How to use health and wellbeing benefits to engage employees

health and wellbeing engagement

Need to know:

  • Employers should offer a range of health and wellbeing benefits that suit all ages and life stages.
  • They should ensure their culture supports the benefits it offers.
  • Proactive communication with branding and positive messaging helps to drive up engagement.

Providing a range of health and wellbeing benefits can drive up employee engagement by demonstrating that the organisation values its workforce. But selecting the most appropriate benefits and communicating them effectively are key to success.

The number of employers using health and wellbeing benefits to engage employees is on the rise. Wayne Campbell, managing director of health and wellbeing provider Healthy Performance, says: “We’ve seen more organisations looking to introduce these types of initiatives purely from an engagement perspective. Five years ago, health and wellbeing was a tick-box exercise; now engagement is the number one reason to introduce it.”

On-site health screening is one example. Although this benefits is usually offered on a voluntary basis, between 60% and 70% of a workforce will typically take up the offer, says Campbell. “Employees like the fact they get something personal that enables them to improve their health,” he adds. “It also shows them that their employer cares about them.”

Mass appeal
While an individual product can have an impressive strike rate, the most effective approach is to offer a range of products and services. Offering a range of health and wellbeing benefits can help to create a supportive culture, says Charles Alberts, senior consultant at Aon Employee Benefits. “The workforce is multigenerational and will be at different points along the health continuum, from healthy to acutely or chronically ill,” he explains. “The most effective programmes go across all ages and stages.”

For example, a programme might include benefits that appeal to those interested in keeping fit, such as gym membership and exercise classes; while private medical insurance and health cash plans may appeal to those that have health problems; and health information and screening can be offered to support employees whose lifestyles and habits could potentially lead to future health problems.

Having this broad approach also works well at the recruitment stage. “[An employer’s] health and wellbeing programme should show job applicants that [it] cares about [its] employees,” says Alberts. “[It] needs to talk at a high level about what’s available. No one joins an [organisation] just for the health benefits.”

Benefit proposition
With a huge number of health and wellbeing benefits on offer, selecting the most appropriate ones for a workforce is also important. Employers should ask employees what they would like to receive, says Mark Ramsook, head of sales and marketing at Willis Towers Watson. “Run an engagement survey,” he says. “This will show what employees want but will also give a good starting point to measure whether any new initiatives increase engagement.”

While this can show an employer which benefits will be most highly valued by employees, it is also worth thinking about which will have the biggest effect. A health risk assessment can highlight issues across a workforce, although an employer needs to be sure employees want to change before introducing targeted initiatives.

Employers should also think about where they can help employees access support quickly, says Helen Smith, group commercial director at Benenden. “If an employee can’t get to see their GP for a couple of weeks or there’s a long waiting list for NHS treatment, this can increase their worries,” she explains. “Benefits such as medical insurance, employee assistance programmes and GP helplines get things moving and can stop them worrying.”

Caring culture
As well as looking at specific initiatives, it is also essential to create the right culture to support health and wellbeing. This can boost engagement and could even prevent a health and wellbeing campaign backfiring.

For example, an organisation could offer free gym membership to help employees cope with stress but, if they are expected to work long hours, they will not get a chance to use it. On top of being a waste of money, this could potentially lead to resentment.

It is, therefore, important to think about how employees will use benefits, says Smith. “If [an employer] offers a GP helpline, [it should] provide a private room so employees can use it,” she explains. “With other benefits, [it] might need to think about flexible working but find something that works for [the] employees and [the] organisation.”

Another effective way to create this culture is to secure management support for health and wellbeing benefits. “If [an employer] can get [its] CEO [chief executive officer] to be first in the queue it will be very positive,” says Campbell. “Without this support [it will] struggle to create the right culture.”

Communication exercise
Involving senior management can send out positive signals but, to engage as many employees as possible, this also needs to be supported by a robust communications programme.Paul Moulton, director, small and medium enterprise (SME) business at Axa PPP Healthcare, says: “We’ve found that where our health portal is proactively communicated, take-up and engagement doubles. “If [employers] don’t promote [their] benefits, [they’ll] always get what [they] always got.”

Branding can be effective, especially where a broad range of benefits are available. This helps to signpost employees to other benefits and also highlights how much support is being provided.

The positioning of benefits is also important. “Programmes can be very negative, especially ones such as smoking cessation or diets,” explains Ramsook. “Flip them on their head and promote positive aspects such as having more energy or being able to play with the kids and [employers will] get much more engagement.”

Demonstrating the financial value of health and wellbeing benefits can also send out a powerful message. Alberts explains: “Employees can forget how much [their employer] does offer so [they should] translate it into a financial value. This can really help to retain employees, especially when they’re weighing up the value of the packages being offered by different employers.”

But whichever strategies an employer uses, the key is to make it personal by understanding the issues and challenges its employees face when it comes to their health. As Smith says: “Get this right and the loyalty [the employer will] receive will be immeasurable.”