Cost, risk, and reputation: Why you need to measure wellbeing

This article is a summary of a recent presentation given by GoodShape's Chief Customer Officer Jonathan Best. Read on to learn why data is crucial for getting a true measurement of employee wellbeing, and how you can achieve this.

Employers have made huge investments in wellbeing both during and since the pandemic. Currently, 72% of companies have a wellbeing programme, and on average, organisations are spending £150 per employee per employee per year on wellbeing. (Source)

But now, leaders are starting to question the value of these wellbeing initiatives, asking:

“Are we a healthier business now than before we invested?”


Why do wellbeing programmes fail?

Workplace wellbeing support has developed an unfortunate reputation over the years. Although often well-intended, the “bikes and bananas” or token approach simply doesn’t work.

Why? Because there’s really no way of evidencing your return on investment to the C suite. To make informed business decisions on wellbeing, you need solid, hard data.

Currently, most employers have very little reliable data on their employees’ health and wellbeing. This becomes particularly apparent when comparing people data to data on other “stuff” that makes a business tick – things such as IT hardware, fleet cars, and office space. Physical assets like these receive regular maintenance checks and status reports, are overseen by dedicated experts, and wear and tear or occasional downtime is anticipated and rectified with the right tools at hand.

By contrast, most organisations have very little data on the health of their people, the true heart of any business. Most people would agree that we should seek to give our employees the same care and attention as we give our stuff - so why is this rarely the case?

To learn more about why wellbeing isn’t working and what you need to do about it, download our free flagship research report, researched in partnership with IPSOS.

What employee data should I be measuring?

Many organisations rely on surveys when trying to understand the health and wellbeing of their people. Although these can be useful for gauging general sentiment, they are inherently biased (being very dependent on the mood of the employee the day they completed it) and therefore cannot be used as a true measure of overall wellbeing. And, in general, they don’t ask about the health of their employees, which is obviously key to understanding their wellbeing. 

Jonathan outlines four types of metrics that leaders must understand about their people in order to implement and maintain a successful wellbeing programme:

"Most organisations understand the major indicators of wellbeing (such as attrition, absence, and presenteeism) which can be measured across the business. But most organisations don’t understand the root causes that drive wellbeing (such as mental and physical health, not feeling included, etc.).

"And, few organisations have sought to accurately assess the direct costs (lost productivity, cost to replace absent employees via overtime or agency staff, cost to replace following attrition) and indirect costs (damage to the employee brand proposition, impact on morale, as well as insurance premiums and possibly even tribunal costs)."

Only by understanding these metrics can businesses seek to justify the investments they would like to make in supporting and improving wellbeing. The costs of employee health and wellbeing are routinely underestimated by businesses, with significant gains achievable if this can be improved. 

Of the three main indicators that exist at the organisational level:

  • Attrition is easy to measure – but is a lagging indicator. It’s useful to understand if someone’s departure was in part to do with wellbeing, but it’s too late to retain them.
  • Presenteeism is hard to measure, and although it's a growing issue which should be given attention, it’s not possible to measure unless you have a strong understanding of absence.
  • Absence is therefore the metric that most organisations should focus on understanding well.

Accurate measurement not only allows you to uncover significant costs to your business that need to be addressed, it also helps you quantify these costs and begin to form strategies to fill the gaps. However, getting good data relies on good reporting. In the vast majority of businesses, even absence still isn’t reported or recorded accurately, and the onus is on HR leaders to prove equity and efficiency of this data by having comprehensive processes in place.

Jonathan recommends three key investments for ensuring effective collection and utilisation of data:

  • Comprehensive dashboard (somewhere to store information on employees, absence, returns to work, referrals, and more)
  • Real-time alerts (helps with day-to-day planning and clear cross-business communication)
  • In-depth analytics (details of all absence reasons at an individual, team, and business-wide level, to help you identify trends and hotspots)

If you’re looking for an all-in-one solution for absence reporting, why not book a 1-1 consultation with one of our experts who will guide you through our comprehensive GoodShapeCentral platform.

If I want to better understand absence, where should I begin?

Jonathan next describes the two parts of a typical absence process: the reporting of the absence, and the discussion when the employee returns to work.

Line managers can and should drive the discussion about an employee's absence when they return to work. It’s critical that they show interest and empathy, but also that they can appropriately understand the reason(s) behind taking time away from work. To do this, they need accurate information about the absence. Ideally, this context should come in the form of the employee’s absence history, as well as that of other employees in similar roles.

The problem in providing this information to line managers is that often, a very poor job is done of collecting information about the absence at the point when it is recorded. If the line manager doesn’t know why the employee was off sick, what treatment they were advised to have, or how this absence relates to others they may have taken, then it shouldn’t come as a surprise if the return-to-work discussion is cursory and non-specific.

So why is information about absence not collected more consistently when it is reported? A line manager’s first thought when an absence is reported is about how they will cover it. They also don’t have a system in front of them which prompts them to ask all the relevant questions and record the details. They don’t have any medical training – and are not comfortable asking anything more than cursory questions about an employee’s health. And of course, they can’t offer to let their colleague speak confidentially about their health in a way that won’t be shared with the employer – because they are the employer!

From the perspective of the sick employee, the process of reporting absence is also far from ideal. They may feel guilty about taking time off and inconveniencing their team. They may not feel comfortable talking to their manager about the reasons for absence. And they would like to have help and support from their employer, and be referred to whatever programs are appropriate. Whilst many organisations have invested in wellbeing programmes to support their people when they are unwell, most employees don’t remember what is available, or how to access them at the point when they need them. In most cases, neither do their line managers.

Many of these challenges can be resolved by appointing a third-party specialist to support the absence reporting process.

What are the benefits of a third-party approach to absence reporting?

At GoodShape, we’re firm believers that personal matters at work should be dealt with by a professional. By investing in an external absence and wellbeing service such as ours for your employers, you can benefit from:

  • 24/7 availability to report absence or seek medical support
  • Empathy and confidentiality
  • Qualified and independent support
  • Access to nurses who have knowledge of employees’ medical history
  • Knowledge of symptoms and causes
  • Informed assessments and referrals to relevant support services provided by the employer, such as Occupational Health, mental health experts, Employee Assistance Programmes, etc.
  • Trusted advice and guidance
  • Reliable record-keeping, providing live data on root causes of absence and wellbeing that can be used to inform and improve strategy

In summary:

Jonathan provides five key takeaways from this session:

  1. Wellbeing is a C-suite priority. It affects personal and organisational performance.
  2. The CFO needs to be 100% on-board. An evidence-based approach is essential.
  3. Absence and staff turnover are symptoms. We need to understand them to identify the root causes.
  4. Focus on robust ‘management information’. Use data to identify opportunities to improve wellbeing.
  5. Employees have complex, changing needs. They deserve specialist skills, tools and processes.

Want to get your data, and your people, in good shape? Book a meeting with our experts to learn more about how GoodShape can benefit your organisation.

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Fill out the form below and one of our team will be in touch to arrange a meeting.

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