The pandemic has laid bare inequities in our society which have generated health and wellbeing inequalities that now need to be addressed.

According to our Health at Work Report, younger people have become disproportionately affected by loneliness, anxiety and long Covid, women have struggled the most with burnout and fatigue and black employees have suffered the most bereavement.

Yet the inequalities don’t end there. Frontline workers, who faced greater health risks over the past year, had the least access to employer-sponsored healthcare support, including financial wellbeing tools, occupational health support, private GPs, wellbeing webinars and nutrition support. But they had the most access to Covid testing and PPE equipment.

Men felt less cared for by their employer than women, while individuals with neurodiversity challenges, such as autism or dyslexia, felt more uncomfortable discussing this with their manager than almost any other issue. All of which contributed to one in four (24%) employees being diagnosed with clinical anxiety or depression in the past year.

Fortunately, there is much more employers can do to create more equitable and inclusive wellbeing strategies, so our blog this month looks at five ways to do this.

Five ways to create a more diverse wellbeing strategy:

1. Make sure everyone feels represented

While employees have made huge strides in using diverse images, in wellbeing marketing materials, the language itself also needs to be written to appeal to different demographics. For example, when promoting mental health services, many demographics respond better to positive messaging: “Be the best that you can be,” rather than: “Do you need help?” – which requires positively showcasing the benefits of talking to a counsellor, rather than negative images of someone looking depressed, which also negatively reinforces the idea that the service is just for people in crisis.

Review data about how your wellbeing services are being utilised, or conduct a survey to see which groups aren’t aware of or don’t see certain benefits as being relevant to them. Then you can carry out a targeted campaign aimed at those individuals to re-engage and educate them to increase take up. Otherwise, if you have employees in need, who think something isn’t for them, they won’t use it or get the benefit, leading to more serious issues later.

2. Work with diverse suppliers

For people to truly see wellbeing services as relevant to them, there needs to be a diverse mix of people providing these services, so employees can be supported by professionals with a similar background to them. This matters because just as many women feel more comfortable talking to a female doctor or counsellor, ethnic minorities will feel more comfortable discussing issues facing them to someone they feel will understand them. Younger people are less likely to have their concerns and anxieties dismissed by someone closer in age to them than an older person who might feel they should just buck up.

Talk to your providers about what they’re doing to become more diverse and inclusive and make it clear to them that you want to work with suppliers that are progressing in this area. Look at their values and objectives in this area and ensure they’re aligned to your own.

3. Provide a wide range of benefits

The days of selecting a service that will have the most appeal to the most people are long gone. Even if you just have a handful of employees struggling with a particular issue, such as working parents struggling with fatigue or black employees struggling with grief and loss, to be a truly diverse workforce you need to meet everyone’s needs.

It’s often difficult to identify what people’s needs are, especially for sensitive issues, so the rise of digital wellbeing apps, such as our PAM Assist Wellbeing App, is a game changer. These tools allow employees to access millions of resources, signposting them to what they need based on personal assessments. They provide confidential access to advice on everything from addiction and sexual worries to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) training to reduce anxiety. Topics that might be difficult for employees to come forward for help with.

4. Eliminate healthcare inequality

As our Health at Work Report shows, some of the lowest-paid individuals, such as part-time, front-line and younger workers, are also the least likely to be able to access certain types of wellbeing support. Either because they struggle to take time off the shop or factory floor to access support in place, or because they’re not eligible to receive that benefit.

Many healthcare providers are also relaxing their eligibility requirements, to make services available to non-permanent and non-full-time staff. But employers also need to do their bit to review where benefits have become non-inclusive. For example, by adding the option for employees to have blood testing, for preventable diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, into their cash plans, so this benefit isn’t only available to senior executives.

5. Make the business case

Changing your approach to health and wellbeing to become more diverse and inclusive might require spending more money on additional services or extending services to cover more people. If so, critical to securing budget for this is not just looking at sickness absence savings, but also wider business savings, such as the cost of attracting and retaining people at a time when the great resignation has promoted a record number of people to quit their job.

Our Health at Work Report found that one in two (51%) employees who were given proactive help to stay healthy were less likely to want to work elsewhere, compared to just one in twenty (6%) of those employees given little or no support. The most supported employees were also significantly more productive and less likely to take sick leave than the least unsupported employees.

For more expert insights on how to create a more diverse wellbeing strategy, download our free Health at Work Report: What you people want and need to stay healthy