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02 Nov 2020
by Gethin Nadin

How to personalise workplace wellbeing through wellbeing spending accounts

Personalised wellbeing spending accounts are emerging as an effective way to tackle the diverse nature of employee wellbeing, now and in the future

 

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Though every single employee has faced the coronavirus pandemic this year, the way it has affected each one individually has differed greatly.

The crisis has highlighted the impact diversity is having on the significant wellbeing challenges employees are facing. In the UK, the number of hospital admissions for eating disorders among ethnic minorities is now rising fast, being male is now a risk factor for the virus, and women are bearing the brunt of the second wave of cases. Catering to the ever-changing wellbeing needs of a diverse workforce has become a huge challenge for employers.

In every country around the world, the wellbeing of employees from different backgrounds is being affected differently by the pandemic:

  • Almost a third of UK employees report that their physical health has improved during lockdown. However, more than 35% say their mental health has worsened, according to a survey by Bupa Health Clinics.
  • In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that over 40% of people have experienced a mental health condition related to the pandemic.
  • In Latin America the pandemic is disproportionately affecting low income workers’

The majority of employers have reacted quickly to these new wellbeing needs, with Westfield Health’s Divided Together report finding that more than 90% of employers have increased their wellbeing spending due to the virus. However, in contrast, Bupa Health Clinics’ recent survey revealed that half of employees are confused by how to improve their health and wellbeing. And employees also report that they are confused as to where to go for support in the workplace and what support is available.

Wellbeing spend

Research from Vitality and American Express found that last year British employees spent an average of more £2,500 on health and fitness – that’s around 8% of their salaries on things like fitness equipment, food supplements and therapies like massages. However, economic uncertainty is forcing employees to not want to spend money on these activities.

We are seeing employers around the world start to personalise wellbeing experiences for their people through the introduction of wellbeing spending accounts. By offering these wellbeing accounts, employers can encourage their people to divert this spending and benefit from maintaining healthy lives while also maintaining their financial wellbeing.

Wellbeing spending accounts

A personalised wellbeing spending account gives employees a pot of money to spend on wellbeing initiatives. The purpose of these funds is to promote employee wellbeing while limiting employer expenditure. These types of programmes put more cost controls in the hands of employers and more choice and flexibility for employees.

Some employers choose to limit the wellbeing account to specific areas of wellbeing or a limited set of products and services, like gym membership or sports activities. Others allow employees to decide what to spend the fund on as long as it is being used to improve their wellbeing. In these cases, employees can also spend their wellbeing account on things like charitable donations to improve their community wellbeing, and mindfulness apps or creative pursuits to improve their emotional wellbeing.

By giving employees the ability to choose what works for them at any given time, employers are able to offer a uniquely personalised approach to wellbeing without complexity and increased costs. By allowing employees to shape their lifestyles in this way, wellbeing spending accounts can be used to help employees understand the intricacies of their wellbeing and promote healthy habits.

A longer-term view of wellbeing

While early indications are that we may have a publicly available COVID-19 vaccine towards the middle of next year, the wellbeing needs of employees will continue to be a challenge for employers for some years to come.

In the UK, Public Health England revealed in its latest COVID-19: mental health and wellbeing surveillance report that mental health distress is almost 10% higher than usual. In the US, the National Center for Health Statistics’ Household Pulse Survey found that anxiety and depression have been on a steady increase since April. The significant damage the pandemic has done to many employees’ wellbeing is expected to take years to recover from. Employers committing to improving employee wellbeing will need to start to take a long-term view of how they are going to support their people, not just during the rest of the pandemic, but long after it’s been vaccinated against.

Personalised wellbeing spending accounts are emerging as an effective way to tackle the diverse nature of employee wellbeing, now and in the future.

The author is Gethin Nadin, director, employee wellbeing at Benefex.

This article is provided by Benefex.

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