A vast new array of wellness products are coming to market, principally designed to help staff before they become sick, says Debbie Lovewell
Increasing awareness of health and wellbeing issues among the UK population has led to the development of a new side to the healthcare benefits industry. Employers are no longer relying purely on benefits designed to assist employees once they become sick. Instead, many are now supplementing such perks with a host of options designed to improve employee wellbeing and reduce the likelihood of illnesses developing.
Graham Johnson, senior clinician and operations manager at Bupa Wellness, explains that staff are likely to be receptive to wellbeing messages in the workplace and that some will be looking for assistance from their employer.
One option for employers is to offer advice on nutrition and help staff to eat more healthily. Employers can, for example, offer more healthy eating options in on-site restaurants or vending machines, or provide fresh fruit for staff. Where employers offer free or subsidised meals on-site to all staff, this is not classed as a taxable benefit.
Employers may choose to supplement any nutrition-related perks by educating staff about hydration and encouraging them to drink more water. Employers can either choose to do this themselves in-house or use the services of an external wellbeing firm, which will be able to provide the necessary communication materials.
Exercise and physical fitness also plays a key role in improving employee wellbeing. Organisations that have the room to spare may opt to hold classes run by professional instructors on site, which can either be fully or partly subsidised for employees. Alternatively, firms may provide a subsidised on-site gym or use their buying power to secure discounts at local gyms. Gyms and exercise classes that are available only to employees are also exempt from tax and national insurance contributions.
To encourage desk-bound staff to move around while at work, employers may use providers to give employees information on stretching exercises to do at their desks at regular intervals. These can either be left for the employee to carry out, or made into a regular feature of the working day by laying on short exercise sessions.
Several online services, such as the balanced living project from the Positive Health Alliance, can be used to bring each of the main aspects of wellbeing together to provide an individual programme tailored to an employee’s needs. Assessments can be made of an individual’s current health and wellbeing history, which is then followed up with a personalised action plan advising them on areas such as nutrition, physical activity and stress management.
Organisations may also choose to link the services they provide to topical events. Prior to the smoking ban coming into effect, for example, some employers made smoking cessation services available for staff who wanted to kick the habit. These ranged from counselling programmes to providing practical support such as nicotine patches.
Counselling services, which cover areas outside of those covered by traditional employee assistance programmes (EAPs), also enable employers to address employee wellbeing. These consist of either face-to-face counselling or a confidential helpline offering advice on issues such as emergency childcare or financial problems, and can help to reduce non-work related stress.
On-site therapies such as massage or physiotherapy, meanwhile, will help to address any physical problems staff may have and help them to access treatment more quickly than if they had to rely on outside services.
Peter Mills, chief health officer at VieLife, explains that while the wellbeing market has traditionally been a fragmented one, this is now changing. Many employers are now looking more holistically at their wellness strategy, while wellbeing services are developing so rapidly that new products, such as Bupa’s mole screening programme, are coming to the market all the time.
Product file: Wellbeing services
What are wellbeing services?
Wellbeing services are intended to improve employees’ general health and wellbeing. These typically preventative measures, such as nutrition, on-site therapies, counselling, exercise and hydration can help to reduce employee sickness and any related absences.
Where can employers get more information?
More information about the tax status of wellbeing perks is available at: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/taxrules.pdf†
Who are the main providers?
Bupa Wellness; Ihealth; Nuffield Proactive Health; Positive Health Alliance; PPC; Relax; Vielife; Wellkomproduct file: wellbeing services