8 employee health and wellbeing trends that we’re honing in on at The Watercooler

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With the number of people off on long-term sick at a 10-year high and the NHS stretched to the max, it’s more important than ever that workplace employee health and wellbeing programmes make a tangible impact – both for individual staff members and their businesses.

But this is easier said than done. To really make a difference, it’s essential to stay up to date with the fast-evolving needs of employees and how best to support them. There’s a raft of new legislation to keep abreast of too. From the introduction of the right to request flexible working from day one in a new job to the requirement to provide ‘reasonable adjustments’ for menopausal employees.

Featuring 100 speakers at the free-to-attend conference sessions and an exhibition of suppliers showcasing a wide range of culture, mental, physical, financial, social and workplace design solutions, The Watercooler and co-located The Office Events are a perfect opportunity to learn from the leaders and find the right approach for your people.

To whet your appetite, here we’ve outlined eight key developments in employee health and wellbeing that the conference sessions and partner-led workshops will be honing in on.

This is just a taste of what to expect though. You can find the full agendas for the main-stage sessions and partner-led workshops here.

1. The key to improving workplace wellbeing lies in culture, leadership and management behaviour

Rather than relying on band-aid initiatives which might treat symptoms but do nothing to address root causes, forward-thinking employers are increasingly recognising the impact that managers have on workplace culture and employee wellbeing and are taking steps to weave wellbeing into the everyday workflow. 

Middle management are the highest stress group, but are also the ones responsible for keeping organisations going. Companies need to equip middle managers better so that they have active listing skills and are equipped to have the right, timely conversations with employees. Managers also need to get the support that they need to look after themselves so that they can, in turn, look after others. This includes providing support for the groups of enthusiastic ‘wellbeing champions’ that have emerged in a wide range of organisations.

This is so fundamental to the future of employee health and wellbeing that it’s a golden thread running right across the event.

2. Measurement and data are growing in importance

A decade ago, wellbeing largely couldn’t be (or wasn’t) measured. Now data is much more robust and impact can be measured and proven much more effectively. However, many employers are still struggling to work out which data they should draw on both to assess needs and measure impact, as well as how best to access this data.

It’s also key for employers to be able to know how to use data effectively for storytelling, to build the business case and reinforce trust in the effectiveness of workplace health and wellbeing initiatives.

Join the panel session from 11.35 – 12.20 on 24th April: “How employers are using data to enhance their health, wellbeing, benefits and rewards offering”. Chaired by Clare Kenny, Head of Wellbeing Strategy, PVL and featuring input from Amanda Webb, Head of Reward, Ovo Energy; Sharon O’Connor, Global Lead Wellbeing, Novartis and Hannah Meredith, former Health and Wellbeing Lead, MVF.

3. The rise of AI

Many leaders with an employee health and wellbeing remit are taking a serious look at AI in 2024. But question marks still remain about how to maximise its potential. For instance, AI is a useful tool to make healthcare more scalable, and in some cases, more accurate. But, balancing technology with empathy will be essential to get this right. Employers need to ensure that AI is used to widen participation and not hinder it, which potentially means offering additional access routes for colleagues who do not wish to interact with AI but humans.

Find out more at the fireside chat from 13.50 – 14.20 on 23rd April: “How to use AI to support wellbeing, HR and grow the employee value proposition” featuring insights from Mariyana Zhou, HR Director, 1inch and Kevin Lyons, Senior HR Manager, Pearson.

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4. Women’s health and wellbeing

The fact that employers can now be sued for disability discrimination if they fail to provide ‘reasonable adjustments’ for menopausal employees means that, if they weren’t before, employers now need to take women’s health and wellbeing at work seriously. This development is also helping to break down taboos around talking about other aspects of women’s health, including period and reproductive health and what employers can do to proactively support women through the various life-stages of their careers. For many, questions still remain around how to weave support of women into a wider, inclusive approach to workplace health and wellbeing.

To get answers to your questions join the partner-led workshops on the show floor on both days of the event led by Benenden and the IVF Network. Plus a stellar panel session which rounds off the day’s proceedings from 14.30 – 15.15 on 24th April: “What’s on the agenda with women’s health and wellbeing – from endometriosis to menopause”. Chaired by the inimitable Trudi Roscouet and including input from Helen Tomlinson, the Government Menopause Employment Champion; Cathy Earnshaw-Balding, Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging , GXO; Maurice O’Connor, Wellbeing Manager, British Airways; Dr Sam Wild, Women’s Health Clinical Lead, BUPA and Ginisha Vekaria, Workplace Menstrual Wellbeing Programme Manager, Endometriosis UK.

5. The growing intersectionality of DEI and wellbeing – including neurodiversity

One of the most prominent trends in 2023 was a growing acknowledgment of the deep connection between workplace wellbeing and diversity. Employees can only thrive when they are allowed to be at their natural, authentic best, and not hampered by masking who they really are. Furthermore, to be truly effective, employee health and wellbeing programme have to acknowledge and accommodate the very different needs of diverse workforces.

As part of this, neurodiversity has also become a hot topic. With some estimating that around 15-20 per cent of the population is neurodivergent, employers are increasingly recognising that embracing differences is not only the right thing to do, it also benefits the whole organisation. But many are still confused about how to do this effectively.

