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Leading vs lagging data: How mature is your organisation’s health data?

When it comes to understanding risks to employee health, data is vital to identify, analyse and predict potential problems among staff. With the Covid-19 pandemic and a cost-of-living crisis looming, which could increase the risks to employee health, there has never been a more crucial time to better understand the data and to take actions to improve outcomes.

However, not every organisation has sight of the data required to pinpoint fundamental health and lifestyle risks throughout their workforce.

Recognising how mature your employee health data is and how leading data can aid your wellbeing strategies is the best way for organisations to forecast and support employee health in the future.

Leading vs lagging data: What’s the difference?

Lagging Data

While most organisations have access to some form of data that provides insights around employee health - through employee benefits, insurance schemes and claims data, for example - largely, these only give sight of lagging data.

In essence, lagging data reveals health issues that have already occurred among employees, such as cardiovascular disease or musculoskeletal problems. However, what it doesn’t reveal is the root causes or lifestyle issues that contribute to these problems. As a result, there can be large gaps in organisations' understanding of upcoming health risks.

Take for example, the four leading causes of death: Stroke, Cancer, Heart Disease, Diabetes1. These account for 80% of premature deaths each year and kill three in five people worldwide2. Although employers can more easily track who is affected by these issues in their workforce, what many cannot see are the employee behaviours that lead to these problems: smoking, poor nutrition, lack of sleep and exercise etc.

To truly identify and tackle the biggest health risks affecting employees, recognising these behavioural and lifestyle patterns is key.

Leading Data

Leading data, on the other hand, allows organisations to be more proactive and target the specific problems harming employee health. Data that reveals aspects of employee drinking and smoking habits, for instance, or sleep and anxiety levels, shows employers exactly where and how health risks impact people, to create a strategy that supports employees - and protects business risks.

To find this information, employers need to be aware of the makeup of their workforce as well as how certain issues are likely to be affecting them. For instance, bad housing and increasing costs of living are more likely to harm the health of employees on a shop floor than they are for employees in a law firm. But asking the right questions to understand what problems are affecting employees and who exactly they are affecting is vital.

Asking these questions is not only important to mitigate physical health risks to employees but also mental health risks. While claims data may show that employees are suffering from anxiety or depression, it doesn’t reveal if employees aren’t feeling supported at work or if the workplace culture is negatively impacting them.

How mature is your health data?

Understanding the lagging and leading data available to your organisation is fundamental. This starting point makes it possible to recognise the data that’s going to help you achieve your health and wellbeing needs more directly.

To illustrate, the amount of leading or lagging data to hand - or in other words, your data maturity - can fall into three categories:

1. Beginner

At the beginner level, organisations look at a single data set in isolation. They may use a PMI report, for example, to identify health issues. From here, they can pinpoint key health issues affecting their workforces; but notably, there is no insightful leading data at this stage.

2. Intermediate

Organisations at the intermediate level have broader sets of data - PMI reports, claims data, sickness absence data etc. - as well as the capability to join the dots between these sets. This may begin to reveal links between employee health patterns and rising problems.

3. Advanced

When broader data sets are connected and leading data is introduced, the organisation is in the advanced stages of utilising data to forecast and tackle employee health risks.

How to advance your data maturity and attain leading data

In most cases, organisations require further leading data to support their wellbeing strategy. Key to gathering the most insightful leading data is to never assume any issues and health risks employees are facing. While some problems may appear more visible, the underlying issues are not always so clear.

For example, while rising levels of obesity may look apparent, employers do not know of the employee exercise levels, dietary habits or underlying health complications that need to be tackled.

Therefore, asking employees about their experiences at work and in everyday life is key. This can be done through regular employee pulse surveys, listening sessions or in-depth surveys like Britain’s Healthiest Workplace, conducted by Vitality in partnership with Aon, which has scoring and reporting chosen by an independent board made up of academics and experts across a range of fields. It helps reveal the lifestyle of employees and their physical and mental health, alongside the impact of their work environment and the services offered, so that an effective wellbeing strategy can be built to meet employee and business needs.

Sign up to take part in Britain’s Healthiest Workplace survey here and get actionable insight to help create the business case for wellbeing initiatives.



1 https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/noncommunicable-diseases

2 https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/noncommunicable-diseases


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