Here’s the big idea in 95 words: There is a fundamental disconnect between the way we (HR) deliver health initiatives and the way they are received by our audience (employees).

As a result, when it really matters, when it is most important to support and improve the health of employees, nine out of ten times HR teams make little or no impact.

In some cases, all the effort that HR teams put into health and wellbeing is completely missed by employees.

You need to understand why this disconnect occurs in order to overcome it, succeed, and profit from engaged and productive employees. This post is the first in a series that show you how.

I am not a natural

I create health technology for a living. My job is to bring products to market that improve peoples health. I am good at it. When HR teams want to improve employee health & wellbeing, my product gets results for them.

I have seen giant leaps in mental health, energy levels, weight, and 22 other biomarkers when companies use my product. I have seen these results at Universal Music Group, Skyscanner, Expedia, and many other household names. And I continue to see these results at a rate of 2 new companies every month.

From the outside, my products success looks simple: I offer companies who want to improve employee health a product that improves employee health. But others do that too. Yet my product is far more effective than theirs. They compete in the same market. Make the same type of software. Work with the same kind of HR teams.

But the numbers show my product is consistently the most effective and engaging. The difference isn’t luck. It isn’t a special gift. And I have no degree in HR or health. What I do have is a good method.

As it turns out improving employee health is one of those skills that depends heavily on the method you use and not how hard you try. Better method, better outcomes. Much better method, much better outcomes.

It’s no different for you. The better you are at improving engagement, retention, and performance - the more effective you will be. Maybe you want to reduce your attrition rate. Maybe you want to reduce your sickness absence, or even demonstrate to the board why you should invest more in mental health.

I can help you get better using the methods in this series of blog posts.

Method 1: Get quality data

I recently sat down with 30 HR teams in the UK. It didn’t matter if they were a Global HR Director looking after 150,000 employees or Head of Benefits with just 1,000 employees. Their stories are the same.

Here’s what they said:

Me: “What challenges are you facing right now as a HR team?”

HR Director: “We are seeing alarming increases in attrition and sickness absence. Stress, mental health, and physical health are causing people to take time off or leave altogether“

Benefit Manager: “I have procured new health benefits to try and alleviate the problem, but very few employees use the benefits. We have great benefits. But employees don’t use them.“

HRBP: “I created a mental health pamphlet that I’ve circled around, I think Andrew said he liked it“

Benefit Manager: “Yes, I spoke to one of the managers and he said he liked the benefits too“

(many minutes later…)

HR Director: “Anyway, we’re offering a lot of good things. But nothing seems to cut through.“

Me: “OK, well, how did you decide what action you would take to solve your health problem?“

Benefit Manager: “We had a meeting with managers and HR, looked at pulse survey data, looked at what other companies have been doing, and then made some decisions.“

Sound familiar? Did you detect where these teams went off track? It seems obvious after-the-fact, but these HR teams didn’t properly understand the health landscape they were dealing with. Mental health is complicated. Is it work stress? Financial pressure? Autonomy related? Or something internal, like vitamin deficiencies?

The point is they didn’t know. These HR teams acted on partial and incomplete information. And as a result, they chose the wrong initiatives. So it’s no wonder employees weren’t interested.

So how do you get this first step right?

If there is ever a time to learn how to get the right HR data, it is now. Budgets are tight. HR teams at competing firms are becoming more advanced. On a good day, employees are distracted by emails, meetings, text messages, and phone calls. On a bad day, they’re impossible to reach.

If you’ve been in business more than 10 minutes you’ll understand this: the better you are at pinpointing problems, the more likely you are able to solve that problem and get results. People will listen to you when you have identified a real problem and have a compelling solution.

But what kind of advice is this really? Telling someone “Get the right HR data“ is like telling someone learning to play tennis “Hit the ball with topspin when it comes”. They know that! What they don’t know is how to do it.

So let’s get specific. And we’ll use our previous mental health scenario as an example.

These HR teams should have rolled out a health assessment to employees. A health assessment will analyse mental health, nutrition, activity, lifestyle, internal biomarkers, medical history and wearable data.

Why a health assessment? Because it is a huge win for you and your business. It will show employees what they are doing well. It will show them where they are not doing so well. It will prompt them to take action. And they will be motivated to take action because they now realise, for the first time, they have a health problem. By taking this one small move, employees are now improving themselves. And you haven’t really done much yet.

But that’s not the real reason for the health assessment. The golden pot is with the aggregated data of all the health assessments combined. A quality health assessment will show you how many people are affected, and how sever the problem really is.

Once you have rolled out a health assessment, the data will show you 1 of 3 scenarios:

  • Yes, we have a mental health problem with employees. We need to take action.

  • Actually, this problem isn’t as severe as we thought. If we roll out health initiatives to solve this problem, they will likely be ignored.

  • Yes, this is a problem, but it is dwarfed by other health challenges we didn’t know we had. We need to put effort in other areas.

In either scenarios, you will need to convince budget holders to give you something. This data will be persuasive.

Back to the main point: let’s imagine the HR health data confirms that we do in fact have a mental health problem. The next question is: what is causing the mental health issue?

This is the critical piece of the puzzle. You need to know the underlying reason before you start taking action. A good health assessment will bring clarity here. The data will show you where you need to focus your efforts. And also what you should say “no” to. Not only can you now demonstrate the size and scale of the problem. You can also pinpoint the underlying reasons that are driving the issue.

Going back to our mental health example - you might see the following results:

  • 80% of employees have an energy sapping vitamin deficiency

  • 9% of employees have concerning anxiety and stress results, and cite work & family issues as the key drivers

  • There is a positive correlation between overall healthiness and mental health

These insights are game-changing for a HR team. That idea they had around financial wellbeing? Toss it out. It’s a waste of time for this company. Nearly 1 in 10 of their staff have stress & anxiety issues that are not related to financial wellbeing.

This company should focus their efforts on coaching and counselling programs for the 9%. If they tackle this issue, they will see a reduction in attrition and sickness leave. If they work on that financial wellbeing idea, a few people will turn up, one person will say the liked it, and the HR team will have made no difference to their HR metrics.

As for the 80% that have an energy sapping vitamin deficiency - it’s relatively easy and cheap to solve this: offer staff supplements for free - or discounted. The net gain here is that most employees will feel better every day. And this result will take effect in a short space time.

You can see quickly how this changes the game for HR teams. With this method you don’t have to guess with health initiatives. You don’t have to copy what other companies are doing. Or do what your broker told you is “hot right now”. You will be much more effective if you understand, with clarity, the issues that your employees are facing. And then offer them solutions that solve their problems. It’s better for them. It’s better for you. And it’s better for your business.

The same method can and should be applied to other corporate health issues. Think rising MSK problems, increasing PMI claims, or even if you are improving health for moral reasons. The method is the same.

I’ll end this post with this thought: think of a health initiative you launched recently. Was it effective? How did you decide that was the right initiative? Knowing what you know now, how would you do that differently?

In the next post I’ll walk through how to get high uptake with your health initiatives. Spoiler alert: it’s a new method for personalising health initiatives. This new method consistently gets 70% uptake with employees.

See you for the next one.

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