Sessions on the agenda honing in on this crucial topic include: The keynote fireside chat “Disability and wellbeing in the workplace – what inclusive employers need to know” from 10.00 – 10.35 on 23rd April featuring Isaac Harvey MBE in conversation with Lee Chambers; also from 10.00 – 10.35 on 23rd April, in the “Engage” theatre: “Why neurodiversity and wellbeing need to be considered together in the workplace” featuring Clarke & Carrie Carlisle in conversation with Jon Salmon; the fireside chat from 10.50 – 11.20 on 23rd April “The increasing intersection between DE&I and wellbeing – where belonging, health, happiness and productivity meet” featuring Dan Robertson, MD of FAIRER Consulting and Global Head of ED&I Advisory Services at Hays International in conversation with Sunaina Kohli, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Leader, ASOS.

The panel from 11.35 – 12.20 on 24th April is also a must-attend. “How wellbeing strategy is supporting DE&I and aligning to wider business objectives” will be Chaired by Sobia Afridi, Equality Diversity Inclusion Specialist, Oxford City Council and includes input from Nimisha Overton, EMEA Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Lead, Canon; Kerrie Smith, Head of Health & Wellbeing, Mace Group; Monica Stancu, Senior DEI Manager, Lloyds of London and Karen Aitchison, Global Head of Mental Health & Wellbeing, ERM.

Relevant partner-led workshops also include: “It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it – easy steps to help make your workplace more neuroinclusive” led by Thriiver and “Supporting the mental health of neurodivergent employees” led by Wellbeing Partners.

6. Flexibility and the return to the office

In 2024 employers’ understanding is growing of both the value of flexibility for colleagues and the importance of face-to-face time. Employers are also realising that work environments are an essential part of the workplace wellbeing mix. They now need to provide better and healthier office experiences, both in physical terms and in terms of support available.

For this reason, The Watercooler Event now incorporates The Office Event, for leaders who understand the need to adapt their work spaces to meet the diverse and changing needs of employees and want to learn from best practice case studies and compare solutions.

For more on this topic, as well as all of the sessions on The Office agenda, join the keynote session from 10.00 – 10.35 on 24th April “Future ways of working – how wellbeing and HR can adapt to the workplace of 2025” Chaired by Chris Brook-Carter, CEO, Retail Trust and featuring input from Caroline Andrews, Chief People Officer, International Airlines Group (IAG); Dr Nicola Millard, Principal Innovation Partner, BT Group; and James Hurrell, Managing Director, Grocery & Consumer, Wincanton.

This session will be followed by the case Study from 10.50 – 11.20 on 24th April “Structure and embed more flexible working practices to help tackle key wellbeing challenges” with Amy Butterworth from Timewise and Jane O’Mahoney, Deputy Director, House of Commons.

7. Financial wellbeing

In 2023 employee finances were battered by escalating prices, soaring interest rates and rising taxes. Unfortunately, the impact of the cost-of-living crisis is extending into 2024, continuing the pain for households striving to make ends meet or battling to uphold their standard of living. It isn’t only low-income and no-income families that are affected. Nobody is escaping unscathed.

Employers continue to grapple with how they can realistically offer support of financial wellbeing, and meet the diverse needs of their workforce, beyond pay rises.

To find out more, join the partner-led workshops on the show floor on both days of the event led by Hargreaves Lansdown.

Plus the keynote session from 10.00 – 10.35 on 24th April “Targeting financial support during the cost-of-living crisis” with Ruth Handcock, CEO, Octopus Money and the session from 10.50 – 11.20 on 23rd April “Tailoring financial wellbeing to individual needs” featuring Natalie Jutla, Employee Benefits & Financial Wellbeing Lead, DeFRA and Rashree Chhatrisha, Reward Director – Pensions & Benefits, SAGA.

8. The rise of Occupational Health

The government’s recent establishment of an expert ‘task and finish’ group, led by Dame Carol Black, to support the development of a “voluntary minimum framework for quality OH provision which employers could adopt to help improve employee health at work” signifies growing recognition of the pivotal and preventative role occupational health can play when it comes to supporting the health and wellbeing of employees and getting them back to work. The question remains for many though: what does this mean for us and how will we need to adapt?

Stay one step ahead by joining the session from 10.50 – 11.20 on 24th April “Embedding occupational health into your wellbeing programme – the missing link” Chaired by Christian von Stolk, Executive Vice President, RAND Europe and including Rachel Suff, Senior Policy Adviser – Employment Relations, CIPD and Consultant Occupational Health Physician Abeyna Bubbers-Jones.

You can also get a sense of what this evolution means for your career in wellbeing by joining the session “The future of the wellbeing profession” Chaired by Nick Pahl, Chief Executive, SOM with input from Ruth Pott from BAM UK&I, Maria Anderson from Cambridge University Press and Prof. Liza Jachens from University of Nottingham.

You can find out more and register for these and all of the other free-to-attend conference sessions and partner-led workshops. Stay ahead, achieve maximum impact with your budgets and really make a difference to workplace culture, mental health and wellbeing here.



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