United Kingdom

The biggest risks to employee health - and how employers can help

July 2017


Matthew Lawrence, Chief Broking Officer, Health and Benefits EMEA at Aon Risk Solutions

Keeping your employees healthy and happy is good for business. The workforce demographic is, and will continue to change, especially as more and more of us will need to work well into our 60s, 70s and beyond.

But, although many employers are aware of the benefits of a health and wellbeing strategy, some of the approaches are far from strategic. And as there are so many different health initiatives available, it can be tempting for employers to offer those that either seem appealing or meet budgetary requirements at the time.

However, to get the most out of your health and wellbeing spend, you need to start by understanding the health risks facing your employees and use this to develop a fully joined up approach.

Risk monitor

On a macro level, our recent white paper, Wellbeing: Examining the correlation between employee health and financial wellbeing, identified four global risk factors - high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol and physical inactivity - that are expected to drive future medical insurance claims. These risks are all directly linked to modern lifestyles, with common habits such as smoking, eating and drinking too much, and box set binges all pushing up our chances of developing one or more of them over the years.

This lifestyle link is further supported by research conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2010. It found that eight health risks drive the 15 most common chronic conditions, including cancer, coronary artery disease, depression and diabetes. The eight health risks probably won't come as much of a surprise. Alongside smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, poor diet and physical inactivity are insufficient sleep, poor stress management, lack of health screening and poor standard of care choice.

Lifestyle link

While this list might upset some people's plans for the weekend, from a health and wellbeing programme perspective, this lifestyle link is a good thing. By providing the necessary education, access to the right services, support and encouragement, employees can take steps to change these behaviours and reduce the risk of future health problems.

Take obesity risk as an example. A variety of factors can influence this, including diet, exercise and mental health so you might want to introduce fresh fruit in the workplace, lunchtime walking groups and mindfulness sessions. Or, you might decide your three-pronged approach should include a weight loss challenge, a cycle to work scheme and mental health resilience training. However, simply introducing a box of fresh fruit in isolation will have negligible impact - nice, but not much more.

Given the huge range of health initiatives that can help employees change their behaviours and reduce the associated risks, it's sensible to take a more targeted approach when putting together your health and wellbeing programme. Rather than adopt the four global risk factors, or even the eight health risks earmarked by the WHO, find out which ones are specific to your workforce.

Data analysis

Most organisations will have plenty of their own data to help determine their specific health and wellbeing programme. Claims and absence data is a good starting point but, while it can be useful, remember that it will only really highlight health risks that have already taken hold. Tackling these long-term health conditions is a perfectly valid part of a programme but helping to prevent them in the first place by encouraging healthier lifestyles is likely to resonant with a greater number of employees and drive bigger benefits. It is a bit more of a challenge to gain an insight into the health risks at this earlier stage but chances are you'll have access to some form of data that can inform your decisions. Activity trackers, wearables and online health risk assessments can help but also consider more creative data sources such as take-up rates for health and fitness benefits and even the choices made in the canteen.

On target

Building a health and wellbeing programme that addresses the specific risks you identify across your workforce will improve success rates, but it's also essential to target your marketing and communications.

For starters, you might want to offer a range of programmes to target different segments of your workforce. Although there will always be someone who bucks the trend, your average 25 year old is likely to have very different health risks to someone in their 50s or 60s.

Personalising communications can also help to engage employees, especially if this shows you have a handle on the areas of health and wellbeing that motivate them. Also think about how you communicate with employees. We're all much more switched on to our smart phones, so consider using more digital technology to support your communications programme. And make it cultural. Few employees will take a health and wellbeing programme seriously if the company only pays lip service to it. More importantly, embedding healthier lifestyles and working practices within your organisation's culture can be very powerful, delivering long-lasting improvements to health risks across the board.

Download the whitepaper: Wellbeing, the correlation between employee health and financial wellbeing now



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