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10 Jul 2018
by Mike Blake

How to use data driven technology to influence positive behaviour changes

Garnering data on the health of employees can better inform health and wellbeing strategies. 

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This facilitates evidence-based decisions on the benefits packages provided – which, in turn, drives greater appreciation of benefits and paves the way for a more productive workforce.

Changing behaviours

This ‘win-win’ situation can only be achieved if behavioural changes are made among the employee population, including better lifestyle choices and higher engagement with benefits provision. 

Behavioural economics teaches us that humans don’t always make the best decisions. They often fail to adopt healthy behaviour, despite understanding the importance of their personal health. 

Employers can help influence positive behavioural changes by creating an environment that makes it easier for employees to make healthier decisions. Technology can assist in this task by offering easy access to the critical health-related knowledge needed to shape lifestyle choices, and by removing traditional barriers to help. 

The data resulting from such technology use can subsequently help companies make smarter decisions pertaining to benefits provision and can be used to establish a wider picture of employee health.       

A window into employees’ health, habits and behaviours

One-third of UK employers cite a lack of actionable data as being a significant obstacle to bringing about behavioural changes among employees, according to Willis Towers Watson’s [email protected] Survey (2016). 

But companies could be sitting on a gold-mine of health-related data. Technologies, such as smartphones and wearable fitness devices, already collect highly detailed data on health and fitness, which is advantageous to employers on two fronts.

First, it lays the groundwork for the promotion of positive behaviours among the workforce and second, it provides the data needed for identifying problem trends, establishing a business case and tracking progress.

By using health-related technology – either supplying fitness trackers or asking employees to share data from their own devices for an incentive – employers can encourage their workforce to make smarter decisions and take a more strategic approach to health and wellbeing programmes with employee-generated data insights.

Personal data issues

A significant barrier to effective health-related technology engagement is employees not wanting their employer to have access to their personal health data. 

In fact, 58 per cent of Willis Towers Watson’s Global Benefits Attitudes Survey (GBAS) (2017) respondents said they don’t want their employer to have access to their personal health information.

Employees should be reassured that their health-related data will remain private and secure, and employers should take the time to explain the steps taken to secure it.

And in the case of highly-sensitive health issues, such as alcohol use and obesity, technology can help overcome barriers, by offering access to a confidential support network, outside the confines of the workplace, without fear of judgement.

What employees really want from their employer is to be encouraged to be healthy – but employers need to be aware there is a limit to acceptable levels of employer intervention.

Where the boundaries lie

Nearly half of GBAS respondents said employers should actively encourage their employees to lead healthier lives, with 22 per cent of employees saying they would be willing to pay a higher amount out of their pay each month for better tools and services to help them live a healthier lifestyle.

But just 21 per cent said employers should send personalised messages relating to their health. This can be overcome by offering access to apps that send relevant, tailored messages to encourage a healthy lifestyle, without any direct involvement from the employer.

So, the takeaway here is that employers should, where possible, equip their employees with the tools they require to improve their health and wellbeing – such as wearable technology and access to health-related mobile apps – but to trust them to use them. A supportive environment will help lead to behavioural change. 

For some employees, improving their health and wellbeing may always be strictly a personal pursuit. But employers can still play a pivotal role, by creating a workplace environment that supports these employees as they tackle self-identified health issues, of their own volition.

Enhanced benefits adoption, heightened engagement and healthy behaviour changes

Wellbeing schemes with a high engagement rate will give greater understanding of employees’ health, habits and behaviours, allowing for tailored support and benefits packages to be shaped.

Benefits technology facilitates interaction with employees, encouraging two-way communication, greater openness and information sharing around preference and need.

For example, there are now interactive benefits platforms available that simplify the benefits enrolment, selection and delivery process for employees, allowing them to choose benefits ‘on-the-go’ through their preferred device.

As well as creating a seamless user experience, encouraging employees to engage with the benefits offering provides employers with further data to monitor, to manage and shape employee behaviour and influence positive habits.

The importance of data analysis

Despite the rich data generated by benefits programmes, poor data analysis and governance could be leaving businesses struggling to attain full value from employee benefits.

According to the Benefits Trends Survey (2017) from Willis Towers Watson, only 12 per cent of UK businesses currently use organisational analytics to test the effectiveness of programmes.

A greater number use medical claims data, but this figure still stands at only 29 per cent, meaning many organisations may be unable to measure the true value of their employee benefits and the health-related issues facing their workforce.

Business intelligence is dependent on good data and the underuse of workplace health data is one of the biggest barriers preventing employee benefits from being used in a strategic manner.

Businesses would be advised to analyse the data at their disposal – such as claims data, absence data or information from health risk assessments – in order to target benefits towards areas of most need and tailor the offering depending on the requirements of different segments of the workforce.

This approach will allow benefits to have a positive impact in a variety of areas, including sickness absence and overall workforce wellbeing.

To minimise the administrative burden and enable improved data-driven decision-making, management information systems should be in place that offer visibility and dynamic reporting on benefits provision across all areas of the organisation.

Educate and empower to influence positive culture change

Empowering and educating employees to manage their own health – through the assistance of tech and data – will help lead to preventative behaviour patterns.

Furthermore, providing benefits technology to enhance the user experience gives employees greater ownership – and control – of their personal benefits, making them more likely to appreciate their benefits and to use them. 

Through data analysis and effective technology use, employers cannot only make gains to the bottom line, but also establish themselves as a responsible, attractive employer, invested in their employees’ long-term health objectives.    

The author is Mike Blake, wellbeing lead at Willis Towers Watson.

This article was provided by Willis Towers Watson.

In partnership with Willis Towers Watson

Willis Towers Watson is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company.

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