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Five reasons why Covid has pushed employee wellbeing up the business agenda
Medigold is an occupational health and wellbeing specialist that has received £9.5 million funding from BGF since 2017. Here, Medigold’s CEO Alex Goldsmith explains how COVID-19 has pushed health and wellbeing up the business agenda and why looking after staff is most certainly here to stay.
It cannot be overstated the profound impact COVID-19 has had on the workplace – both in the UK and globally. It’s turned the traditional way of working on its head and accelerated trends in hybrid and agile working that could have taken years to materialise.
The ‘WFH’ landscape has changed exponentially, with a reported 60% of the UK’s adult population now working remotely. Before the global pandemic began, it was estimated that around 4.6 million people in the UK worked from home – just 14% of the country’s 32.6 million workforce.
COVID-19 has undoubtedly left an indelible mark on the working environment. However, recent findings from a leading UK thinktank suggest that the five-day office week could return within two years. Centre For Cities believes that the rise in working from home prompted by the pandemic is unlikely to last as companies realise ‘the benefit of working face to face’.
While questions remain about whether remote working is here to stay, there’s one thing that’s in no doubt – the rising prominence of health and wellbeing. The global health crisis has unsurprisingly pushed employee wellbeing up the business agenda, placing it alongside finance as one of the top priorities for leaders and managers.
Employers have been faced with unprecedented challenges – the immediate threat of the coronavirus on staff; the unknown impact of Long COVID; the growing issue of mental health at work; and the added complication of managing employees’ wellbeing in a remote world. Even if people do return to the workplace in the months and years to come, the truth is health and wellbeing is likely to remain at the top of the business agenda.
So why is looking after your staff here to stay?
Systems and structures
Managing teams remotely has provided considerable challenges in delivering an effective health and wellbeing strategy. Teams have had to rethink and readjust by implementing robust systems and structures that can help bypass the issue of not being in front of staff to identify and address problems. Those processes have become ingrained into established ways of working and offer flexibility, regardless of whether people are in the office or at home.
Technology is developing at a pace, with health and wellbeing platforms offering cutting-edge solutions in a changing world. However, the key to greater adoption boils down to one simple factor: price. By making technology more cost-effective, it will allow employers to embed those costs into existing overheads. Increased engagement in the B2C market, such as the rise in diagnostic wearables, will also force businesses to consider the use of technology, as employees strive to achieve health and wellbeing in their personal life and at work.
The coronavirus has brought wellbeing into sharp focus for everyone. Employees now appreciate the value of their own mental and physical health more than ever before and increasingly expect this to be reciprocated by employers. Occupational health has changed enormously in recent years, spurred on by COVID-19. It is no longer about being reactive and sending someone off to the GP. Today, it’s about preventative measures and the staff themselves are pushing that agenda.
The financial stability of many businesses has been called into question over the last 18 months, as margins have been stretched and tested like never before. But historical data tells us that prior to the pandemic the amount of money being spent on health and wellbeing was on the increase. In the past, the average spend on health and wellbeing per employee was between £15 and £20 each year. For a business with 1,000-plus employees, that has now risen to between £20 and £40 per year, showing a firm commitment to investing in health and wellbeing. In the same way that the Apprenticeship Levy has created an ‘acceptable’ amount when it comes to investing in skills and training, in time a similar ‘minimum spend’ on health and wellbeing will emerge within the industry.
There has been significant momentum in recent years to remove the stigma surrounding mental health. High-profile campaigns and changing sentiment in the workplace have enabled people to talk more openly about the subject and, in turn, to proactively manage any issues in a preventative way championing ‘mental fitness’. With conversations opening up, enabling employees to speak more freely about mental health, health and wellbeing strategies have had to reflect this change, providing a permanent and engaging platform for staff – whether at home or at work.
The pay-off for looking after your staff is clear. While the connection between employee wellbeing and sickness absence and presenteeism hasn’t always been recognised, it’s evident that productivity and good health go hand in hand in the workplace. The latest ONS labour productivity statistics rightly suggest volatility in movement between 2020 and 2021 due to increased uncertainty, but there’s little doubt that if you look after the health and wellbeing of your people, you will get a better business return.
Alex Goldsmith is CEO at Medigold Health – an occupational health and wellbeing specialist, which is backed by growth capital investor, BGF. This article first appeared in New Business in September 2021.
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