Wellbeing a “permanent shift” in benefits provision

Covid-19 (Coronavirus) has brought about a permanent shift in benefits provision towards mental health and wellbeing, according to new research by Towers Willis Watson.

Data from the global advisory company’s Emerging trends in health care delivery report, published today (20 April), found 87% of employers now say they are ‘concerned’ about an increase in mental health problems among staff. As a result, it concludes the pandemic has caused organisations to completely overhaul their employee benefits.

The research revealed that these concerns had led three-quarters (75%) of companies to prioritise improvements to their employee benefits provision in this area over the short and medium-term.

A total of 78% of employers thought enhanced mental health services and stress management benefits would be their priority for the next six months, while 64% said they would be raising awareness of their benefits and wellbeing programmes during that period.

In the more medium term, over the next two years, 60% of organisations said enhancing line manager capability to support employees was a top priority. A further 51% plan to provide more apps to support employees’ physical and mental wellbeing.

Commenting on the data Mark Ramsook, senior director, health and benefits, Willis Towers Watson, said: “Last year many employers shifted very quickly to a new remote way of working. They worked hard to reduce the challenges this posed to employees using existing structures, programmes and benefits. A year later though, many are concerned that the mental health implications of this prolonged period of social distancing needs addressing further.”

He added: “Employers are needing to provide new and enhanced employee benefits, and are introducing initiatives such as peer-orientated support networks and access to trained mental health champions.”

With nearly three-quarters (72%) of employers expecting delays to NHS waiting lists to continue, the report also found that nearly half (46%) of employers said they will need to expand their own healthcare coverage. Nine in 10 (89%) companies expect growth in telehealth services.

The top types of digital/remote services that employers had already put in place were mental health services (68%); consultations with GPs (68%); and physiotherapy/musculoskeletal support (45%).

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Significantly, the study also revealed 45% of organisations plan to offer more menopause-support benefits, while 38% said they would offer specific male/female gender screening and 43% said they would offer remote or online health screenings and assessments.

In compiling the research, Willis Towers Watson surveyed senior employee benefits professionals at 213 UK companies between January and February 2021.