Health, Wellbeing and Data

Posted in : HR Updates on 5 December 2019
Olga Pollock
firmus energy
Issues covered:

Last week I attended a breakfast briefing on a data driven approach to health and wellbeing. This was a timely event given that I am about to embark on our health and wellbeing plan for the year ahead. It is essential that employers adopt a holistic approach to health and wellbeing but at a minimum any strategy should include physical, mental, financial and social wellbeing frameworks.

The key message in the session revolved around the importance and power of using data when developing your strategy as opposed to relying solely on anecdotes, qualitative research or fads alone. It is not possible to create a strategy without understanding the wellbeing needs of your organisation and this can be gathered in a number of ways which I will explore in more detail below.

Adopting a data driven approach will give our proposals much more credibility when presenting them to senior management or the board.  For example, if I were to highlight that according to the fourth Mental Health at Work report by Business in the Community, in partnership with Mercer Marsh Benefits, that two in five (39%) employees have experienced poor mental health due to work, or where work was a contributing factor, in the past year, up from 36% in 2017 and 2018, this would have much more impact that simply stating that lots of employees have suffered poor mental health at work.  Or, if according to the same report, I were to outline that the three main causes of work-related poor mental health are too much pressure (52%), workload impacting on their ability to take leave (36%), and negative work relationships (33%), this would deliver a much more powerful message than if I were to omit the percentage totals.  Given that very often us HR practitioners have to convince our CFO’s that what we’re recommending is not simply woolly science, it is imperative that we back up what we are saying with sound metrics.

While I frantically scribbled copious notes during the briefing I thought it might be helpful for readers if I shared my top three take-home tips that you may wish to consider when planning or honing your wellbeing strategy.

1. Create a Dashboard

This is a summary sheet of data providing a snapshot of key health risks across the organisation from a range of stakeholders and sources. It may include, for example, quantitative findings from an internal health and wellbeing staff survey or results from an external questionnaire such as Vitality’s Britain’s Healthiest Workplace (this is free by the way).

It may also include data covering the last three years of claims through your Private Health Insurance (PHI) or Private Medical Insurance (PMI) covers such as number of claims, reason for claims and end-results.

Data from your Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) and Occupational Health (OH) provider is also very helpful and should include the number of, and reasons for, referrals over the same timeframe as well as the outcome.   

Equally helpful may be results from any staff health checks or body ‘MOTs’ which should include different health risks across the business including any early detections and recommended medical follow-ups.

Health cash plans, if provided should also highlight reimbursement trends according to the various health categories included in the plan.

Finally, a summary of findings from internal return to work absence meetings as well as reasons and outcomes of long-term absences should also be included along with data from any health risk assessment undertaken.

The resulting dashboard will act as a powerful platform from which to focus your health interventions as opposed to blindly putting a plan in place without any data to back it up. External benchmarking is also recommended to ensure you are aware of how you are performing against other employers within your sector or wider employment market.

2. Provide Employees with Pathways

Research shows that mental health pathways are known to significantly reduce the number of mental health absences within organisations. Pathways should include details of all sources of mental health support across your organisation.   This can be in the form of a guide or manual created for staff which signposts them to the likes of your EAP, PHI, PMI, cash plan and OH services.

Aside from contact details this should also include a summary of the services provided and timeframes for undertaking each service. Signposts to a range of mental health charities should also be included with contact details, opening hours etc. It is important to direct staff to their General Practitioner in the first instance regarding mental health concerns so this should also be highlighted.

Finally, it is worth remembering that EAPs tend to be underutilised, so it is worth engaging with your provider to get them to advise on the full range of their benefits. Very often they provide much more than telephone counselling, including financial assistance, so this should be promoted to staff.

3. Train Managers in Empathy

The progressive employers among us will likely have a number of mental health first aiders appointed throughout their organisations. While the benefits of such cannot be underestimated, basic human empathy and compassion can also go a long way in supporting employees with mental health issues.   Taking the time as managers to listen to staff and show some kindness, can have a really positive impact on them and their recovery.   Training in empathy skills should be delivered to line managers to empower them to handle sensitive conversations in the right way.

Delivering a health and wellbeing strategy effectively can help deliver significant return on investment along with increased productivity, improved absence and retention levels, increased morale and engagement. This is why it is crucial to ensure that any strategy put in place is supported by data that highlights the health risks across the organisation so that a plan can be tailored to both address these issues and ideally prevent them from happening in the first place.

Useful Reading:

Mental Health at Work Report 2019

Britain’s Healthiest Workplace


This article is correct at 05/12/2019

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Olga Pollock
firmus energy

The main content of this article was provided by Olga Pollock. Contact telephone number is +44 (0)79 7389 3448 or email

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