Executive health and wellbeing

The wellbeing of senior executives is crucial to a company’s health says Sally Hamilton.

An organisation’s top team can be its greatest asset, but also its greatest liability if they struggle to keep pace.

Keeping those executives in tip-top condition, both physically and mentally, is one way to reduce the financial risks of absenteeism, or worse, of them dying with their boots on. There are also legal requirements – duty of care applies even to the tough nuts working in the upper echelons.

But which healthcare and wellbeing benefits should be offered to keep those top dogs in top-notch condition? With those high-flying roles come increased responsibilities, longer hours, extensive travelling and back-to-back dinners with clients, all of which can take their toll. Add to that the fact they are probably heading for middle age or beyond, and it is clear the health and wellbeing of senior executives is a serious consideration.

Kate Bawden, health management associate at consultancy Mercer, says: “A first priority is private medical insurance (PMI), nowadays a standard element of any executive benefits package. You’d expect their PMI to be an all-inclusive policy. You cannot afford to mess around at this level.”

Regular health screening is also in high demand for top executives. It provides reassurance for the executives themselves, giving them a feeling that the company cares, but it also helps employers pinpoint health problems that can be nipped in the bud before sorting them out becomes serious and expensive.

Bawden says: “Screenings can range from minimum check ups that might include blood pressure checks, to a full blown screening that would include ECGs. Prices ranges from £600-£1,000 a person a year. Our preferred supplier is Nuffield, which also offers lifestyle screening and includes hydration tests, and checks whether the executive’s nutrition is satisfactory.”

Dr Peter Mills of Vielife, a health and wellbeing provider, says: “US research shows screening can really offer a return for an organisation.”

It can certainly be a useful tool for both executive and employer. Damien Lenihan, commercial manager at Bupa, says: “Executives find it reassuring to have a health MoT. In our experience about a third of those who have an assessment find out they have a health issue – anything from high blood pressure to obesity.”

A basic Bupa screening costs between £300 and £600, but employers can buy extra checks such as full heart scans, for about £400 more.

While these schemes are currently exempt from tax and National Insurance as a benefit-in-kind, HMRC is scrutinising this area and may, according to Mercer and others, remove the exemption from next tax year unless employers also offer health screening to the whole workforce. Should this happen employers will need to consider whether to pay the tax on behalf of the executives or ask them to pay it themselves.

Some executive packages include membership of sports clubs or a subscription to a gym, which is greeted with scepticism in some corners. Bawden says: “We find these aren’t that popular. Executives tend to be short of time.”

Dudley Lusted, head of healthcare development at insurer Axa PPP Healthcare, questions the value for money. “Typically a person will go to the gym in the first month and then not show up for the rest of the year,” he says.

Schemes to help leaders give up smoking are also a low priority, says Bawden. “With the smoking ban there are now limited opportunities to smoke, and by the time someone has reached this level they have usually already given up or made up their mind to carry on. This attitude might alter following a health screening, in which case the executive can be directed to some specific support,” she says.

Executive stress Mental wellbeing is important, but Bawden believes counselling is of less benefit to this group. “What they are more likely to need is psychological hardening. There are special training courses available aimed at high earners in legal companies or banks. This typically costs several thousand pounds per employee.” Alternatively, she says, stress management courses can be useful to help keep mental health in check.

Advice on nutrition and diet is cheap and effective, according to Vielife’s Mills. “If executives are dining out for the fourth night in a row, they simply need to be reminded to choose the fish with the dressing on the side and drink a glass of water for every glass of wine,” he says. This advice can be offered online or face-to-face.

Lusted says it is not just about perks and health or nutrition advice but also about underlining the importance of work/life balance. “Friends don’t come cheap. High fliers need to spend time with them as much as they need to sleep and eat well.”

Damien Lenihan, commercial manager for UK membership at insurer Bupa, says organisations with bigger budgets might also consider adding benefit extras such as critical illness cover, although this does not prevent ill health. “This tends to be more to do with employers offering a competitive advantage,” he says.

Lenihan says that the top dogs should be included in workforce-wide initiatives such as the annual flu jab, which according to Bupa’s service costs £25 a person if carried out on site or £15 at a Bupa Wellness centre.

International medical insurance and health advice for travelling executives are also vital, says Mercer’s Bawden. “They need tips about particular countries, vaccinations and other checks, and they should be given warnings about casual sex. This is one of the biggest ways HIV comes into this country, and executives need to be reminded of the risks, just as they would be about eating salads abroad.”

How health screening helps executives
A survey of 100,000 health assessments found that:

• A third threw up a health issue of which the individual was unaware.
• 61% of all senior level employees had a high body mass index (BMI), scoring over 25 on the index. This means an increased risk of developing high blood pressure, raised cholesterol, diabetes and some cancers.
• Three quarters make positive lifestyle changes after discussing the results with a doctor.

Back to Employee Benefits Report for Financial Directors – September 2008