Health screening: Attracting interest

If you read nothing else, read this …

• Engaging staff with screening is vital to achieve employers’ aims in offering it.

• Asking staff want they would value can help to boost engagement.

Getting employees to take an interest in their own health is an important step in making screening programmes work, and there are various incentives to use

Encouraging a culture where individuals actively engage in healthcare screening and wellness programmes is vital if organisations are to make progress in reducing sickness and long-term absence.

For some employers, this can be quite a battle. Sarah Moise, benefits manager at Schlumberger, says her business can be quite a ‘macho’ environment and staff never think illness will affect them. “We do medical checks every year for our expatriates and often even those who have poor results do not follow it up because they do not see it as a big issue,” she says. “It is a challenge to get them to recognise health issues are better resolved sooner rather than later.”

One way to get staff more interested is to ask them which conditions they are most interested in being screened for, says Dorian Dugmore, director of Wellness International, part of Adidas UK. He calls this the ‘precede, proceed’ model. “What you think they want and what they actually want is not always the same,” he says.

This is something that resonates with Kevin Trott, colleague relations and engagement team leader at Asda. “When we asked employees if they would like X or Y, not all of them have wanted all of those particular items,” he says. “It is very much a case of looking at the individual and understanding their needs, whether in our head office, on the shopfloor or in the post room. Listening to staff brings out what they actually want, rather than what we think they want.”

But although this might help in terms of engagement, it may not deliver the information employers need to formulate their approach to workplace health, says Chris Coyne, group head of reward at City and Guilds. “You might find employees do not necessarily know what is best for them. It is a difficult balance between giving them what they have asked for and a little bit of ‘employer knows best’ in some cases.”

Being able to share data with employees about their health and how to improve it can also be a powerful incentive, says Valerie Phillips, head of business at clinical testing services firm Randox Health Checks. “We have done research around why people would go for a health screen when they have previously not done so and one thing we found was people would like to know what is going on with their body,” she explains.

Take control

“Traditionally, if you go to your GP, you do not see your file so you cannot take control of your own health. Statistics with data and ongoing modelling over time get people engaged and they want to come back in six months’ time and see how things are going.”

Research by Adidas backs this up, says Dugmore. “We have just published a small report on 150 people who have been engaged on our programme at Adidas over five years and all their cardiac and lifestyle risk markers went down as they came back every year,” he says. “We also looked at 30 or 50 people who were assessed five years ago but did not return and all their risks had gone through the roof. When you show that to employees, it really does make a difference.”

Employers can make health screening more attractive by wrapping it up in a wider initiative to promote a healthier workforce. Louise Aston, director, Workwell campaign at Business in the Community, says this will also engage those who have no existing problems but could become even healthier with a few lifestyle changes. “It is about providing the conditions for people to thrive so they can make informed, healthy choices and take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing, whether that is proactive opportunities to build physical and emotional resilience, good job design, specialist support or good relations. All those things are drivers for employee wellness and engagement.”

Wrapping initiatives around catchy marketing campaigns can also make health screening more attractive. Dugmore cites a programme run by property surveying business Colley’s called Younger Next Year, which is based on the idea of staff reducing their heart age through exercise. Dugmore’s own organisation has developed a campaign called Fit for 2012 that focuses on losing weight in time for the 2012 Olympics.

Technology can also be used to encourage staff to get involved in health screenings and take responsibility for their own health. Coyne explains City and Guilds placed a wellbeing kiosk in its reception area, where staff could take basic tests such as blood pressure and body mass index in their own time, without having to make a formal appointment. “Over four days we did 365 tests, which was about 60% of our workforce population in that building,” he says. “People were talking about it and asking colleagues whether they had their printout. Some companies are also beginning to market offerings for use with smartphones, which most people have got now. If we can get in and grab those while they are hot, then employees will become more interested.”

Introducing a web-based element to health screenings, with assessments taking place in the workplace but feedback given over the internet, can also help engage staff because it takes less time out of their day, says Phillips.

Social media can also improve engagement and take-up, as well as providing some revealing insights that may not have been forthcoming in the real world. Aston cites the example of Marks and Spencer, which operates a health promotion website where staff can make pledges about losing weight or stopping smoking, and support each other along the way. “It is also a really good way of monitoring what the health issues are,” she says. “Marks and Spencer was surprised to find a big issue was actually the menopause, which it had not anticipated at all.”

Financial benefits

For some, incentivising employees with financial benefits or reward vouchers can encourage them to come forward, particularly those who may be concerned about what the screening may reveal. Sara Turner, UK head of benefits and wellbeing at KPMG, says this approach has worked well at the financial services firm. “It is quite difficult to get people who know they have issues to volunteer,” she says. “We find the fit are quite willing to participate, whereas the less fit are less keen. An incentive sometimes works, at least for the majority of employees, but it is a challenge.”

This kind of strategy has worked well at Adidas, where staff were offered tips on how to get fit after taking an initial questionnaire, in a campaign the company calls Passport To Wellness, says Dugmore. “When people get engaged in doing things that improve their health, they get wellness miles,” he says. “We graded those into bronze, silver, gold and platinum and every year they can exchange wellness miles for financial returns or products at a company like Adidas. Buy-in has been terrific.”

Such initiatives are common in the US and many organisations are looking at how they could work here. Paul Ashcroft, a principal at Mercer, says: “In the US, if you want someone to complete an online health risk appraisal, you offer a dollar incentive or reduce the excess on their medical insurance.”

Read more from the health screening roundtable discussion