Wellbeing at work: trends report 2019

This summer we’re seeing employee benefits swing further towards wellbeing. Organisations have started to take a more holistic approach to their benefits package – but is this just a ripple in the sea?

So, what will the employee benefits landscape look like in the future? The latest benefit survey by Willis Towers Watson indicates that in the coming years at least, 75% of businesses1 plan to make their health and wellbeing provision a key competitive advantage. This is great for employees, and not just for obvious reasons.

Employers are on the lookout for practical solutions that really do help employees’ lives. This is a ‘purple-patch’ in employee benefits; a pool of innovation which is creating new and exciting packages that did not exist only a few years ago. At Reframe, we are one such business where we act as an advocate for the employee with cancer, seeking out the best treatments and providing a rounded full support service for the individual and their employer, making use of all the resources available to them both through work and more widely.

But what does health and wellbeing look like in an employee benefits scheme? What are the key trends that we might see being offered by employers in a modern, forward-thinking package?

The trends

What’s good for the employee, is good for the employer. Here’s our pick of the most exciting developments we expect to see.

Virtual healthcare

The rise of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes, puts increased pressure on the healthcare system. Technology has the potential to revolutionise the way care is delivered by transforming care delivery, patient experience and operation management. Many organisations already offer access to virtual GPs and telemedicine through Employee Assistance Programmes or private medical insurance. Virtual healthcare enables individuals to get flexible appointments, digital prescriptions, ongoing symptom monitoring and health coaching – making it possible help vulnerable employees stay at work.

Wearable tech has exploded in the consumer market over recent years. Nielsen’s Connected Life Report found that 1 in 6 consumers2 currently use smart watches and fitness bands. Wearables have an impact far beyond consumer fitness tracking, GPS navigation, message notifications and calls, into medical applications too. Medical wearables can detect life-threatening conditions, collect biometric data to help with patient diagnoses, and even administer medicine to alleviate pain.

We’re starting to see smart tech move into intelligent tech – this is the future. Harnessing the power of artificial intelligence (AI) in conjunction with machine learning to produce real time, predictive analysis, or in this case, diagnosis and prescriptions.

Employee-carers

Alongside catering for an ageing workforce, HR practices must also make provision for employee-carers. Carers UK cite 1 in 7 of your workforce3 will be a carer, with many struggling to balance their work and caring responsibilities. Employees feel they should pick one over the other, and that shouldn’t be the case.

Companies can certainly help ease the pressure. Some have started to be more empathetic in dealing with employees who have responsibilities in elder care or longer-term support to a person with a health condition. Employee-carers experience financial and emotional burdens, and will let their own health deteriorate in order to put others first.

Business in the Community estimates that UK companies could save up to £4.8 billion a year4 by avoiding unplanned absences due to caring responsibilities. Offering employees more flexibility, support through Employee Assistance Programmes and caregiver leave are big trends for 2020.

Financial wellbeing

Employee financial wellbeing affects the bottom line. The CIPD’s Employee Financial Wellbeing study found that 25% of UK employees5 report that their money worries have affected their ability to do their jobs. Financial stress can have a significant impact on employees’ wellbeing including; lack of concentration, sleep and health problems. Businesses have been offering financial wellbeing benefits for a while such as retail discounts, income protection and pension schemes. But it’s time to take this to the next level.

Established in America, a health savings account ensures employees are better placed to pay for immediate health expenses, encourages them to save for healthcare costs in retirement, and provides a tax benefit through salary sacrifice. It won’t be too long under we see healthcare savings being incentivise, in a similar manner to company pensions.

Student loan repayment is a millennial-friendly benefit that will give companies a leg-up over competition. Employer contributions help to relieve student debt, leaving employees feeling supported and invested in.

Another trend to watch out for is fertility benefits. According to the British Fertility society, infertility can affect up to 15% of couples in the UK6, causing huge physical and emotional demands on employees. Across the pond companies are providing fertility support to help with the financial strain, for example, savings plan and employer contribution for in vitro fertilisation treatment (IVF).

Over the coming years, we will see a rise in employers offering a maternity programme, fertility diagnosis test, a fertility coach and even financial support for adoption. The benefit for employers is two-fold. The company can support its inclusion and diversity goals, and be recognised as a great place to work, whilst improving employee satisfaction and wellbeing7.

Workplace stress reduction

Stress has been identified as a major contributory factor to various chronic diseases. As quoted by Wrike, 65% of employees in the UK8 are moderately to highly stressed at work. Many HR functions are actively looking at ways to reduce stress in the workplace, supporting employees and minimising absenteeism and low productivity as a result. Employers recognise that true productivity comes from a stress-free environment. According to the CIPD, 29% of HR professionals9 plan to increase spending on health and wellbeing specifically, for example relaxation courses on mindfulness or meditation, critical illness and case management.

Stress reduction programmes are multi-faceted and frequently holistic. An alternative approach to such programmes or to sit alongside them is the working environment. Introducing a games room, gym, relaxation room, office radio or internal sports and activity clubs will go a long way.

Disease management

The Department of Health estimates that 1 in 3 deaths in the UK10 are before the age of 75. Furthermore, over 75% of those deaths were a result of the five big killers (cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases and liver conditions). The workforce is ageing, and many employers are not set up to accommodate and support employees with chronic, progressive or terminal health conditions.

Employees suffering from a chronic disease are under physical, emotional and mental strain. It is a fair assumption that the rate of absenteeism is more likely to increase for employees with a chronic condition, compared to a healthy workforce. It’s time for employers to bend the trend – focus health and wellbeing programmes on supporting chronic conditions, and not just getting employees fit and staying healthy. Access to experts and resources can help employees identify and manage chronic diseases, as well as navigate through the healthcare system to ensure quicker and better care.

This could involve plug-and-go modules tailored to individual workforce’s, for example in nutrition, cancer, and cardiac even carer.

Communication – or lack of

A theme that continues to linger in the employee benefits industry, is the lack of adoption and engagement with benefits being offered by organisations. You would expect employers tell their staff what benefits they provide, yet a CIPD survey found that almost 1 in 6 organisations9 does not do this.

Communicating the benefits already on offer is surely an easy win? It could be enough to increase employee satisfaction, without any change to the benefits offering needed.

Bringing it all together as simply as possible

HR teams already know that they need to communicate the benefits available to employees, but they often battle to find enough time.

The saying ‘one size doesn’t fit all’ is very much prevalent here. We are all individuals with different needs, therefore the way we are communicated to and the message should vary. Emphasise how your employee benefits are relevant and fun and use a mixture of communication channels to suit each employee, such as push notifications, posters in the toilets, intranet, staff newsletter, desk drop or even an interactive screen.

The future of employee benefits is certainly being driven by employees, in particular, the health conscious, tech-savvy generation coming through. It won’t be long until employee wellbeing becomes an employee expectation, not a perk.

1 Willis Towers Watson: UK Benefits Trend Survey, 2017
2 Nielsen: Connected Life Report, 2013
3 Carers UK: Juggling wok and unpaid care: a growing issue, 2019
4 Business in the Community: How Centrica is supporting carers to stay in work, 2019
5 CIPD: Employee Financial Wellbeing, 2017
6 British Fertility Society: What is infertility, 2019
7 Willis Towers Watson: Two thirds of employer expect to offer fertility benefit by 2019, 2018
8 Wrike: Crash and Burnout: Is workplace stress the new normal? 2018
9 CIPD: Reward Management Survey, 2018
10 Department of Health: Living well for longer, 2014

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