Is Your Workforce Living with Key Health Risks?

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Is Your Workforce Living with Key Health Risks?
Is Your Workforce Living with Key Health Risks?
Calendar12 September 2017

Author: Dr Wolfgang Seidl, EMEA Head of Health Management Consulting, Mercer

When it comes to employee wellness, most companies typically focus most of their efforts and budget on those that are ill or long-term disabled. This is certainly money well spent, and it is easy enough to see the reason why, as this group is relatively easy to identify and quantify.

However, it is equally important not to overlook the much bigger group of employees that could be called ‘at risk’. On average, they comprise 55 %* of the workforce and are living with key health risks, e.g. bad nutritional habits, smoking, drinking excessively or not getting enough exercise, which negatively affects their health and therefore their productivity.

In addition to these rather obvious health risks, a lot of employees are affected by less visible factors impacting their wellbeing, such as stress, financial worries and mental health issues. Absenteeism and presenteeism are two manifestations of these and other factors impacting employees, and between them account for close to 8 %* of a typical company’s wage bill.

So what can you do? Getting employee wellness right doesn’t need to be particularly costly or difficult. Here are ten steps to get you started:

  1. Use gamification, rewards and personalisation in your communication strategy – it’s all about engagement. Make sure your employees not only know about your programmes and benefits, but actually want to get involved. Make it easy to understand, make it fun.

  2. Support your communications with digital offerings. Nowadays, many things we interact with are tailored to our needs and accessible online whenever we want. You should apply the same thinking when it comes to your employee communications and create a wellbeing brand and a central intranet landing point.

  3. Offer education and advice – make sure your employees have all the information they need on health, nutrition and their financial wellness. Keep it simple, but informative, practical and geared towards the actual needs and circumstances of your employees.

  4. Offer flexible working options that consider your employees’ needs – this can dramatically reduce stress levels and make your employees feel a lot more comfortable between their work and private life, particularly in view of the demands on the so-called sandwich generation which has to care for both their children and their parents.

  5. Provide access to free or subsidised activity trackers and apps – these little gadgets can really help to get your employees engaged in activity programmes. In addition, organise running clubs, yoga classes etc. that can be easily integrated into the work day or lunch break. As recent studies have shown, just 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week reduce the risk of dying prematurely by 35 %.

  6. Give access to corporate health screenings and online health risk assessments – most of us are concerned about our health, at least to some degree. And many of us would like to check up on our health more regularly, if it wasn’t for the long waiting times associated with a visit to the GP. Online platforms or apps that give employees easy and quick access to health consultations by GPs are another option you should consider.

  7. Get your leadership team on board – managers arguably have the biggest impact on their teams’ wellbeing, as this is in many ways connected to their motivation, the communications and support they receive and the levels of stress they experience in their day-to-day work. To make this work, however, line-managers need to be properly trained.

  8. Help your employees stop smoking – smoking is one of the main risk factors for many people. At the same time, more than a third of them actually want to stop. Education and advice can help them get started. The Oxford Health Alliance’s 3-4-50 Model is a community health improvement strategy based on evidence that three health behaviors (unhealthy diet, sedentary lifestyle, tobacco use) elevate risk for four chronic conditions (cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, diabetes that together cause more than fifty percent of deaths.

  9. Offer Employee Assistance Programs – employee health and wellness includes physical, mental and financial factors. Therefore, you should offer employees access to confidential assistance programs to help them cope with any issues they might face.

  10. Provide private medical insurance options – knowing that they do have additional medical cover should they need it will help ease your employees’ financial worries and reduce stress levels. Implement clinical pathways for the most prevalent health issues, such as mental health and musculoskeletal issues, to optimise utilisation of services and achieve maximum impact.

Ultimately, caring for your employees’ wellbeing is a win-win approach for both sides. As an employer, you can benefit from cost savings due to less employees being absent from work, and from increased productivity. To really benefit from these programmes, however, they need to be strategically aligned and not one-off initiatives.

*Based on data from Britain’s Healthiest Workplace research (Reilly Associates WPAI methodology)

Why good health is good business: Watch our Wellness barrier video to find out more


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This article does not contain advice in respect of actions you should take. No decision should be made based on this information without obtaining prior specific, professional advice relating to your own circumstances.