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Health and wellbeing on work site

Health and wellbeing - the battle for productivity

Dr Chris Tomkins, Head of Wellbeing at AXA Health, discusses how the profile of wellbeing programmes has changed and the opportunities for brokers in the sector

19 July 2021

There was once a time when productivity in the workplace was measured almost entirely by absenteeism. The more often employees were at work, the more productive the business was. It was simple but it didn’t really work.

The UK has a long-standing productivity problem and even today we lag behind comparable Western economies such as Germany, France, the US and Italy. But this may soon be a thing of the past as the concept of employee wellbeing becomes commonplace in the UK. 

“I’ve seen it gathering momentum over the last ten years,” says Dr Chris Tomkins, Head of Wellbeing at AXA Health.

“What people are coming to realise is that people, and the energy and creativity they bring, is closely related to their physical and psychological wellbeing.” 

According to a 2018 study by US-based United Healthcare, 56% of employees had fewer sick days due to wellbeing programmes and the International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans reported that 63% of organisations offering employee wellbeing programmes experienced increased financial stability and growth.

Chris says that as we’ve shifted to predominantly service-based jobs, the physical and mental health of employees has become a key differentiator in the battle for productivity. 

“We take our car for a service every year - we don’t wait for it to break down. Wellbeing is a similar idea – lets invest in people early, understand the health risks and the scientific data set that relates health risk to absenteeism,” he says.

He explains that the profile of wellbeing programmes has changed from an engagement model to one that draws a direct link between wellbeing and financial performance.

“I can model the impact obesity will have on presenteeism and productivity and I can calculate the return on investment,” he explains. 

“There is a growing acceptance among business leaders that there is a commercial relationship in investing in wellbeing and the performance of the business.”

And while to date wellbeing programmes have tended to be the preserve of the corporate sector, employee expectations in smaller companies are growing and wellbeing programme providers are adapting to help them meet that demand.

“I think we are going to see a lot of rapid change in this space over the coming years,” he says.

“The more we digitise and make it accessible to SMEs, the more we can help them see this as something that is not a benefit but about creating a happier more productive place to work.”

And for brokers there are two opportunities in the wellbeing sector. The first is of course the productivity of their own workforce but there’s also an opportunity to help their own clients’ business performance.

“I think being able to offer these programmes is going to become essential in order to be credible in the SME space,” Chris says.

“Brokers should have it as something they can sign post to clients and show they have enough knowledge to give a recommendation. Increasingly, it is going to be part and parcel of the role brokers are expected to play.”