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Nuffield Health’s 2022 Healthier Nation Index study revealed one in three adults claims their mental health has got worse in the last year. The same statistic is also true of physical health, with a third of UK adults reporting a decline over the last 12 months.

Employers have a responsibility to help individuals manage their wellbeing. However, it’s clear targeted support isn’t commonly available to modern workers increasingly adopting flexible working approaches.

With this in mind, Nuffield Health suggests six workplace wellbeing trends we can expect to see as employers look to create relevant and effective wellbeing offerings…

Managing MSK

The recent rise in remote working has delivered many benefits for employees, including a greater work-life balance and a reduction in stressful commutes.

But it isn’t without its challenges – namely overworking and the physical impact of unergonomic home offices – with 72,000 individuals recently reporting a musculoskeletal (MSK) disorder directly caused or exacerbated by the pandemic.

Despite employers’ responsibilities to provide comfortable home working set-ups, many aren’t meeting their obligations. However, they are becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.

While financial support should continue to be made available to employees for furniture and equipment – and employers should signpost to how to access these funds – we are now entering the age of the corporate physiotherapist.

Businesses can invite musculoskeletal health experts to review the current office environment as well as offer general advice on posture, exercise, and nutrition to avoid injury at home.

Employers may also choose to contribute financial support for private sessions, too, to avoid the greater financial burden of the £3.5 billion paid by employers each year to deal with workplace injuries. Plus, research suggests businesses can achieve an ROI of nearly £100 per £1 spent on physiotherapy for musculoskeletal health.

The new work-life balance

Our idea of ‘work-life balance’ traditionally involves unwinding from work stress at home after leaving the office. But what happens when home life itself becomes increasingly stressful?

Research suggests the current cost of living crisis has been linked to a direct increase in stress. And with financial stresses showing no signs of letting up, employers have a responsibility to help individuals avoid burnout.

This may include inviting a financial specialist to host a webinar for all employees on managing money, as well as offering relevant workplace benefits – such as grocery vouchers – that directly address some key drivers of financial anxiety.

Self-help support

Despite efforts to challenge the stigma around ill health, Nuffield Health research suggests a third of employees still wouldn’t feel comfortable disclosing a mental or physical health issue to their employer.

So, businesses have a responsibility to offer tailored support to those who may feel uncomfortable asking for it.

This may include making remote support offerings and self-help platforms available to those who would prefer to work through advice and specialist help at their own pace, away from the office.

For example, telephone CBT services and online self-help management programs – such as the Silvercloud platform – allow employees to access remote support and guidance on understanding symptoms of distress and learning relevant coping mechanisms.

A focus on prevention

There is no one-size-fits-all intervention for the unique physical and mental challenges facing employees. However, businesses can embrace technology to access instead of data-led, personalized interventions that make a difference for the individual.

Digital platforms featuring AI technology can analyze behavioral data provided by the workforce to predict future challenges, allowing businesses to action interventions before symptoms become unmanageable.

For example, Nuffield Health’s PATH tool gathers data from both a comprehensive physical health exam, alongside behavioral data from questionnaires to understand employees’ unique risk factors and suggests relevant interventions.

Employers able to take a proactive approach to employee health not only nurture a healthy and engaged workforce but avoid the impact of presenteeism, which can cost businesses up to £4,000 per employee per year in lost productivity.

Employee power

Recent workplace trends, including ‘the great resignation’ and ‘quiet quitting’ suggest power is shifting away from the employer, with employees no longer willing to go above and beyond for their employers.

So, businesses – especially those guilty of encouraging unhealthy workplace cultures in which employees are expected to be ‘always on’ – must rethink their relationships with employees to retain their brightest talent.

Managers have a responsibility to lead by example when it comes to widescale cultural change. This means clearly outlining employee expectations, like working hours and contactable obligations, as well as being seen to leave the office on time each day.

Similarly, employers should welcome and seek regular feedback to understand better the challenges facing staff and how the business can tailor its support. This can be done through regular one-to-ones with individuals as well as anonymous feedback surveys for those who may not feel comfortable communicating in person.

Family focus

A shift towards flexible and remote working has somewhat blurred the lines between work and home life, with mixed results. Some of the negative consequences include employees working longer hours to compensate for not commuting, while others have enjoyed the benefits of spending more time at home with family.

These lifestyle changes must now be a key consideration for businesses. As employees continue to mold their work lives around personal habits – often familial responsibilities such as childcare – these challenges must be reflected in the support offered by businesses.

The workplace must remain flexible in terms of shift patterns and remote opportunities to meet the needs of those with busy family lives. However, we will also start to see businesses extending benefits to the family, for example, private healthcare and medical benefits for partners and children and familial mental health support.

This may include parental mental health advice hubs or CBT platforms that provide advice and resources for parents on managing children’s emotional wellbeing.

By Marc Holl, Head of Primary Care at Nuffield Health.

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