Why employers need to know about the four pillars of wellbeing

We all experience highs and lows – days where we feel on top of it all and others where we feel like everyone and everything is out to get us. It’s easy for the micro stresses and anxieties of everyday life to build up so that when a bigger problem inevitably comes along we feel overwhelmed. According to the Bupa Wellbeing Census taken in May/June 2019, 1 in 4 employees were struggling with wellbeing. If that was true before Covid, the pandemic has only compounded the already high levels of stress, anxiety and depression. It may be that poor wellbeing is an even greater threat to people’s health than the virus itself.*

What is wellbeing?

The dictionary defines wellbeing as ‘the state of being comfortable, healthy or happy’ but that doesn’t reveal anything about the multi-faceted nature of wellbeing, made up as it is of the four intertwined ‘pillars’ of emotional, physical, social and financial wellbeing. Essentially, an employee’s needs in each of these four core areas need to be met for them to feel ‘happy’. Why should employers care? Because happier staff are more motivated and more productive, and therefore physically more resilient (less sick leave, less burn-out).

The ROI on a wellbeing programme is often considered difficult to measure and budget constraints are by far the most common reason for not going ahead**. Scrimping on wellbeing is a false economy though. According to research by Investors in People, increasing happiness has anything from a 12% to 14% effect on productivity. With 70 million work days lost last year due to mental health issues at a cost to employers of £2.4 billion*** these statistics are significant. Especially when you consider that this figure was calculated pre Covid. Now, with mental health problems nationwide skyrocketing amid an unforeseen recession of historic proportions, the tension between cost-cutting and building a better workplace is even more important to resolve.

The four pillars of wellbeing and priorities for SMEs

In order to figure out what affordable actions they cantake to most effectively improve employee wellbeing, employers need to appreciate the interlinked nature of the aforementioned four pillars i.e. for employees to look after their emotional wellbeing they need to maintain their physical, social and financial wellbeing too.

The fact is that keeping mentally fit means keeping physically fit, and vice versa. Research has shown that physical exercise releases feel-good endorphins in the brain and can improve concentration, memory and ability to learn as well as well enhancing creativity. We all know the saying ‘you are what you eat’ but we may not realise the extent to which nutrition can influence the development, management and prevention of various mental health conditions from depression to Alzheimer’s.

Similarly, the quality of our emotional wellbeing is also affected by the quality of our social wellbeing, both in the personal as well as the professional sphere. Huge satisfaction is derived from having a sense of belonging to a community (whether this is in the workplace, at home with family, or with a group of friends who share common history and/or interests). In addition to that need to belong we also require recognition from others. Unsurprising then that the Bupa workplace/wellbeing census 2019 found that this was one of the top three priorities for SME employees (along with flexible working and manageable workload). Relatedly, wellbeing is also enhanced greatly by giving back to the community – feeling valued is fantastic but ideally an employee needs to feel that they have contributed to something bigger than themselves.

Finally, financial wellbeing (how secure we feel about our finances and the extent to which we have have control and choices available to us) is similarly intricately connected with our emotional state. People with financial worries are a shocking 380 per cent more likely to suffer from anxiety and panic attacks and 470 per cent more likely to be depressed**** as well as being more likely to have difficulties in their relationships. Lost productivity/higher staff turnover due to employees with money worries represented 9-13% of total salary bill pre-Covid.*

It’s clear that there is often a vicious circle at work in terms of the way life events can impact on all four pillars of wellbeing. However it is equally true that that pattern can be turned into a virtuous circle – most of us have experienced the way the more physical exercise we take, the easier it becomes to eat more healthily, and so on.


Your Employee Wellbeing works with businesses to support the wellbeing of their employees. Focusing on dealing with life’s challenges we are here to help your employees

We do this through our bespoke programmes for larger businesses and through our new service PC Employee Care for smaller businesses with up to 100 employees.

Get in touch to see how we can help.

info@youremployeewellbeing.co.uk  |  020 8979 6453

© Working Life Solutions | Website by WebWorks Design

Registered in England & Wales company No. 07656195