How the pandemic has changed expectations of wellbeing

4 mins read

Investing in the wellbeing of your workforce is now considered an essential rather than a choice for businesses – but how have employee expectations shifted over the last two years, and is the manufacturing industry rising to the challenge of balancing competing needs?

Here, Anthony Burns – Director at not-for-profit Health Cash Plan provider Paycare – explores the expectations and the changing reality for employers

The UK has a fantastic manufacturing sector, which has had to embrace change and innovation in order to produce incredible results. Best practice has also changed over time – and never more rapidly than in recent years – when it comes to the role companies have in supporting the physical, emotional and financial needs of their workforce.

This is something we’ve seen the industry really embrace, with manufacturing businesses making up almost 40% of our Health Cash Plans corporate customers. We’ve also seen an increase of 20% in new business enquiries from manufacturers in recent times.

Pre-pandemic research showed 85% of manufacturing employers saw it as their duty to promote physical and mental wellbeing, taking both preventative and in-the-moment support of their teams more seriously, and investing in products like health cash plans, online GP services and telephone support services.

Most were investing in occupational health services like counselling, health screening, and mental health first aiders – with voluntary sick pay and adjustments to support those returning from long-term sickness also popular among employers.

There was a recognition of the plethora of benefits – not only to the individual, but to the business in its entirety too: improved morale and engagement; lower sickness rates, presenteeism and staff turnover; and potentially a boost to recruitment, as more than a third would consider wellbeing benefits as a priority before accepting a new job.

Then Covid occurred, and shone a real light on exactly how important health and wellbeing was in the workplace – the difference between make or break for many companies. Most of those who’ve prospered despite the immense challenges have reviewed their offering when it comes to health-related policies and practices.

An annual global report taking into account 30 million employee comments saw a 46% increase in comments about wellbeing after the onset of Covid – not only relating to physical health, as you’d expect in the midst of a pandemic, but also around mental and financial health too.

Communication, flexibility and the specifics of their health and wellbeing offering have all been in the spotlight more so in the last two years than ever before, either hastening progress employers were already making, or prompting those who hadn’t yet recognised the importance of workplace wellbeing to begin exploring the needs of their employees.

Of businesses who’ve increased their support since the beginning of the pandemic, 84% say they’re more focused on looking after employees’ mental health and 53% have introduced new services such as an Employee Assistance Programme. Looking specifically at manufacturers, free eye tests, advice on healthy lifestyles, and health screening were the most popular benefits, provided by 74%, 47% and 47% respectively.

Not just a number

Around 11% of over 65s are still in employment, and this number is set to increase in coming years. A wealth of research has looked into the potential impact of manufacturing jobs on older worker’s health, as well as conditions they might be at higher risk from than their younger colleagues. These include joint mobility, lifting capabilities, back problems or injuries, and risk of dehydration and eyesight problems from workplace conditions.

At the other end of the scale, Millennials (born between 1980 and the mid-1990s) are estimated to comprise half of the workforce globally – and they’ll soon be joined en masse by their Gen Z counterparts (born between the mid-90s and 2010). Not only are their health needs very different, their expectations also vary from the generations who’ve come before them.

There are many different factors and competing priorities for managers to consider – and of course, research will never ring true for every single member of a generation (especially when you consider Millennials range in age from mid-20s to early-40s, Gen X up to late-50s, and Baby Boomers anywhere from late-50s to mid-70s).

But there are certain trends and statistics which can be taken into account when deciding how to develop or improve a workplace wellbeing strategy, depending on the generational make-up of a specific workforce. To give just three examples:

70% of Millennials and Gen Zs now cite mental health as the greatest generational challenge for workplaces.

Gen X are significantly more likely to report financial wellbeing as their biggest worry than their Gen Z counterparts.

And Millennials tend to prioritise their employer’s wellbeing focus over the financial stability of the business they work for – in contrast to Baby Boomers for whom that stability is a core concern.

A recruiter’s perspective:

Someone who knows all too well how employee expectations have shifted is Nella Share from MET Recruitment, a company which works closely with Paycare, who says in 19 years within the industry she’s never seen such a competitive candidate market, with many more vacancies than there are people to fill them.

“We have seen salaries pushed up throughout the pandemic, but in equal measures we have also seen candidates demanding more from employers in other areas such as work/life balance and remote working.

“Candidates are certainly in the driving seat and with multiple opportunities to choose from, they are in a prime position to really consider what is on offer. Employers are starting to realise that what could previously have been considered as a ‘good package’ may not stand up to the expectations of the current candidates and the competition in the market.

“We have definitely seen a shift in attitude from employers and we are seeing them assess their own employee value proposition. Although salary is still a dominant factor in a candidate’s choice to accept a role, alone it is no longer enough to secure a good candidate - and they are being challenged to consider other benefits that naturally tie in to the importance of an individual’s health and wellbeing, both in and out of the workplace.”


A manufacturer’s perspective:

DePe Gear, manufacturers of precision-engineered gears, gearboxes and couplings, offer a company-paid Health Cash Plan as part of their wellbeing support for their staff.

Managing Director Shaun Hooper explains: “I feel it is important for us to protect and support our staff health and wellbeing, not only in the workplace but outside of it too. Strategically, I also see it as an advantage when looking for top talent in the future as a great way to promote how our business looks to support our workforce with healthcare costs.

“It allows us to further support our employees’ health and wellbeing. We feel also given the last couple of years and the global pandemic, the pressures put on all of us (not just physically but mentally too) have been difficult – so by having a Health Cash Plan in place, this allows my team access to a range of support to deal with any issues.”