As an increasing number of employees live, work and travel abroad, the right employee benefits matter more than ever.
This is especially the case as access to local healthcare systems is becoming ever more complicated and restricted, largely due to the burden of ‘the big three’: diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
Accordingly, there’s growing recognition that employees need to take on more responsibility for their own health and wellbeing, whilst employers need to do more to help them make the most of their benefits. Of course for employers there’s a hard commercial reality to all of this: happy and healthy employees equate to improved reputation and profits. That’s slowly being recognised as a given.
In spite of this, research shows that to date many health and wellbeing programmes have fallen short of expectations. Only around one third of employees globally say their employer’s health and wellbeing programmes have helped them live healthier lives, according to Willis Towers Watson’s Global Benefits Attitudes Survey 2017. Moreover, only about two in five employees say these health and wellbeing programmes meet their needs.
The good news is that employees acknowledge the importance of their health and look to employers to help them improve it. Globally, two in three employees say that managing their health is a top priority. Whilst two thirds of employees agree that employers have a role to play in encouraging them to live healthier lifestyles.
That being the case, it would seem that current initiatives are simply not connecting with employees. So how can global employers better align their programmes with the needs of their employees and do so in a way that creates an engaging experience?
For a start, benefit choice and flexibility is important. We’re increasingly seeing that those employees with choice and flexibility are more likely to feel that their benefit programme meets their needs. Secondly it’s about having the right infrastructure in place: a digital framework, supported by the right workplace environment, and a focus on both employee personal health and financial wellbeing.
Technology’s role in health and wellbeing benefits
Most organisations are now embracing technology to help them deliver their strategy, with the use of health apps and virtual GP services seeing considerable growth.
Technological tools enhance employees’ day-to-day experiences and support decision making in a way that more traditional programmes are unable to do.
What’s more, the use of technology is being encouraged to help support creaking healthcare systems. Take the UK’s NHS. If free movement of workers is lost post-Brexit, it’s widely understood that the NHS will be unable to tap into its migrant workforce. According to commentators, this will have a knock-on effect on employers in terms of employee health.
Aon’s The B of the Bang, a report that looks at the potential impact of Brexit on the economy, states that the role of private provision of health and wellbeing services may increase, and that this is a good opportunity for employers to consider the options available.
It states: “The use of technology in health management, whether this be through health apps, the use of artificial intelligence to help give basic guidance on medical conditions or online mental health support services, are all options the employer should consider utilising in an environment where accessing treatment and support is difficult”.
Offering a healthy workplace environment
Building a healthy workplace culture is also key to employee engagement around health and wellbeing. This could include anything from flexible working policies and childcare facilities to access to services such as health screenings, exercise and nutrition support and advice, virtual GPs, telephone counselling, financial and legal advice.
But it’s not all about offering services. For global employees in particular, access to friends, family and colleagues during periods of stress or other difficulties is imperative.
Helping employees with short-term financial security
Financial wellbeing must form the bedrock of any global benefits programme. This is usually discussed in terms of saving for retirement. For the purposes of this article though, we’ll look instead at the fact that many employees simply have no financial cushion if they’re unable to work for some time due to illness of injury: arguably an equally important aspect of financial wellbeing.
There is evidence of widespread deterioration of household financial positions, with savings on the decline and debt levels on the rise in many countries, possibly linked to low interest rates, minimal real wage growth and the unaffordability of housing for many young workers.
In the Eurozone countries, for example, around 30% of employees say they cannot come up with €2,000 in an emergency, according to Willis Towers Watson. UK employees displayed the lowest levels of financial resilience, with 41% unable to pay an unexpected expense of £1,600.
Financial worries can cause a significant amount of stress that, in turn, affects work performance. Clearly, it’s in the interests of employers to help remove those stressors.
Group income protection could therefore be considered a key element in any employee health-related programme – not only for the financial protection it affords, but also the raft of added-value wellbeing benefits that now come with it, which could in themselves help form the basis of a health and wellbeing programme.
Focusing on employee experience is a must
If global companies are to realise growth ambitions, a focus on employees is imperative. Momentum is now building on the notion that people are critical to corporate success. Wellbeing is no longer a ‘nice to have’. In fact, according to a report by Deloitte, businesses are currently at a tipping point where employee mental health and wellbeing will become as integral to business policy and reporting as corporate social responsibility.
UK corporate governance reform could cement this. Although yet to be finalised and implemented, it will see employees having a voice at Board level. In short, employee engagement is set to become an important component of running a sustainable business.