The new era of mental and physical wellness

For the first time in over 10 years, improving employee wellness is one of the top three positive impacts employers want to see from their benefits programme, and it’s not hard to see why. The way we work has dramatically changed over the last 30 years and as a result, the mental and physical wellness of employees has become a cause for concern for employers.

Wellbeing can have a noticeable impact on business productivity. With growing pressure on employees to perform and the business to increase margins, employers that ensure their greatest assets - their people - are looked after are gaining a competitive edge.

Work-related stress, anxiety and depression now account for over 10 million working days lost each year and 1 in 6 employees deal with a mental health problem. With this in mind, the question HR and reward professionals must ask themselves is whether they have a benefits programme in place that truly supports their employees’ mental and physical wellbeing?

By investing in education and prevention, employers can make a positive change. Providing employees with access to the right support at the right time is crucial for a mentally and physically healthy workforce. So how do employers change their approach?

A benefits strategy fit for you and your people

Employee wellbeing needs to be firmly established as a core goal. Worryingly, nearly 85% of employers do not have their benefits strategy closely aligned with their people strategy,yet employers are almost 30% more likely to meet their benefits engagement objectives if they have alignment.

In order to address this, HR and reward professionals need to have an accurate picture of how their people are interacting with their benefits, and the impact they are having on workplace wellness. One of the simplest ways to measure this is by utilising technology to give employees easy access to their benefits, and by enabling real-time data capture to analyse how they are engaging with them.

Our latest UK Employee Benefits Watch report found that companies that are digitally measuring the impact of their benefits on employee wellbeing are almost twice as likely to be very effective in meeting their benefits engagement objectives (22% very effective, compared to 12%).

However, our research also found that less than half of employers use technology for benefits delivery. Without technology, it is difficult for HR and reward professionals to accurately and efficiently measure engagement with their benefits programme, or the levels of employee wellness. This is due to information not being instantly available, and manual, disconnected processes leaving room for error.

Using this data, HR and reward professionals can assess how well they are supporting their employees’ mental and physical wellness, empowering them to review and adjust their strategy, so that it is fit for the business and their people.

Prevention not cure

Contrary to conventional wisdom, when it comes to wellness employers need to shift their focus to benefits that prevent ill health, rather than investing in benefits that cure illnesses.

One trend that is clear from our report, is a growing employee demand for freedom to choose the preventative benefits that are relevant for them and their life stage. For example, although private medical insurance is an efficient means of providing access to fast diagnosis, it typically doesn’t provide any support to employees to encourage a healthier lifestyle, preventing the conditions upon which their claims are paid.

The traditional gym subsidy model is becoming outdated. Over half of employees (51%) would like a wellness pot or allowance to support their approach to staying mentally and physically well.

For example, more people are becoming engaged with running clubs and exercise classes, interested in their nutrition, and more broadly in music lessons and resilience programmes to reduce stress.

By adopting a reimbursement strategy, employers are empowering employees to choose options they feel are most beneficial to them as individuals. The end result is employees feel valued by their organisation and more empowered to make their own choices.

Transformation to wellness

If employers continue to lag behind the rapidly developing benefits landscape they will experience a growing inability to meet the demands of their employees.

Organisations need to engage their people with more flexible, relevant and personalised options through technology, to enable employees to make the choices that are right for them. As a result, employers will be able to break away from a one size fits all approach, and look at providing benefits that bring real value to the business and their people.

To fully understand what benefits employees really value, and to allow them easy access to them from anywhere, will have the biggest positive impact on the individual as well as the business. Employers should utilise technology to review their approach, making it easier to manage benefits and for employees to engage with them.

So, whilst employers cannot be wholly responsible for their employees’ mental and physical wellness, they cannot ignore the direct link to productivity; having both a duty of care and a vested interest in actively supporting their people.

Organisations need to address this issue sooner rather later; there is a very real imperative for employers to ensure they provide a work environment conducive to a happy and healthy workforce.

If you would like to find out more about improving employee wellness, download Thomsons Online Benefits latest report UK Employee Benefits Watch 2016/17: Transformation to wellness

Luke Prankard is practice lead health and wellbeing at Thomsons Online Benefits.  


This article was provided by Thomsons Online Benefits.

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