Consulting Director Thomsons Online Benefits
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Wellbeing: how employers can support a social wellness culture through benefits

Digitalisation has changed the way we interact with our friends, family and colleagues. What can organisations do to defend their people against digitally induced social isolation?

12th Nov 2019
Consulting Director Thomsons Online Benefits
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Workplace digitalisation, the rise of the gig economy and increasingly flexible working patterns are eroding traditional ways of working, so that the nine to five office job is arguably no longer the norm.  

The benefits of this shift are clear – it’s now easier than ever to build global connections, work remotely and organise shift patterns around life commitments. What’s more, workplace technology is enabling us to carry out the day’s tasks and be in constant communication with colleagues around the globe, working in a way that suits our needs without needing to commute to a central location.

Employees can tell the difference between the high visibility, ‘gimmicky’ benefits often used to denote a fun office culture, and those that present real opportunity to build meaningful social connections.

Unfortunately, the social connections common to the workplace of 20 years ago are being sacrificed as a result.

As humans, we are innately social, meaning that our personal connections and how we feel about these can have an incredible impact on our mental health, workplace engagement and productivity.

It’s imperative that employers nurture their people’s social wellbeing, for the sake of employee welfare and business bottom line. Employee benefits can be an invaluable tool in enabling this.

Why should employers be interested in social wellbeing?

There’s a growing demand for social wellbeing benefits among UK workers. Our research suggests that, in many cases, these benefits are more valued than those that support financial, physical or even mental wellbeing.

For example, 63% of employees would value monthly company lunches, a greater proportion than the 55% who’d like emergency loans from their employer, or the 57% who’d value in-office fitness sessions.

In silo, these may seem small issues, but when considered alongside the 49% of people who feel their company should support them with their work/life balance, it tells an interesting story about what employees today want from their working experience.

The desire for social benefits is particularly pronounced among younger workers aged 18 – 24, something that companies should not ignore. Our new ways of working will be the norm for future generations – generation Z and the post-2020 ‘generation alpha’, who will have been born and raised in a completely digital world.

For them, many of the social aspects of working will no longer be standard, meaning that providing these could be a real differentiator for employers in a competitive and fast-moving jobs market.

What can HR teams do?

Employees need to feel connected and included in the relationships around them.

Social benefits are not difficult to establish and can be relatively cost-efficient. They could include holding monthly lunches, regular after-work drinks, company-wide success celebrations or charity days, where groups of colleagues can donate their time to a good cause. The key is making them meaningful and relevant.

A strong social offering that is communicated well and responsive to the needs of employees will help encourage employee engagement and productivity. 

Employees can tell the difference between the high visibility, ‘gimmicky’ benefits often used to denote a fun office culture, and those that present real opportunity to build meaningful social connections. Just 37% of people would value initiatives like having puppies in the office, but well over a half would like to see success celebrations.

Building awareness

Many companies already offer these benefits, and that’s where good communication comes in. Publicising a company’s social wellbeing offering in regular email blasts, on benefits portals and during staff meetings can help to raise awareness of these important but often forgotten benefits and encourage greater take-up.

Carrying out staff surveys and encouraging feedback on existing social initiatives can also help HR teams understand what their people want and the type of support they’d most value going forward. This information can help companies to hone and personalise the benefits they offer their people.

The road ahead

Moving forward, social wellbeing is something that HR leaders cannot ignore – the drive for social benefits is only going to increase as younger generations enter the workforce. They will be working in a culture where changing employers regularly is commonplace, creating an even more challenging environment for HR teams looking to attract and retain talented people.

A strong social offering that is communicated well and responsive to the needs of employees will help encourage employee engagement and productivity. It could also be a significant contributing factor in an employee’s loyalty to their employer, potentially making the difference between their decision to stay with their company or leave.

Interested in this topic? Read Workplace happiness in seven steps.

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