Nick Boyton, Senior Health Consultant
Given the massive growth over the past few years in health wearables and apps, from Fitbits to activity trackers and the rise in popularity of complementary medicine, it’s safe to say that wellbeing is now mainstream.
According to the Global Wellness Institute, workplace wellness programmes are now worth more than £31billion worldwide. Workplace wellness has moved from being a perk to a workplace ‘necessity’, so says university lecturer Victoria Rosamond, senior lecturer in applied management at the University of Derby.
It wasn’t always so: while HR and reward always understood the significance of wellbeing and the benefits it can bring to businesses, I’ve always found that it was a different story when it got to the executive board. Often, it was met with cynicism from CEOs and financial directors; they just couldn’t see the return on investment. We’ve seen a shift in attitudes towards wellbeing – even just ten years ago, it tended to be perceived as an exercise which didn’t add any value to companies.
The perception around wellbeing has changed for the better – driven in part by private healthcare companies in the US, who have bought into wellbeing as a way of managing longer-term claim costs (the rationale being that healthy people will claim less). From conversations that we are having with clients, it’s clear that those in management now see that investing in wellbeing demonstrates that they care about employees, can drive employee engagement, and help to create better health outcomes – which can reduce staff absence and improve productivity.
Wellbeing now encompasses mental, financial and social as well as physical – which is a relatively recent shift.
People now understand that physical and mental wellbeing are inextricably interlinked; an individual suffering severe stress levels is likely to develop physical symptoms1, and someone with chronic illness is likely to develop depression or anxiety2.
Healthy, Happy and Here
Employers now realise that to run a high performing company you need a high performing team. For that to happen, they need to be healthy, happy and here. Indeed, 95 per cent of employers in a recent Aon UK Benefits and Trends 2019 survey have identified a correlation between health and employee performance.
And that’s where technology can help. It can provide employers with insightful data around the health of their workforce, it can target certain demographics with key health messages and it can ultimately improve engagement with corporate health and wellbeing initiatives.
And now, it’s all interconnected. Wellbeing technology overall has the capabilities to link with other apps and devices on employees’ phones, tablets or watches. It can provide a holistic picture of their entire health from general physical wellbeing to emotional to financial.
Gone are the days of clunky wearable devices or programmes where you needed a PhD in Sports Science to work out how to use them. Wellbeing technology now has become a type of health aggregator, pulling in information from a variety of different sources.
And this is important because it means you can engage large numbers of people. If you have 25 per cent of your population who are already health conscious, it’s likely they’ll continue to use apps and devices anyway. At the other end of the scale are the 25 per cent who may never be interested; it is likely that they are happy with their current lifestyle and won’t engage.
But for the middle 50 percent of people – who know they need to take more responsibility for their health but might lack the motivation or don’t know where to start – wellbeing technology could ultimately help bridge that gap.
Employers however, have a dilemma on their hands. They want to have thriving employees, yet they also want to support struggling employees. People will always be at risk of developing conditions or illnesses through either genetics, lifestyle choices or chance, but an employer can provide the support framework to help employees make positive choices around their wellbeing. Prevention is always better than cure.
This is why more and more health initiatives are starting to focus on using preventative measures; utilising wellbeing technology to predict or identify those at risk of developing conditions either through lifestyle choices and/or through health screening.
From a hard-nosed claims perspective, it’s cheaper to prevent a condition from developing than treating a condition once it’s developed.
But of course, it’s so much more than that. Most forward thinking employers don’t see health and wellbeing as tick-box exercise anymore. They see it as the right thing to do but also, they understand the benefits it can bring in terms of a happier, healthy more engaged workforce. Because ultimately, it’s no longer about Return On Investment, it’s about a Return on Health.
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