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02 Oct 2018
by Mike Blake

Ways to use wellbeing data to identify and address employee health issues

Obtaining and analysing data is key to providing tailored and targeted wellbeing initiatives to boost morale, productivity and employee engagement levels. But many companies are still slow to take-up analytic methods. 


The need for effective data analysis

According to Willis Towers Watson’s Benefits Trends Survey (2017), only 12 per cent currently say they use organisational analytics to measure the effectiveness of their wellbeing programmes. 

Twenty nine per cent use medical claims data/benchmarking information and 12 per cent use lost-time metrics, such as unplanned absence, presenteeism and disability, to inform decisions or changes to healthcare and wellbeing programmes.

Without knowledge of the effectiveness of current healthcare and wellbeing initiatives or assessment of the wellbeing needs of employees, employers are taking a gamble with their provision. 

For example, the research shows that less than a quarter (23 per cent) of employees say their company’s wellbeing programmes have encouraged employees to live a healthier lifestyle, despite one in four bosses (38 per cent) thinking so.

Additionally, 61 per cent of employers say their company promotes a healthy work environment, but just 35 per cent of their workers agree. 

There is an obvious disconnection between what employers feel their employees need and what they actually want and value when it comes to wellbeing programmes.

Without an assessment strategy or meaningful data, employers are ambiguous about what to measure and tend to have fragmented programmes that might not complement each other. In all, it’s difficult to make a case for expanding health and wellbeing initiatives or launching new ones, and this difficulty reduces organisations’ chances of creating effective programmes.

Data is the ultimate route to engagement, as it identifies the flaws and successes of a wellbeing programme, and allows the employer to form objectives based on the unique needs of the workforce.    

Here are three ways employers can use data to identify and address employee health issues to deliver tailored wellbeing initiatives and better manage benefits costs.

Get to the root of the problem

Data driven strategies deliver more compelling and persuasive business cases for continued investment in health and wellbeing programmes, and more tailored policies to meet organisational and employee needs.

Having policies and practices in place to gather and analyse information is essential, as is putting in place clear objectives and metrics.

According to the Benefits Trends research, over the next three years, 65 per cent of employers said it was a top priority to identify and effectively manage population health risks and chronic conditions across the workforce. 

In order to do that, employers must gain a clear picture of the health of their workforce, which can be achieved through a number of practices, including: maintaining absence records; monitoring incidents of presenteeism; hosting onsite health screening; obtaining medical claims information; analysing data derived from wearable technologies; running regular staff surveys and collecting information from employee assistance programmes, to name a few.

Actively, and accurately, collating and analysing data through a number of different means furnishes employers with greater insights to better identify and address employee health issues and patterns of behaviour.

Gain manager buy-in

Managers are key to capturing and reporting on the wellbeing of local teams, particularly within large organisations and those with a significant number of remote workers.

Playing a pivotal role in leading, motivating and managing teams, managers can prove powerful advocates for cultural change. Their proximity and relationships to staff means they are ideally placed for gathering more in-depth wellbeing data that goes beyond the numbers.

Gaining buy-in to the value of workplace wellbeing and training team managers to spot the early warning signs and risks of excessive stress, including unhealthy and sedentary behaviours, allows for early interventions and more positive outcomes.

But in order to get the full value of this, companies need to be transparent with managers regarding their health and wellbeing objectives and the most prevalent issues faced by their teams. 

According to the Benefits Trends survey, just nine per cent of companies share health and wellbeing programme performance metrics with the C-suite, senior management or as a corporate reported metric on a regular basis. 

Understanding and reporting on what may be causing high absence levels or unhealthy behaviours is key to more informed wellbeing strategies to better support staff.

Build trust with employees

Quality data gathering and analysis gives employers key insights into the needs of their unique workforce, facilitating evidence-based health and wellbeing programmes to deliver real benefits. 

Using different data collation methods, including tactics such as staff surveys and return to work interviews following long absences, encourages two-way dialogue helping to identify the root cause of any problems.

The most valuable – and often overlooked – tool available to employers is the opinion of the workers themselves. According to the Benefits Trends research, just 27 per cent of companies ask for employee feedback to enhance programme offerings. However, companies are starting to see the value in this, with 60 per cent saying they will routinely do so over the next three years. 

What employers need to be aware of is employee privacy, particularly when it comes to sensitive, health-related issues. 

Although an open environment should be encouraged, where employees are invited to share their health-related issues and participate in surveys for data-collecting purposes, employees are not necessarily comfortable with this. 

In fact, 58 per cent of respondents to the Global Benefits Attitudes Survey (2017) 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.

Empathetically gaining insights, and responding effectively with tailored benefits and wellbeing initiatives, will help to foster greater levels of trust – building loyalty and engagement – allowing employers to have a greater influence on creating healthier habits at work.

Securing a foundation of trust with employees with an open, inclusive culture and an environment within which specific needs are proactively recognised and addressed, will encourage staff to be more honest about often stigmatised, and little understood, mental health-related difficulties for example.

The risk of not utilising employee data

Executed well, wellbeing data will identify underlying issues to better enable employers to respond with appropriate solutions. This may be as simple as offering temporary work pattern adjustments to support care commitments or reconsidering the workload distribution among teams.

In the absence of a data driven, strategic approach, employers run the risk of adhoc wellbeing investments that do not meet the needs of their workforce and fail to successfully deliver on organisational objectives.

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

This article was provided by Willis Towers Watson.

Willis Towers Watson is sponsoring REBA’s Innovation Day, taking place on 22 November at County Hall, London.

In partnership with Willis Towers Watson

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

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