Workforce retention – the role of health and wellbeing initiatives

Workforce retention – the role of health and wellbeing initiatives

One of the major challenges ahead for UK businesses in the next coming years will be attracting and retaining talent. This is an issue explored in detail by the Institute of Directors in their piece entitled “Why the health of your business depends on you” encouraging businesses to develop robust wellbeing strategies championed by their leaders and focussing just as much on the mental (as well as physical) health of their employees.

Presently, there are many factors at play that will push workforce issues to the top of the agenda in boardrooms nationwide. Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis has given a clear indication that a new immigration system will be in place by March 2019 when the free movement of people between the EU and UK looks likely to come to an end. Many businesses and public sector organisations (with the NHS at the forefront) are already seeing a shortage of labour and skill gap developing with job applications from EU nationals falling rapidly whilst others have chosen to return to their home country or are planning to do so. Once freedom of movement ceases, these challenges are likely to multiply.

This is not, however, purely a Brexit-related issue. With an aging population, due not only to people living longer, but also due to lower historic birth rates (by 2025 there will be 750,000 less people aged between 16 and 49 according to a report by Seamus Nevin of the Institute of Directors), it is becoming increasingly important that older people remain in employment rather than retiring at what until now has been considered to be a traditional retirement age. Not only will this be of benefit to employers, but also to the individuals themselves who will need to ensure that they have enough in their retirement pot to take into account a longer life expectancy.

The new generation of workers entering the labour market also have different priorities to many of their predecessors. Quality of life, flexibility and wellbeing appear to be much more of a priority rather than simple salary levels and they are not afraid to move on if an employer does not offer what they are seeking.

Promoting employee health (both physical and mental) and wellbeing is likely going to become a key differentiator between employers going forward. In order to work to an older age, employees are likely to be attracted by employers who offer good levels of support around ill health (such as critical illness cover) as well as an environment which offers the flexibility to reduce hours and, possibly, responsibility levels , should they wish to in future. Equally, younger employees are likely to be attracted by opportunities to work flexibly and will be put off by environments which, according to the IoD’s research, lead 1 in 4 people to consider resigning because of stress, 1 in 3 people feeling exhausted by juggling their professional and home lives and an estimated 70 million working days per year being lost to mental health-related conditions.

Whilst offering benefits and flexibility is crucial, being able to “sell” those benefits to staff and applicants is also important and the IoD recognises the need to keep a regular dialogue with employees about the benefits on offer to them (only a quarter of employers do currently). As well as wider staff communications, the best way to do this is to ensure that all line managers are equipped to answer questions about specific benefits.

As the demographic of the UK workforce changes in the years ahead and attracting and retaining skilled employees becomes more challenging, employers and business leaders will need to lead by example in ensuring that wellbeing and employee health are a key focus of their culture and strategy or face the risk of skills deficits within their businesses. Brachers’ Employment Team and Kent HR can assist you in implementing a wellbeing strategy, staff training and by undertaking a review of your current wellbeing initiatives.