Martha How, principal at Aon Employee Benefits
Awareness of the importance of employee health and wellbeing is at an all-time high, with more and more organisations looking to encourage employees to transform everything from their waistlines and stress levels to their exercise regimes. And it's hardly surprising. Healthy, happy employees tend to be more productive and motivated, take less time off sick and rack up fewer claims on their health insurance benefit plans.
Unfortunately though, our recent white paper, Wellbeing: Examining the correlation between employee health and financial wellbeing, found that, thanks to our lifestyle habits, many of us are heading towards a host of health problems. There is much data which evidences that UK lifestyles are increasingly unhealthy. For instance, obesity levels among adults in England have ballooned from 15% in 1993 to 26% in 2014. More of us are at risk of developing conditions such as heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure and mental health problems.
But while many employers are introducing health and wellbeing plans to counter these trends, their good intentions aren't always delivering the desired results. To make these plans more effective, our white paper identified four key areas where employers should focus their efforts.
Understand your people
Before designing your programme, take time to get under the data to really understand your people and the specific challenges they face. There's plenty of management information available. Absence data, claims and usage statistics from your health insurers can highlight workforce issues while an online health risk assessment can show where improvements could be made.
Think about other health-related data too. Choices from onsite canteens, take-up rates for benefits such as gym membership, opinions from engagement surveys, listening groups and worker representative groups can all inform your thinking.
Speaking to employees, including line managers, is another way to shape your programme. Also consider exploring how different work cycles affect employee health. For example, if there are periods of high and low output associated with deadlines, month ends and targets see if there's any correlation with absence or mental health issues.
Secure sufficient budget
As few of us have the luxury of unlimited budgets for our dream wellbeing programme, use your data to justify your spend. Your absence levels may be higher than average for your sector or you may be experiencing a large number of medical insurance claims for musculoskeletal problems. Your insurers and employee benefits consultant can help you with this exercise. And by providing evidence of an issue - and a solution to address it - you can build a compelling case for investment in an employee wellbeing programme.
Design a programme
It's important to build a programme that suits your people. As a simple example, the needs of a service sector organisation in the City with an average age of 31 is likely to be very different to those of a manufacturing firm in a market town with an average age of 50.
Also think about the elements within your programme. With some, it will be sensible to take a targeted approach, for example, providing training to line managers to help them identify the early signs of stress, while others, such as weight loss or exercise advice, will need to be delivered through a much more broad brush approach to avoid alienating people.
It's also prudent to have an eye on the metrics you want to improve when designing your programme. This will help you achieve the desired results, and, with evidence of a return on investment, make it easier to secure future funding.
Your communications also need to be carefully planned to ensure your wellbeing programme resonates with as many employees as possible. A few posters and an odd email here and there used to be considered sufficient, but there's now much more room for creativity. For instance, given our love of smart phones, an app can be a really effective way to engage employees and provide them with the encouragement and support they need to stick to their healthy, new lifestyle.
Data can also be used to shape communications. As an example, by cross referencing with holiday records, you could send an employee a series of alerts in the run up to their break, giving them health information on everything from diet and fitness programmes to which vaccinations they might need and whether it's safe to put ice in their G&T at their chosen destination.
Whether you're determining which elements are in your health and wellbeing programme or how it's communicated, getting some science behind it is key to making it a success. By having a data-driven approach, your programme will be more targeted and engaging, and therefore much more likely to deliver the results you and your employees want.
 Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet, HSCIC, England 2016