Boosting productivity through health and wellbeing benefits

By investing in health and wellbeing, organisations can benefit from increased engagement and less "presenteeism"

In an uncertain working world, offering health and wellbeing benefits that people can use on a daily basis can have a positive effect on workers’ lives as well as reinforce the employer/employee relationship, argues Paul Avis.

The majority of advanced economies have experienced a slowdown in productivity growth since the 2007 financial crisis, but the UK has experienced the most acute slump of any Western economy.

While the UK once had the highest output per hour worked in Europe, this rapid fall shows no sign of coming to an end amid ongoing Brexit concerns and economic uncertainty. With such a grim outlook, employers need to consider the options available to them to ease the productivity crisis. One of the best ways to do this is by addressing employee wellbeing.

About the author

Paul Avis is marketing director at Canada Life Group Insurance

With long-term employment at an all-time high, it is vital employers invest in their workforce. Investing in health and wellbeing has a proven track record of boosting productivity, with 85% of employees viewing happiness as a good proxy for wellbeing and nine in ten believing a happy workplace is more productive.

There are a number of dynamics at play which influence workplace happiness. Employees who feel valued and appreciated will be more content and loyal. When given the necessary tools and environment, those working effectively and efficiently will tend to be happier in their role – but good physical and mental health is only one part of the equation.

Wellbeing in the workplace

Our research at Canada Life has suggested employees understand that wellbeing is important, but only one in five (21%) believes that their employer thinks the same. As three-quarters (73%) of employees think their wellbeing should be a responsibility shared by both their employer and themselves, this is an issue employers need to address urgently.

Organisations derive great business benefits from investing in health and wellbeing, such as increased staff attraction and retention. So why aren’t more employers doing it? Presently, only around half of all organisations have a strategy in place.

However, three-quarters of British employers are seeking to increase employee engagement (74%) and differentiate and customise their health and wellbeing from other organisations (76%) over the next three years.

Barnett Waddingham has found that the number of employers developing a strategy has increased by 15% and those planning to do so by 4%. However, while there is a growing appetite for health and wellbeing benefits, some barriers remain in place, with 38% of employers citing a lack of expertise (up 24% from 2017), 35% a lack of resources and 34% a lack of time.

In addition to these barriers, organisations are also having difficulties attaching a ROI to investing in wellbeing benefits. Last year, the CIPD stated that the prevalence of presenteeism in organisations had tripled since 2010. However, according to Barnett Waddingham, only 23% of employees said presenteeism had an impact on productivity.

Without an unequivocal set of metrics available, it is worth looking at wellbeing on a simpler level: what makes employees happy?

Satisfyingly, Willis Towers Watson’s research has found that the majority of employees (80%) report no financial or stress issues. Yet, amongst the remaining fifth, two additional days are lost per employee who reported a combination of both health and financial issues and they are consequently three times more likely to be disengaged.

By investing in health and wellbeing, alongside financial education, organisations should benefit from increased engagement and fewer absence days. Ensuring good financial and physical health are core factors in laying the basis for happiness, engagement and productivity.

Utilising health and wellbeing benefits

Employers might not realise it, but there are loads of health and wellbeing benefits in place that focus on prevention of sickness, absence and presenteeism, to ensure quick treatment when people are ill, allowing them to return to the workplace sooner.

Debt, housing, elderly and childcare, and mental health issues all weigh heavily on employee wellbeing, but they can all be supported by Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs). Many organisations have access to EAPs and an estimation of seven in ten (68%) employers already provide these services to 14 million employees.

An ROI calculator was launched last year by the EAP Association for organisations to see for themselves why investing in this service may be judicious. A growing number of group risk insurers is now also using EAPs on a daily basis as a way to prevent sickness absence, support those with mental health problems and allow employees to engage with workplace benefits, at any stage of life. These benefits provided at no extra cost to the premiums paid are a great tool to promote internally.

With regards to treatment, rather than prevention, the common preconception is that when people develop a serious condition, finance plans and private medical insurance are the main routes to avoid a long absence from the workplace and NHS waiting lists. However, there is a number of additional areas that employers can look at to support employees who have fallen seriously ill.

At Canada Life Group Insurance, like many protection providers, we have been offering a second medical opinion service for over a decade. In some years, up to 60% of service users have had a change in treatment and up to 20% of service users have had a change in diagnosis. From January to December 2018, people using the service have had a 50% change in recommendations for cancer treatment.

As personal health and family health are two manifest causes of presenteeism potentially impacting productivity, having confidence and clinical certainty when the worst happens is an incredibly valuable tool. Additionally, having benefits that people can use on a daily basis and which can have a real positive impact on their lives can only further reinforce the employer-employee value contract.

Office for National Statistics Productivity economic commentary: July to September 2018,
Barnett Waddingham, Why BWell Survey 2017,
Willis Towers Watson, 2018 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey, EMEA – United Kingdom,
CIPD/Simplyhealth, Health and Well-being at Work survey, May 2018
Employee Benefits/Xerox HR Services, Benefits research, June 2016
EAPA, Market watch 2013, July 2013
EAPA, EAP calculator delivers ROI figures for a future of benchmarking, September 2018,
Best Doctors data reported to Canada Life

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