In the UK we face unique challenges in healthcare – with rates of obesity and depression, to name just two, topping worldwide comparison lists. But many of the healthcare challenges we face are avoidable. The Health Insurance Group is calling on employers to be part of the solution – by focusing on preventing illnesses from happening in the first place, rather than just concentrating on the cure.
The issue of mental health is complex and one that needs to be treated with upmost sensitivity. But a recent report found that most UK employees are unable to identify mental health conditions. Providing mental health training in the workplace is therefore vital to educate employees about what mental health is, give managers the confidence to have conversations about mental health with employees, and equip individuals with the knowledge about what support is available.
Employee assistance programmes (EAPs), for example, can be useful in tackling mental health issues – as individuals are able to access confidential counselling and address concerns before they spiral into something more serious. Mental ill health and stress are some of the main causes of long-term absence in the UK, so utilising benefits can help to prevent mental illness becoming incapacitating in the future.
Mental health and exercise are intrinsically linked in creating a healthy lifestyle, with research by the Department of Health finding that being physically active can reduce someone’s risk of depression by up to 30%. And with young people being predicted to be the first generation to suffer worse health than their parents due to lifestyle diseases, it’s more important than ever to exercise and eat well.
Employers can provide support by putting on company-organised exercise events, such as after-work yoga classes or running clubs, to encourage their workforce to stay active. Whilst employees are participating in exercise, it also provides a great opportunity to communicate other health-related benefits available – such as cycle-to-work schemes, discounted gym membership and smoking-cessation programmes. With so many jobs being sedentary nowadays, it’s important that employers aim to counteract inactivity – and related health concerns – by providing employees with the opportunity to get out and exercise.
Health apps and rewards for healthy living are available which can be a great motivator, either on an individual basis or encouraging some competition between employees and departments.
All too often, staff are unaware of the employee benefits they can utilise to monitor their health – only seeking medical advice once a problem becomes less manageable. But encouraging employees to proactively make use of benefits, such as healthcare screenings, can help to identify concerns and treat them early before they become debilitating. For example, niggling back ache could benefit from physiotherapy provided by private medical insurance (PMI) and tailored rehabilitation programmes, before long-term damage through poor posture and lack of exercise takes its toll. Cash plans can make bi-annual trips to the dentist more affordable, rather than waiting until expensive root canal treatment is needed by ignoring symptoms.
Employers need to encourage employees to stay on top of their health, as early intervention increases the likelihood for prompt treatment and better outcomes. For example, cancer survival rates have dramatically improved over the years, due to increased awareness around the need to tackle concerns quickly, allowing treatment to be most effective.
Brett Hill, managing director, The Health Insurance Group said: “With research by the Centre of Economic and Business Research finding that workplace absence costs the UK economy £18bn in lost productivity each year, employers need to do everything they can to help employees stay fit and healthy. Moving to a ‘prevention, not cure’ model helps to reduce the likelihood of illnesses related to unhealthy lifestyles, keeping absence rates down and claims for treatment financially viable. Employees benefit from being part of a holistic health and wellbeing programme, tackling everything from mental to physical wellbeing, and employers can maintain a happy and productive workforce.”