One of the most heartening aspects of the pandemic has been how the national conversation regarding mental health and wellbeing has evolved. One of the ways this has been reflected is a marked increase in wellbeing programmes implemented in the workplace. Mental health and workplace wellbeing are being taken seriously.
It’s not difficult to see why an emphasis on wellbeing is a key component in any employers’ overall business strategy. As the mental health charity Mind points out: “FTSE 100 companies that prioritise employee engagement and wellbeing outperform the rest of the FTSE 100 by 10 per cent. By supporting staff wellbeing, they reap the benefits through enhanced morale, loyalty, commitment, innovation, productivity and profitability. Open and supportive workplaces benefit everyone – employees, employers and the bottom line.”
And yet, as the emphasis on wellbeing has increased, a problem has emerged. Many employees who need it most are failing to connect with the wellbeing programmes introduced by their employers.
According to a survey of 500 employers by insurer Towergate Health and Protection, almost half (45%) of employers are finding it difficult to ensure that health and wellbeing support is communicated in a way that is relevant to their workforce, despite a wide range of communication tools at their disposal.
Although 56% have changed the way they communicate health and wellbeing support since Covid hit, with 62% concentrating more on digital information delivery, many were still finding it difficult to spread key messages.
Hybrid working was a major factor behind this, with 44% of employers stating they found communication had become more difficult now that employees were working from home all, or some, of the time.
The most in need are hardest to reach
Inevitably, one of the hardest groups to reach is those who are struggling with their mental health. A mental health condition can make sufferers insular and lacking in motivation and energy. Added to this, many of those with mental health conditions report feeling overwhelmed much of the time. The idea of getting involved in a scheme designed to help with their mental health can feel like just another commitment in an already overwhelming schedule.
If we want to reach, and engage, those who need support the most, any effective wellbeing tool must be easy to communicate, and to implement. It also requires an emphasis on encouraging everyone to take part, and a supportive environment.
BuddyBoost has a growing range of programmes where participants commit to doing something that’s good for them for at least 26 days in a month. For example, in BuddyBoost Active, people commit to doing 26 minutes of physical activity each day. Participants rate their mood after doing their minutes, and the data from around 250,000 activities logged on the app shows that, on average, people get a 25% mood boost from the programme.
And through the BuddyBoost community feed, workers can keep track of one another’s progress and encourage each other to complete their 26 minutes of activity.
The concept, then, is easy to grasp and easy to implement. And the emphasis on a socially supportive environment, where people can share their successes and discuss the benefits their gaining from their activities encourages waverers to get involved.
The right environment is key
The importance of this supportive environment cannot be overstated. The psychologists at the University of Westminster set up a ‘Workplace Activator’ programme, where people in the workplace would encourage colleagues to take 30 minutes of exercise every day.
They took this approach because “interpersonal inﬂuences, particularly social support, have consistently been shown to be an important inﬂuence on physical activity behaviour change,” and “employee interventionists were found to be more effective than external interventionists at promoting behaviour change.”
The results were startling, encouraging even those who were initially reluctant to get involved to take more exercise. This was, in a large part, down to the support of colleagues. “To actually have somebody there encouraging me to be more active and to actually get out and do things and walk places… that was actually quite good for me and actually got me into more activity,” reported one participant. Another said: “It was a nice sense of, oh this is something bigger than just me going to the gym if there was a group of us trying to do this.”
BuddyBoost’s central ethos of getting participants to encourage and support each other, will therefore be more effective at engaging those ‘hard to reach’ employees. But there are other benefits as well. The communal aspect of the programme breaks down barriers and builds new relationships in the workplace.
The University of Westminster study stated that having physical activity as a “common interest that you’re all endeavouring to do” was perceived to “make for good teamwork” and provide “more social cohesion with-in the organisation”. Physical activity felt like a “positive conversation” and “participants enjoyed getting to know colleagues through [the programme].”
“There’s people here I wouldn’t normally stop to talk to in the corridor,” noted one respondent, “but once you’ve been down the gym a couple of times you just have that common link.”
Flexibility is key
Any effort to reach this neglected community, then, must involve the promotion of a supportive and encouraging atmosphere. But that’s only half the battle. If you’re suffering from poor mental health, the idea of suddenly leaping up and doing a triathlon is simply overwhelming.
BuddyBoost Active’s approach encourages people to do whatever activity they feel comfortable with. Activities can range from cycling, running and working out, to gardening, walking, or yoga. It means that all levels of physical fitness are catered for, and activities are manageable rather than intimidating.
And because BuddyBoost Active is just about getting 26 minutes of physical activity each day, it can be done anytime, and anywhere. This means the participant is in control of what they do, and when they do it. If you’re struggling with anxiety or depression, it may be that certain activities, or certain times of the day, are harder than others. The emphasis on flexibility and self-determination means that participants can choose what works for them on any given day.
The bottom line
And it does work for them. BuddyBoost’s own data revealing participants get a 25% mood boost as a result of physical activity is backed up by the results of the University of Westminster’s trial, which reported:
“Participants explained physical activity had had numerous positive impacts on their physical health and well-being. Physical health beneﬁts included weight loss, reduction in blood pressure and cholesterol, reduced muscle and joint pain and improved sleep. Wellbeing beneﬁts included reduced stress, increased self-esteem and positive mood states.”
Mental health is relevant to everyone. It is not binary, or absolute, but a sliding scale. We all need to look after our mental health and, as such, a workplace wellbeing programme needs to have the flexibility to work for everyone. But, inevitably, there will be those whose needs are more pressing and more urgent than others.
Yet the sad truth is that these people are often the most difficult to reach. Any wellbeing programme needs to be easily communicated, inclusive, and suffused with encouragement and a sense of shared purpose. Until we start reaching those who need it the most, wellbeing strategies are little more than window dressing.