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Part 1: Developing a workplace health and wellbeing strategy is the norm these days, right?

Workplace health and wellbeing has gone mainstream, but maybe not that mainstream!

So as we all know, most major UK employers are now investing in and thinking about the role health and wellbeing plays in their people strategies. Smaller businesses are bit further behind, having less to invest and often less well developed HR and Occupational Health functions, but the awareness and acceptance that health and wellbeing is now part of, so-called, ‘good work’ in the 21st century is nevertheless there.

This is great news and it’s an outcome for which my friend and Founding Director Professor Sir Cary Cooper has been fighting for many a long year.

"While the business case for workplace wellbeing is now firmly established, organisations are much less confident when it comes to implementation."

Professor Sir Cary Cooper, Founding Director, Robertson Cooper

Of course, in this context where businesses are wrestling with why they want, and need, to invest in health and wellbeing and how they should go about it, health and wellbeing strategies are becoming more commonplace. That’s because they represent visions that lay out why a particular business is investing in health and wellbeing, how that relates to its core values and the broader long-term strategy. Most importantly, a health and wellbeing strategy describes a compelling future state – compelling for the business and for its individual employees alike; it describes why, done right, health and wellbeing is a no-brainer for the business. So intuitively, in a world where the business case for workplace health and wellbeing has been proven and there is a wide range of suppliers out there ready and willing to support, this focus on health and wellbeing strategy makes a lot of sense. The question really becomes ‘Why wouldn’t you?’ …and yet…

And yet, this isn’t exactly where we are when it comes to current practice with regard to health and wellbeing strategies. For example, in 2013 CIPD’s Absence Management Report showed that only 41% of organisations had a health and wellbeing strategy in place and this has recently been updated in 2017 by The Reward and Employee Benefits Association (REBA) who showed a small rise to around 45%.

That is actually 15% higher than their own 2016 sample, but still not much more than CIPD reported back in 2013. In any case, it’s clear that at the best estimate at least 55% of organisations across two major surveys that were conducted three years apart did not have a health and wellbeing strategy to drive outcomes and guide their (often considerable) health and wellbeing investments.


Have a clearly defined wellbeing strategy (REBA Employee Wellbeing Research 2017)


Measure effectiveness of initiatives without a strategy (REBA Employee Wellbeing Research 2017)


Measure effectiveness of initiatives with a strategy (REBA Employee Wellbeing Research 2017)

Measuring the effectiveness and ROI of a health and wellbeing strategy

But it’s not just about whether businesses do or do not have a health and wellbeing strategy, there’s also the issue of quality and ROI to consider. Back in 2014 a survey from HR Magazine showed that only 17% of businesses had a health and wellbeing strategy that was linked to key business outcomes, which means that 83% of businesses did not!

This is mirrored by the 2017 REBA research which shows that only 28% of businesses without a health and wellbeing strategy measure the effectiveness of their health and wellbeing initiatives, rising to 48% for those who have a health and wellbeing strategy.

And workplace health and wellbeing spend is rising

At the same time, spending on health and wellbeing is rising inexorably. Towers Watson in 2014 showed that two-thirds of businesses were planning to increase health and wellbeing spend and the more recent REBA survey confirms that finding by showing that 40-50% of organisations are planning to increase spend next year, depending on whether they have a strategy (41%) or do not yet have one (48%).

This, in itself, will not be a surprise to anyone in the HR or Health and Wellbeing space. BUT if you put those two findings together you have a majority of businesses planning to increase health and wellbeing spend and only a small minority of those have any sort of strategy that is designed to connect that spend to creating outcomes that really matter to the business. One thing is for sure… ROI does not that way lie!

So what’s going on here? Why does intention not always turn into action? What is preventing most employers from creating a solid strategy to guide their spending on employee health and wellbeing? In the next three parts of this blog series I’ll be drawing on my experience of working on health and wellbeing strategies with Robertson Coopers’ clients and hosting the workplace conversation via Good Day at Work to take a look at the practicalities. I’ll look at some common pitfalls and how to avoid them, as well as suggesting some clear processes you can adopt for developing your own health and wellbeing strategy.


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