Health benefits on a limited budget

There are economical ways for employers on a limited budget to create and implement a health and wellbeing programme for their workforce


If you read nothing else, read this …

  • Find out what employees think would improve their working environment.
  • Use free services offered by charities or the NHS to improve employee health.
  • Make time for employees to take exercise or other classes during the working day.
  • Involve senior management in promoting health and wellbeing strategies.


Turbulent economic times mean two things for employers: potential high levels of stress for staff in the drive to increase productivity, and little or no budget for wellness programmes. But there
are plenty of options for employers that do not have much to spend.

The starting point for a health initiative is to analyse the employer’s current situation, says Wolfgang Seidl, head of health management consulting, Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), at Mercer. This includes examining data around absence levels and health insurance claims. “If employers target their wellness initiatives and make them data-driven, they will get a better return on investment,” he says.

It is more cost-effective to focus on preventing staff getting ill than treating them or managing ongoing conditions, adds Seidl. “The costs for dealing with sickness are very high and the investment in prevention is minute by comparison. I have seen cases where investment in prevention was 5% of what the employer had to pay out on remedial action.”

Working environment

Asking employees what they would like to improve their health and wellbeing can often lead to low-cost, but effective measures. Chris Rofe, senior consultant at Buck Consultants, says: “If you do a staff survey, the working environment may come out quite high [as a wellbeing factor] and that might be things that fall under health and safety, so air conditioning, kitchen facilities, the location of desks and the openness of the office. A lot of organisations miss elements that are well within their control and need not involve an external provider.”

After this fact-finding, the priority should be to provide staff with information and advice on how to improve their own health and benefit from increased energy and performance, says Oliver Gray, managing director of EnergiseYou. “Short workshops, coaching sessions or webinars tend to be more cost-effective than large wellbeing events, and are more effective in helping people make a positive change to their health and wellbeing,” he says.

Employers can also encourage staff to take more interest in their health by forming workplace groups and allowing them time to perform exercises or other health-related activities during the working day. Grace Mehanna, campaign manager at the Workwell campaign, part of Business in the Community, says: “It doesn’t cost anything to start walking groups or running clubs or assessing healthyeating programmes at sites in the workplace.”

Free tools available

There are plenty of free tools available from organisations such as NHS Choices, MacMillan or Mind that can help employers to devise programmes in this area, Mehanna adds.

Pharmaceutical company Astellas Pharma Europe built its wellness strategy around the Global Corporate Challenge, a project that encourages teams of employees equipped with pedometers to try to walk 10,000 paces each working day. The organisation has done this for the past three years, and now has about a quarter of its 4,500 employees throughout Europe taking part.

Those involved have reported health improvements such as sleeping better and having extra energy, says Steve Hoblyn, director of employee engagement and HR effectiveness at Astellas Pharma. He admits the initiative may not appeal to all employees, but says a workplace culture developed quickly around it. “The discussion around the coffee machines was all about how many steps people had done, and those who were not in it felt they were missing out,” he says.

Other benefits, such as bikes for work and holiday purchase schemes, can also boost employee wellbeing, and can often pay for themselves if they are set up through salary sacrifice arrangements, says James Malia, head of P&MM Employee Benefits.

Reviewing health insurance policies, or putting in place cost-effective new ones, can also be part of an employee wellness review. Some providers will offer discounts on premiums if proactive health measures are put in place, and assessing absence and claims data can highlight potentially expensive areas that may no longer be justifiable. John Heatley, head of large corporate sales at PMI Health Group, says: “If a benefit is shown not to be aligned with current trends, [employers] can reduce the cover or, in some cases, remove it.”

PMI greatly valued

Private medical insurance (PMI) need not be as expensive as many people think and is greatly valued by employees, says Frank Levene, chief executive of Passport2Health. “Employers should ensure they have compared cost and cover for a variety of products and providers in the market,” he says.

Getting value for money from providers should also be part of a wellness strategy, says Charles Alberts, senior employee benefits consultant at Lorica Employee Benefi ts. “Many providers and insurers provide a wealth of information and value-add benefits free of charge, although they do not always highlight these to employers,” he says. “Employers should work closely with benefits consultants which have more influence in the market.”

Once a health strategy is in place, it is essential to communicate it effectively to staff. Howard Hughes, head of employer marketing at SimplyHealth, says employers can promote schemes through their intranet or by giving employees free items such as water bottles or stress balls, and many providers will be able to help. “Have a launch event and get your suppliers to come and work with you so you mark the change from where you were to where you want to be,” he says.

Getting senior management involved in promotional activities is also important, says the Workwell campaign’s Mehanna. “The most valuable piece of communication is getting the board and chief executive to really support the work the organisation is doing, whether it is speaking on a platform or putting messages in newsletters and on websites,” she says.

With the UK still basking in the glow of its Olympic successes, now could be the perfect time to encourage staff to improve their own health and wellbeing. It may not bring any gold medals, but could certainly raise productivity and employee morale. In the current climate, that could be just as valuable a reward.

WWF conserves staff wellbeing

As a charitable organisation, WWF has had to develop a health and wellness strategy on a limited budget. Initially, this took the form of a one-off week of activities, but has now developed into regular events.

Rachel Phillips, payroll and benefits specialist at WWF, says: “I try to do at least one or two activities each month, which could be anything from a nature walk to getting a therapist in to offer massages.”

The charity has also drawn on the particular abilities of its staff. One woman who practises tai-chi ran a series of lunchtime classes, and other employees include a sports therapist, a masseur, a karate instructor and a nutritionist.

Where possible, WWF links its health campaigns to wider initiatives, such as National Stress Awareness Day, and has also run in-house sessions on resilience provided by EnergiseYou. A local sports club also offers free health checks for WWF staff.