Use employee data to target health strategy

Collecting data on employees’ wellbeing can help employers develop a targeted health strategy that shows a return on investment


  • Employee health data can be collected through sickness absence records, private medical insurance and group risk claims, health screening and employee assistance programmes.
  • Collected data can be mined to create a storyboard that shows the health profi le of the entire workforce.
  • Targeted and effective health strategiescan then be introduced.

A health strategy comprising carefully selected benefits that target the entire workforce and cater to specific health and wellbeing issues can be hugely beneficial for staff while providing a return on investment for employers.

Employers can achieve this by mining staff health data and management information. Dr Wolfgang Seidl, head of health management consulting for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at Mercer, says: “Wellness does not have to be fluffy. It can be data-driven and return-on-investment-oriented.”

Sickness absence data is a valuable source of health information. When an employee is off sick, their employer can see why and use the data to look for workforce patterns. Simon Macpherson, senior director, operations for EMEA at Kronos, says: “[Employers] can’t manage what they don’t measure. It starts with capturing that data, then mining it to see how to address potential issues, whether these are occupational health needs or particular working practices that cause people issues.”

Data can also be mined from private medical insurance (PMI) and group risk claims. Iain Laws, corporate sales director at Jelf Employee Benefits, says: “We spend a lot of time examining musculoskeletal claims in PMI policies. Often there are better ways to achieve better outcomes for the employees at lower cost to the employer.”

But many employers offer PMI only to a certain proportion of staff and so will find the data asymmetric. Data from a group risk product, such as income protection, can reveal a wider range of claims. Seidl adds: “I have seen organisations faced with significant premium increases on group income protection because of the claims history. They didn’t see it coming because they didn’t mine the data.”

Biometric data

Health screening is another way employers can gather staff health information, especially biometric data, such as blood pressure, cholesterol and stress levels. Kevin Hollick, director at Screenetics, says: “We ask a lot of questions, such as: do employees work shifts and how old are they? Employers can then determine, for example, how many staff over the age of 45 work shifts and have high blood pressure, cholesterol or stress levels. They can then target their money in the right place, so there can be a better return on investment.”

Data can also be collected from employee assistance programmes (EAPs), flexible benefits participation rates, sick pay records, and stress and wellbeing audits. Jelf’s Laws adds: “A lot of organisations offer insurances that include some sort of wellbeing audit. This can be another useful source of information. “We would also look at the employee demographic and do some mapping of general health trends to see if there were health or morbidity patterns we would expect to see in the future, and try to address these.”

Provider Roadtohealth has developed a healthy-living programme that allows staff to track their health and wellbeing trends and create a personal ‘Q score’, which gives an indication of their personal health. Employers can access the information anonymously and use it to recognise trends in their workforce and design appropriate health strategies.

Group risk insurers such as Legal and General offer this programme to employer clients. Yawar Choudhry, head of propositions for group protection at Legal and General, says: “The management information available to employers is broken down into three main groups: risks, biometrics and lifestyle. Under risks, the employer would be able to see the risks for cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, stroke and diabetes, for example. Under biometrics, it would be obesity risks, body mass index, blood pressure and cholesterol. Under lifestyle, it would be activity and exercise profile, nutrition, stress and sleep profile, as well as the prevalence of smoking and alcohol consumption.”

Storyboard of issues

However employers gather data, the next step is to mine it and create a storyboard to explain the specific issues they face. This can be used to develop a health strategy.

Mercer’s Seidl suggests employers should then hold a strategy workshop to develop a targeted approach. “It could be that mental ill health is quite a big issue and employers have the right services in place but they are not connected correctly,” he says. “It is our job to create clinical pathways to connect the dots and put outcome measurements into place.”

Translating data collection into a health strategy can also reduce an employer’s healthcare spend. Paul Gaudin, founder and chairman of Roadtohealth, says: “An employer in the US has been able to turn a Q score into an actual amount of dollars spent on healthcare per employee. It is incentivising each employee with cash to improve their Q score because it knows there will be an impact on its spend.”

Screenetics works with a manufacturing firm that has a wall covered with its key performance indicators (KPIs). After implementing health screenings, it added health KPIs to the wall too. Dr Soniya Saha, medical director at Screenetics, says: “Health analysis showed there was an issue with cholesterol in the population, so it implemented healthy eating and health education campaigns and set a target to reduce cholesterol by 5% in the population. By doing repeat health screenings the following year, it was able to demonstrate it had reached this target.”


VIEWPOINT: Wayne Pontin, executive director, Jelf Employee Benefits and chairman, Association of Medical Insurance Intermediaries

The most valuable asset of any business is its people. The technological world we live in is all about communicating quickly and accurately, but who instigates the communication? Who produces the products and goods? Who services the communication and computer technology? Who delivers the productivity and so controls the profitability? People.

So it becomes increasingly obvious that the health and wellbeing of the most valuable asset must be protected and cherished. Any business of note will therefore invest in a health strategy, but what data is critical for formulating a health and wellbeing strategy?

The key is productivity, and to maintain this at maximum profitable levels, the first set of data to monitor is sickness absence.

A sickness absence management scheme that produces relevant and accurate management information is essential in developing a healthcare strategy.

Health and safety requirements insist that accidents are recorded and this data is invaluable in evaluating a healthcare strategy, as is data on liability claims. This data helps structure a musculoskeletal strategy. Employers with more than 50 staff should consider an employee absence programme that, while maintaining confidentiality, will produce data on absence due to stress. This can be recorded under sub-headings to separate work-related stress from personal or family/financial-related stress. Valuable data can be obtained from appraisal interviews and one-to-one meetings. Succession planning, or the lack of it, can also lead to stress which is fundamental to a robust healthcare strategy.

A successful healthcare strategy needs the lifeblood of data collection, it needs flexibility, which data can provide, and it requires empathy and understanding of the needs of the workforce. There can never be too much data; only too little.


Raising the stakes for staff wellbeing


Ladbrokes introduced Roadtohealth’s healthy living programme in January 2013.

The programme, which is currently available only to senior management in Ladbrokes’ private medical insurance scheme, involves filling out an online health risk assessment, split into sections on medical history, lifestyle, diet and stress.

Once completed, the employee is given a ‘Q score’, which helps them monitor their progress in improving their health, while the employer can keep track of employees’ health profile. Phil Rixon, pensions and benefits manager at Ladbrokes, says: “Having staff complete the health questionnaire is a start point to understanding the health of our business.”

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In 2012, Ladbrokes offered staff flu jabs and encouraged employees to quit smoking by taking part in ‘Stoptober’. After the flu jabs, it was able to compare absence rates for colds and flu against staff who did not participate.

Rixon adds: “If it showed that fewer sick days were taken, that is good evidence we can use to build our thinking, our strategy and our spend. “We can throw money at the wall with Stoptober and flu jabs, but if we can prove a return on investment, that opens up my mind and others’ minds to continue on that journey.”