For example, in a global workplace survey by Vodafone in 2016, “Flexible: friend or foe?”, 83% said adopting flexible working had resulted in improvements in productivity.
- Reducing absence: In addition to the direct costs, such as sick pay and temporary cover for the work, absence can have a detrimental impact on those employees left to cover the work, and on productivity. In a report by Health at Work and ERS Research and Consultancy which reviewed UK employer wellbeing schemes, it was found that sickness absence was reduced in 82% of programmes.
- Legal obligations: employees with at least 26 weeks’ continuous employment can make a request for flexible workingunder the statutory scheme for any reason, and can only be refused for one of eight reasons set out in the legislation. In addition, all employers and employees owe duties to ensure the health, safety and welfare of persons at work.
- Reducing claims: not only is a happier, healthier and more flexible workforce less likely to pursue legal action against an employer but, in the event that a claim is brought, it can be useful to point towards any relevant assistance that has been offered to the individual during their employment. For example, providing assistance with healthcare – or making reasonable adjustments – could reduce the strength of any disability discrimination claim.
- Brand/image and social responsibility is also a key motivator as employers reflect on the importance of reputation, particularly with the rise of social media. Demonstrating a nurturing/fun/flexible working environment is proving to be a large part of this; not only because of the positive feedback from staff, but also the positive experience staff offer to customers.
If increasing your wellbeing strategy is something that your business is considering, these are some top tips to think about:
- Take time to consider the demographics of the workforce and the specific challenges faced by the business before determining what is most appropriate to offer. Will you offer a group activity – or something more bespoke (flexible working that fits the specific individual)?
- Get buy-in and support from the leadership: strategies are often led by HR but it’s useful to involve others and identify potential ‘wellbeing champions’. The business needs to engage, too, and see the business benefits of an initiative (e.g. more people working at home meaning a reduced need for office space).
- Have a clear policy and communicate the benefits effectively: make clear where the benefits can be found, and train and utilise line managers to get the word out and support what is being offered with consistency. Consider the mode(s) of communication (e.g. email, a dedicated website etc.)
- Be transparent and fair in your application of benefits. Understandably, it may not be possible to offer benefits to all staff (e.g. flexible working requests may need to be dealt with on a first come first served basis). If this is the case, the rationale should be clearly considered and explained to the individual, based on business need.
- Consider whether the initiative is working by looking at key measures such as employee feedback, absence rates, performance etc.
Taking the first steps in implementing a wellbeing scheme doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive; the Employee Wellbeing Research found that most employees favoured free fruit (60%) and discounted/gym membership (42%). Indeed, it may be that your business is already offering some form of wellbeing/flexible working – in which case, it could be as simple as collating these offerings and communicating them effectively.
If your business would like advice on communicating a wellbeing strategy, and/or dealing with a flexible working request, please get in contact with Jane Wheeler or Holly Hobson at Hine Legal (firstname.lastname@example.org) (0203 586 8062).