Health and wellbeing has been a priority for employers since the arrival of Covid-19, but do they truly understand what employees are worried about most? Christine Husbands outlines the most common health and wellbeing concerns and makes some suggestions for how support should be selected.
The continuing war for talent means that, more than ever, employers need to pay heed to the concerns of existing and prospective employees.
With employee wellbeing high on the board agenda, organisations have been increasing the range of benefits and support services available. But are they truly meeting the needs of employees and addressing their concerns?
As an organisation of registered nurses who have close long-term relationships with the employees they support, we have unique insight into the things employees are most concerned about. This insight can be enlightening for employers and contribute to their health and wellbeing strategy.
The top employee health and wellbeing concerns we are seeing in 2022 include:
- The availability of NHS appointments and in-person care. Although many GPs have continued to offer online and telephone consultations post-Covid, getting an appointment at all continues to be difficult. The press regularly reports on falling GP numbers and pressure on services. We also regularly hear that, when faced with a serious health concern, people much prefer a face-to-face appointment.
- A lack of certainty. Planned appointments, treatment and surgery unfortunately often fall victim to pressures, resulting in cancellations or changes at short notice. This is obviously very frustrating and disruptive for employees. We are often called upon to help employees cope with their increasing anxiety, worries about their prognosis and living with the uncertainty.
- A lack of medical equipment. Increasingly, we are hearing of employees who don’t have medical equipment that would help them because they’ve not been offered it, or they are unaware of what is available. With their expert knowledge of the NHS, our nurses have been able to explain what is available and how best to get it.
- End of life care. Sadly, many employees are coping with loved ones who are nearing the end of their lives – either elderly parents, or those with a terminal illness. Palliative care and hospice beds are in short supply, as is the availability of professional care in the home. Not only can this take a huge emotional toll on the employee, the practical issues they face can also be overwhelming.
- Covid-19 safety. We continue to hear worries about the high level of coronavirus cases, particularly among those with vulnerabilities themselves or family members. As the requirement for testing has fallen away and lateral flow test kits are no longer free, many employees continue to feel anxious about social events and busy workplace environments.
- The rising cost of living and political factors. Hot on the heels of the disruption of the pandemic, we continue to live through difficult times, particularly the war in Ukraine, the uncertain political landscape, and the rising cost of living. Many employees are personally affected by one or more of these factors, with consequent impact on their wellbeing. When coupled with serious health concerns in themselves or their families, it is likely that many employees will be struggling.
Top employee wellbeing concerns in 2022
What to consider when choosing support
There is a wide range of employee health and wellbeing support services available, either directly or via group insurance. This can include provision of GP services, nurse services, mental health services, second medical opinions, menopause support and fitness technology.
With such a volume of services on offer, it is tempting to add lots of benefits to cover all bases. However, this comes with a note of caution. Employers would be wise to think about the following:
- The small print. Does the service really provide what it says “on the tin”, or are there significant exclusions? For example, some mental health support services only cater for mild to moderate needs, with those with more complex needs finding they are excluded.
- Gaps in services. By providing several services targeting different populations there will be gaps. For instance, do they cater for short-term and long-term conditions across all ages and lifestyles? What about dependants such as children and elderly parents? There is a danger that some employees may struggle alone because there is no relevant support for them.
- Engagement with support services. Can the supplier demonstrate employee engagement or collect feedback? Organisations should be able to access data showing which services are popular and which ones might not be relevant or helpful to their workforce.
- Accessibility. Are the services accessible to all? How will communication with employees be handled? In our experience, employees often don’t know or understand what services are available, what their purpose is and how to access them. Furthermore, many tell us that taking the first step to request support was the hardest part, and many often leave it until crisis is reached.
- Connectivity. Several disparate services can be very difficult for employees to navigate. A single supplier would be ideal, but if this is not available, a single point of access to comprehensive suite of services and a cross-referral method between them ensures that employees get the right help with minimum effort on their part.
A small number of services that take a personalised approach and cater for a variety of needs and circumstances is likely to be more comprehensive, simpler to communicate, and easier for employees to understand and access.
While external health and wellbeing services can bring expertise, independence and confidentiality, employers also need to ensure they are acting internally. Educating managers and colleagues about some common health and wellbeing concerns; encouraging the development of an open and supportive culture; introducing flexible policies and procedures; and providing organisational resources, all have a part to play in creating healthy organisations.
In today’s competitive recruitment market, employers need more than ever to ensure that they can appropriately support their employees with their diverse and varied health concerns. An organisation that truly listens and helps to address employees’ concerns is likely to be one of the winners in the war for talent.