Written by Carlos Jaureguizar, CEO, Bupa Global & UK 

It has never been more important for businesses to support their people to succeed. Business leaders are grappling with competing macro-economic challenges – inflation, cost of living, global instability, regulation, labour shortages. In a changing world, the stability and productivity of the workforce is essential to driving business performance, whilst working to attract and retain the best talent.

At the same time, the workforce is becoming increasingly diverse, with varying needs. We know that almost a million women experiencing menopause symptoms have left the workforce, while in the over 50s, 200,000 people have left their roles due to ill-health in just a three-month period[1]. Recent insights from our Bupa Wellbeing Index also show that Gen Z, who are making up an increasing proportion of the workforce, say that environmental concerns directly affect their wellbeing.

Mental health is equal to physical health

Mental health is one of the most pressing issues for businesses. Research showed that 23.3 million working days have been lost in the UK due to stress, burnout and poor mental health, costing the economy £28bn[2] a year. This chimes with the services we see increasing demand for at Bupa; huge growth in those seeking mental health support, particularly in the over 50s.

At the same time, there is increasing awareness for businesses to support their people with holistic health and wellness. According to the Bupa Wellbeing Index, one in three people believe that their employer has a role to play in this, and more than half (53%) say they are more likely to choose to work for an organisation that offers health and wellbeing benefits to support prevention as well as access to care.

How flexibility drives engagement

The good news is that many employers are recognising this, with increasing numbers providing health insurance and employee assistance programmes (EAP) to support their people.

What’s important is that with an increasingly diverse workforce, support needs to be broad and flexible. This means offering both face-to-face and digital services. Sometimes online advice helps to break down taboos, whereas face-to-face care can offer the space to answer personalised questions and peace of mind. What’s encouraging is the growing recognition to provide expert healthcare services to support people through critical life stages, for example, menopause plans and fertility checks have become two of our fastest growing services.

When truly considering inclusion and diversity, the need for flexibility goes further than the healthcare benefits; accentuated further in a post-pandemic world. Recent research from Bupa and REBA showed that only 18% of disabled employees currently have access to flexible working practices such as working remotely, taking longer breaks or factoring in medical appointments. Whereas we know that in a hot labour market, overlooking these measures can impact retention, productivity and ultimately business performance.

When considering the workforce of the future, offering Gen Z colleagues the opportunity to get involved with ESG initiatives may also support attraction and retention; nearly half of Gen Z employees surveyed in the Bupa Wellbeing Index say they would accept a pay cut to work with an organisation that has strong ESG ambitions.

Starting with listening

Taking individualised, tangible action to address the needs of our people starts with listening. An open, honest culture that starts at the top and is embedded in all levels of an organisation is essential. We know through our partnership with ParalympicsGB that two in five people with less visible disabilities have avoided disclosing them at work for fear of hampering career progression. This leads to poor physical and mental health, not to mention presenteeism affecting productivity.

At Bupa through listening to our people we’ve increased our support for colleagues who are neurodiverse, LGBTQ+, or are parents, or going through menopause, bereavement or pregnancy loss.

We have also reviewed our healthcare benefits to make them inclusive, accessible and tailored to our peoples’ needs – particularly for the 15,000 people working in our care homes, dental practices and clinics. This means providing greater access to mental health and physiotherapy support, GP appointments at evenings and weekends, as well as vital services such as cancer checks, menopause support and access to our Bupa health assessments.

In a recent discussion at the Financial Times Global Boardroom, I was pleased to share our experience that many businesses are recognising the correlation between the health of their business and the health of their people. In these challenging times, I am optimistic that those who are willing to put their people’s health first, with diversity and inclusion embedded throughout the organisation, will reap the long term rewards of productivity and engagement, as well as the critical need to attract and retain the best talent.

[1] https://www.health.org.uk/news-and-comment/news/more-older-workers-are-leaving-employment-due-to-ill-health-but-covid-19-isn-t-to-blame-study-finds

2 https://www.axa.co.uk/newsroom/media-releases/2023/the-true-cost-of-running-on-empty-work-related-stress-costing-uk-economy-28bn-a-year/

By Lisa Baker, Senior Editor

Senior Editor Lisa Baker is the owner of Need to See it Publishing Group, providing contract news for business and news sites across the UK. Lisa is an experienced HR writer and commentator, editing HR publications for more than 5 years.

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