Key trends impacting health and wellbeing benefits

Employers are realising the advantages of introducing preventative health and wellbeing support to help keep their staff at work.

Healthcare trends

If you read nothing else, read this…

  • Preventative health and wellbeing support is a growing feature of employers’ workplace health support.
  • Wellbeing-themed benefits that extend to supporting employees’ psychological and financial health are also popular.
  • Data generated from wearable technology that tracks employee health can help organisations to shape their health strategies.


Preventative healthcare

Preventative workplace health initiatives, which can range from occupational healthcare support and health screening to healthy eating options in staff restaurants, can, in some cases, help employees to reduce the likelihood of developing conditions such as obesity and diabetes. They can also facilitate the early detection of diseases such as cancer, ultimately enabling employers to reduce the costs of supporting staff on long-term sick leave.

Nearly one-third (30%) of all working time lost to employee absence is attributable to long-term conditions, according to the Confederation of Business Industry’s Fit for purpose, Absence and workplace health survey 2013 , published in July 2013.

The survey also revealed that the direct costs of absence alone totalled more than ÂŁ14bn across the economy in 2012.

Wellbeing-themes benefits 

Wellbeing-themed benefits that extend to supporting employees’ psychological and financial health are part of many employers’ preventative healthcare strategies. This is not surprising given that more than one-third of staff cite workplace stress as a reason to quit their job, according to research published by MetLife Employee Benefits in March 2015.

Psychological support can take the form of better-designed workplaces staffed with well-trained line managers and offering employee assistance programmes and resilience training schemes.

BMW (UK), for example, gives its staff access to on-site face-to-face psychological support and a wellbeing service, driven by employee feedback and a desire to raise awareness of a potentially sensitive issue. The initiative helped the organisation to win the accolade for Best stress management scheme at the Employee Benefits Awards 2013.

Employers are increasingly tackling sensitive diseases such as dementia in their wellbeing support strategies, which is encouraging given that 42,325 people aged under 65 currently live with dementia, many of whom continue to work after their diagnosis, according to UK charity Alzheimer’s Society.

Doug Brown, director of research and development at Alzheimer’s Society, says: ”It is the biggest health challenge of our time at the moment. We have 850,000 people with dementia in the UK, and that is set to rise to over one million by 2021, costing the UK economy £26bn a year.”

Financial wellbeing support is also gaining popularity, with an increasing number of employers giving staff access to financial management and budgeting workshops to help combat financial stress.

Online financial modelling tools and access to independent financial advice are also popular with some employers, as are formal stress management policies. 

Wearable technology

But wearable technology is perhaps the biggest trend to have hit the workplace health market in recent years. The trend, dubbed a healthcare revolution by some, is seeing employers across all sectors offering staff access to gadgets, from basic heart-rate monitors through to wristbands and watches that track every aspect of an employee’s daily activities, from their food consumption to their physical exercise regime.

For employees, wearable technology helps to focus their mind on lifestyle behaviours, such as healthy eating and exercise. For employers, gadgets can be useful in helping to achieve corporate objectives, such as engaging and improving the health and wellbeing of their workforce, boosting productivity, helping to attract and retain talent or a combination of all four.

The data produced by wearable technology, added to the masses of data from an organisation’s healthcare benefits, such as group income protection, critical illness and private medical insurance (PMI), as well as sickness absence reports and staff surveys, can help employers to spot trends in employee ill-health. This will enable them to direct benefits support to staff who really need it.

Some employers are ahead of the curve, such as Danone, which uses its healthcare data to identify staff that need access to, say, smoking cessation schemes or support to tackle obesity.

Employers that want to use data to inform their health and wellbeing support need to start with a strategy, as Danone has done with the goal of supporting its business objective to help staff lead a healthy life.

Michael Cox, head of HR employee services and HR analytics at Nestlé UK and Ireland, says: “Without a strategy, all that employers are left with is data mining. If organisations are not clear about what they are looking for, [their mining results] are going to be fairly random and may not add value [to the organisation].”

But employers’ approach is secondary to ensuring that they actually have a health and wellbeing policy in place at all, especially one that has the buy-in of all key stakeholders, so it can be invested in and targeted appropriately to optimise results, because time is of the essence.

Looming healthcare crisis

John Whitaker, benefits consultant at Sky, says: “The key themes and issues facing employers this year are around healthcare. We all know there is a big looming crisis coming up around healthcare provision and the future of the NHS, and as employers, it is really important to do as much as we can.”

Whitaker says employers need to focus on offering their staff an integrated benefits package that extends beyond traditional perks such as dental insurance, PMI and health screenings, to perks that really make a difference to employees’ lives.

Employers should also consider benefits that support staff with special circumstances who may, for example, want to take a six-month sabbatical to care for a family member.

Ian Hodson, reward and benefits manager at the University of Lincoln, says: “Employers have got to have things in place that can enable them to show support. It makes a huge statement about the type of organisation they are.”

Whitaker adds: “Ultimately, if employees can’t get what they need, either from the NHS or a private medical [insurance] provider, they are not going to be able to be at work, and that’s going to cost [employers] a lot more money in absenteeism and having to back-fill positions.”