UK business leaders to boost investment in employee wellbeing

21 September 2021 . United Kingdom

  • New report reveals UK business leaders plan to up their employee wellbeing spend by 18 per cent in next 12 months
  • New empathetic style of leadership and tackling the green agenda take priority in a bid to future-proof businesses against economic uncertainty
  • Bupa Global’s Executive Wellbeing Index 2021 reveals biggest UK and global trends in wellbeing at home and work for the year ahead
man at desk

British business leaders are set to increase their investment in employee wellbeing as they look to retain and nurture staff in the wake of ongoing economic concerns.

According to Bupa Global’s Executive Wellbeing Index 2021, UK business leaders are predicted to increase their spend on employee mental health and wellbeing by 18 per cent in the coming year, among the highest rates in the world-wide study1.

With almost three in 10 business leaders now making employee mental health their number one priority (28%), these larger budgets will pay for new roles focused on supporting mental health, upskilling existing HR and management-level staff paid mental health sick days and private medical insurance with mental health cover2.

Rise of empathetic leadership

In recognition of the changes to working lives wrought by the pandemic and the challenges that many have faced juggling life and work, UK business leaders now view flexible working patterns as the most important factor in improving employee wellbeing3 and are implementing this in their companies. Two in three business leaders (63%) have already introduced flexi-working, with a further 20 per cent planning to do so in the next year.

It’s clear that business heads are taking a more empathetic, inclusive approach to leadership. Board-level executives in the UK now rate integrity, empathy, listening skills and trustworthiness among the most important qualities of a CEO4.

Consequently, one in five now see their CEO as taking on the dual responsibility of 'Chief Empathy Officer’. In fact, three in 10 British businesses say they already have a ‘CEmO’ in post, with a further 13 per cent planning to create the position in the next 12 months.

The economy and the environment

Investments in employee wellbeing are set to be combined with a greater focus on sustainability as leaders up the ante on green commitments to future-proof their business.

Part of this is borne out of attitudes towards the economy. Only one in five UK business leaders (22%) is optimistic about full recovery following the pandemic, a dramatic decrease on 2020 optimism levels (44%). A fifth (20%) believe the full economic impact on their business is yet to come.

In a challenging, competitive landscape, three in 10 board-level executives recognise that demonstrating strong ESG values are important when it comes to recruitment (30%) as well as for investors and customers (22%).

Around a third (31%) are now looking to balance profit with purpose and 22 per cent say the environmental agenda will become more important in their company moving forward.

Sheldon Kenton, Managing Director of Bupa Global said: “We know that the uncertainty we’re living through continues to impact our lives, our businesses, our mental health and our families. So it’s encouraging to see that the UK’s business leaders are investing in their employees’ wellbeing with concrete spending and initiatives.

“By focusing on this as well as the environmental agenda and more purpose-driven goals, British businesses will be more credible with employees, customers and investors.

“Bupa Global is committed to supporting business leaders and their people by continually investing in and updating our mental health and wellbeing provision. Our Global Virtual Care proposition gives people access to international doctors wherever they are in the world. We recently removed lifetime limits across our plans for in-patient and day-patient mental health treatment, and we also now include cover for ADHD, addiction and self-inflicted injuries within our plan benefits. We also provide a range of preventive health and wellbeing services, designed to enable customers, their families and employees to take a more holistic approach to their health management.”

Notes to editor

Table 1: Key leadership traits

Top 5 leadership traits for UK business leaders



Listening skills








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Notes to Editors

Bupa Global’s second Executive Wellbeing Index takes opinions from over 2,000 high net worth individuals (HNWIs) and senior executives based across Europe, North America, the Middle East and Asia in its annual view of the trends set by international business leaders and wealth creators and how they will impact on business, home life and health.

  1. UK board-level respondents said they spent an average of £8.9M supporting employee mental health in 2020. They plan to spend £10.5M on average in the next 12 months. Increase of 18%

Board-level mental health spending – year on year change


Percentage + or – (2020 vs 2021)





Hong Kong












  1. UK business leaders plan to add new roles such as Head of Wellbeing focused on supporting mental health (20%), HR/ management level staff with mental health responsibilities (24%), paid mental health sick days (26%)and private medical insurance with mental health cover (30%)
  2. 43% of UK board-level executives see flexible working as the most important factor in improving employee wellbeing
  3. See Table 1

About the research

The Bupa Global Executive Wellbeing Index 2021 includes analysis of four international datasets from research conducted between May and June 2021 among 1263 high net worth individuals and senior executives based in the UK, USA, France, UAE, Egypt, China, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Research was conducted via online survey / CATI by Opinium Research between 10 May – 28 May 2021 among 100 UK HNWIs defined as those with over £1M in salary and investable assets. Of the 100, 54 are board-level executives.

About Bupa Global

Bupa Global is the premium health insurance arm of Bupa. Established in 1971, it provides individuals, small businesses and corporate customers international coverage with products and services so they can access the healthcare they need, when they need it, whether at home or when studying, living, travelling or working abroad.

With a multilingual team of advisers, Bupa Global serves customers across the globe and can provide access to c.1.6m medical providers on a direct settlement basis. Offices are located in London and Brighton (UK), Miami and Philadelphia (USA - GeoBlue), Dublin (Ireland), Cairo (Egypt), Dubai (UAE), and Hong Kong (China) as well as regional offices in Mainland China and Singapore.

Bupa Global’s international private medical insurance offers multiple resources for those affected by mental health issues; access to a network of doctors available 24/7 in multiple languages – enabling individuals and their families to speak to a specialist at a time that is convenient to them.

Bupa Global is also focused on supporting the health and wellbeing of its people through the pandemic. Initiatives include a Covid-19 people hub and a new employee newsletter with a focus on wellbeing and resources, and a digital health and wellbeing programme. Bupa Global’s Mental Health First Aid Network has been expanded with more business leaders taking the training and an Employee Assistance Programme has been rolled out across all parts of the Bupa Global business (new to China, Hong Kong, Singapore & Egypt).

For more information about Bupa Global

About Bupa

Bupa's purpose is helping people live longer, healthier, happier lives and making a better world.

We are an international healthcare company serving over 31 million customers worldwide. With no shareholders, we reinvest profits into providing more and better healthcare for the benefit of current and future customers.

We directly employ around 85,000 people, principally in the UK, Australia, Spain, Chile, Poland, New Zealand, Hong Kong SAR, Turkey, Brazil, Mexico, the US, Middle East and Ireland. We also have associate businesses in Saudi Arabia and India.

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