How can employers align their healthcare strategies with employee needs?

Need to know:

  • Employee healthcare programmes that try to be all things to all staff may appear generous, but are less likely to be used by employees than a strategic approach that offers the most in-demand benefits.
  • The use of data, including sickness absence data, can help to identify some of the in demand areas of employees’ health and wellbeing requirements.
  • Aligning healthcare strategies with employee needs avoids wasting budget, a potential loss of talent, and a likely decline in employee engagement and performance.

In the wake of the pandemic, employee wellbeing has become a top priority for employers, which is evident from the huge range of healthcare services, products and content from a wide range of sources that has emerged over the past year.

While packing a healthcare offering with benefits appears generous, it is a strategy that doesn’t necessarily align with the rapidly shifting needs of employees. In the current climate a more effective approach may be to provide the most in-demand healthcare benefits, including 24/7 GP helplines, online consultations, and health information services – the things that employees value most during these disruptive and challenging times.

One-size benefits

Yet many continue to take a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, introducing blanket benefits that are neither appreciated, nor appropriate for the demographics of the employees, as Rebekah Tapping, group HR director of Personal Group, explains. “The benefits of a blanket insurance scheme, for example, can’t always be seen by younger employees,” she says. “By introducing healthcare schemes and benefits that employees want, they are more likely to actually use them.”

Talking to staff and conducting surveys to find out what they really need will maximise the impact of the measures that are put in place. According to Westfield Health’s Divided Together report, published in July 2020, almost a third (29%) of employees want more mental health support, 28% want additional wellbeing support and 23% are looking for more help from companies when it comes to physical health.

But as Westfield Health’s head of people, Vicky Walker, points out, people value different things, and personal situations can change very quickly. She says: “Employers need to develop healthcare programmes that are tailored to what their teams want and need, and optimise those programmes as those needs change and develop.”

Employee data

At the heart of any successful wellbeing strategy is the data and insight to drive informed decision-making, yet, according to the Aon UK Benefits and Trends 2021 survey, published in January 2021, only 7% of employers currently have metrics in place to measure impact.

Mark Witte, principal at Aon, says: “How many employers will be able to reflect back on their recent decisions and claim they have been strategic or have delivered a positive outcome, for both their employees and also their firm? Without expert market knowledge and relevant data insights, too many decisions and investments in employee health are allowed to follow popular trends or personal views and miss the mark for making a real impact on the workforce.”

Absence data in particular can highlight issues that employees are facing and turn what is often seen as a ‘negative’ into a ‘positive’, creating the opportunity for an open dialogue between employers and their staff, as Ian Caminsky, CEO of FirstCare, explains.

He says: “Employers that we work with have real-time access to an aggregated record of the illnesses that employees are suffering from, and the respective number of lost working days that are being caused. With that powerful suite of data it’s instantly more straightforward to consult on which kinds of programmes your employees need.”

The consequences of getting healthcare programmes wrong are significant from a financial perspective, with potentially millions of pounds of investment in benefits being spent in the wrong places, particularly when tailoring a scheme around individual employee needs would have resulted in lower costs.

Amanda Cran, senior consultant at Buck, says: “During a time of such economic uncertainty this is a mistake that businesses cannot afford to make. Now is the time to ensure that a healthcare benefits scheme is fit for purpose, and can be adjusted to suit the new circumstances and the potential issues that go come with them.”

Employers that fail to take a more targeted approach to healthcare provision also risk losing valuable talent, and could see a decline in employee satisfaction and performance.

Westfield Health’s Walker says: “Our Divided Together research showed that employees are increasingly prioritising their wellbeing and looking for businesses that reflect that. More than a quarter (27%) said they would choose roles that give more work-life balance in the future. Employers are taking notice, with 62% of HR leaders expecting that employees will prioritise wellbeing over salary in five years’ time.”