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3 Steps to Securing C-Suite Support for Wellbeing Investment in your Workplace
by Ngozi Weller
14 March, 2022
In a post-Covid world, 1 in 3 adults are now suffering from some form of mental ill-health. Attitudes of old that dismiss wellness as a private issue that belongs outside of the professional sphere cannot hold against this staggering figure, especially when ‘private’ support systems are struggling to cope.
In the UK, for example, the waitlist for NHS funded mental health services is several months long. Therefore, even after seeking help, employees are coming to work in an impacted state, functioning far below their productivity average, and having a knock-on effect on their team members’ workload and stress levels. It no longer matters whether you believe wellbeing belongs in the professional sphere or not; it has arrived.
Analysis published by Deloitte in January 2020 found that poor mental health was costing UK employers up to £45 billion each year. If we then take into account the rise in mental ill-health that accompanied the COVID pandemic, it’s safe to assume that this figure is now significantly higher.
However, on a more positive note, the same report revealed that for every £1 spent on mental health support, employers received an average of £5 back in reduced presenteeism, absenteeism and staff turnover. In other words, there is a ready solution, and wellbeing support has a 5:1 return on investment (ROI).
In response to this figure, and the growing problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many big-name companies have made an effort to demonstrate their recognition of the mental health crisis and their willingness to act against it. Mandatory wellbeing leave, for example, became a central talking point at the end of last year as companies such as Bumble and Nike closed their offices for a week, requiring their staff to take time off.
Whilst steps like this have value, the consensus is that they don’t go far enough. Many commenters, such as People Management’s Sam Fromson, argue that enforcing weeks off to combat burnout is only effective when employed alongside a broader, long-term wellbeing strategy.
Why is this the case? Well, we must recognise that the Deloitte figure of a 5:1 ROI stands as an average of all wellbeing actions. When you break down the numbers, you find that mandatory leave, wellbeing days and other such initiatives, whilst a positive step forward, provide a much lower ROI than more strategic, coaching-based interventions. For example, the report states that reactive mental health support, such as therapy with a licensed mental health practitioner, has an average ROI of 3:1. By comparison, the investment in a broad, organisational programme that meets particular criteria has an ROI of 9:1.
In short, not all wellbeing strategies are created equal, and if companies wish to take decisive action against the wellbeing crisis and the knock-on effect it’s having on talent retention and their bottom-line, they must begin to invest in targeted, proactive support.
However, many companies aren’t currently doing this because whilst these initiatives offer a great return on investment, they require a greater initial outlay. HR professionals can face difficulty securing senior leadership buy-in for larger investments when there are lower-rung courses out there. Understandably, it’s hard to pitch for investment in a comprehensive programme when there are courses that offer to solve the wellbeing needs of an entire workforce inside a day’s seminar. Even if they know deep down that these courses are unlikely to be as effective, many HR professionals can feel pressure from their C-Suite leaders to ‘tick’ the wellbeing box with the smallest possible outlay.
Unfortunately, at the end of the day, you get what you pay for, and cheap and condensed courses offer a cheap and condensed solution. Therefore, in our experience, companies who opt for them first find themselves circling back within a year and choosing the more comprehensive option. Moreover, this initial attempt to save money can ultimately backfire, as whilst the outlay for these courses always seems small enough to be worth a shot, if they fail to deliver, the delay in receiving effective support can translate to a significant loss in productivity and a big hit for the bottom line.
Ultimately, the only real option is to ensure that your company has a robust budget to support those comprehensive wellbeing strategies that transform company culture. However, we do understand that it can be hard to secure C-Suite leadership buy-in for these more significant investments. Therefore, we have put together our three essential tips for pitching to a senior leadership team.
Whilst the outlay for lower rung courses always seems small enough to be worth giving them a shot, if they fail to deliver, the delay in receiving effective support can translate to a significant loss in productivity and a big hit for the bottom line
1. Know your numbers
The figures are on your side. Wellbeing support makes good business sense. Don’t go into a meeting with your senior leadership team to only make the moral argument; rely on the numbers. Numbers don’t lie. Refer to the ROIs and demonstrate that investing in wellbeing is financially sound.
On top of this, ensure you know the numbers for your organisation. How much is your company losing in absences per year? How many hours of HR’s time are going towards issues that a well-trained line manager could deal with? Use your grounded experience to flesh out the theoretical numbers, and demonstrate to the C-Suite leaders that your company is no exception to the rule.
2. Pitch solutions, not problems
Whilst it’s important to use the numbers to demonstrate the issue, the focus of the meeting should be the solution. Go in knowing the action you want to take, the results you expect to gain, and the resources you need to execute this.
ACTION: What are you asking your company to do? Are you asking for more training? If so, who do you want to train? Be specific.
RESULT: What results do you expect to gain? What do you think the impact of the training will be? How long will it take? If you can, tie this back to the numbers.
COST: How much will it cost? Which providers are you considering using? We’d recommend presenting the investment as broken down per head.
If your wellbeing strategy has several tiers, ensure you include this too. Make sure your senior leadership team understands the bigger picture, even if at this stage, you’re only asking them to fund the first step.
3. Don’t try and do it all by yourself.
HR leaders are not experts in wellbeing strategy. Despite the pressures you may feel, it isn’t your job to know the ins and outs of mental wellbeing. Don’t be afraid to bring in support.
Consult with experts. Internal if you have them, external if you don’t. Let these professionals help you devise a wellbeing strategy that works for you and your company. Let them help you with your plan so that when you approach your senior leadership team, you have a comprehensive and effective strategy to pitch.
Beyond this, there are certain questions that you as an HR leader can reflect on to ascertain whether your company needs to dial up its wellbeing strategy.
1. How often are people using your EAPs? Is the system being utilised in line with the current stats on mental ill-health?
2. When people go off sick, is there a system to record why? Can mental health sick days be clearly identified? If yes, are there differentials for stress, burnout etc. Or is mental health listed under a single category?