By David Dodd, Consulting Director, Thomsons Online Benefits
We are seeing a step change in employer attitudes to managing absence. It’s all about prevention - not cure. Whether it be early detection of physical health problems, quick and simple diagnosis, or simply supporting employees with their mental and physical health, wellness strategies are changing. And technology lies at the heart of it.
Healthcare tech and apps are playing a critical role in enabling employers to deliver cutting-edge wellness strategies, allowing them to measure and benchmark their success. Whether it’s using gamification through an employee assistance programme (EAP) to help employees manage their mental health and stress levels, or offering a Virtual GP service to provide employees with a quick and easily accessible route to medical help without leaving the office, technology lies at the heart of an impactful wellness strategy.
It’s all about convenience and accessibility
Employees don’t always want to think about their health and wellbeing at work and this means that flexibility is a critical success factor for any workplace wellness scheme. Employers need to consider whether the technology platform they’re using enables mobile, 24/7 access, and targeted communications to reach employees at a time that is relevant.
As employers look to cater to the individual needs of their employees, we are seeing a greater shift towards flexibility and choice, driven and supported by tech. We are seeing a huge demand for ‘wellness pots’ to support employee’s mental and physical wellbeing. Accessed through an online portal, these enable employees to choose how they spend a wellness allowance from their employer, for example to fund yoga classes, mindfulness programmes, drumming lessons or language lessons. It’s a great way to support what is important to employees and we are seeing a phenomenal take up from employees.
While scheme flexibility has clear benefits for employees, it also helps employers achieve their own strategic goals. Our latest Employee Benefits Watch shows that those employers already offering wellness pots see an average 23% uplift in engagement rates. This is key as 80% of the employers surveyed said that employee engagement was the number one objective of their benefits programme.
Maximise the impact of your wellness schemes
As with any benefits, take-up rates are key. Targeted employee communications and reminders, as well as the level of flexibility and personalisation of your benefits programme, drive take-up rates. Our research shows that communications around benefits is critical to engagement. Where employers communicate with their employees frequently (at least four or five different occasions throughout the year) more than nine in ten employees say that they are proud to work for their company (95%) or that they would recommend their employer to a friend (90%).
Using technology allows benefits communications to be personalised and linked to the specific needs of employees, driving benefits uptake. At present however, employers are struggling to deliver effective communications. Two-thirds (66%) of employees would appreciate communications around work milestones – from salary reviews, to promotions – yet just 24% of employers offer them. Delivering employee benefits via a technology platform able to integrate with other HR systems enables sophisticated workforce analytics and automated communications. This means that when an employee’s job titles changes for example, they are automatically aware of any new benefits available to them.
Finally, employers need to think about how they can encourage benefits take-up by providing a positive user experience. Mobile-first, consumer-friendly software is critical for engaging employees in their schemes and improving their overall perception of their employer.
Continuously measure your approach
At the outset, employers need to define their objectives and map out the data they need to measure the outcomes of their wellness programmes. By analysing employee data, they can look at benefits uptake, spend, and employee absence rates to ensure that investment is being channelled into benefits that employees use, appreciate and therefore offer real ROI.
Down the line, employers may even be able to use the data generated by wearables to inform strategic decisions and drive wellness initiatives. By correlating benefits take-up with improvements in engagement and productivity, and reductions in absences and staff turnover, employers can demonstrate strategic impact on their business’s bottom lines and even reduce insurance premiums.
Building a business case
Wellness schemes driven by technology are more cost-effective, as they direct funds towards benefits that meet employees’ needs. Flexible wellness pots, for example, ensure that the money employers spend goes directly on the wellness benefits that employees want, as opposed to ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions that may only be taken up by a small proportion of the workforce.
The ability to reliably extract and compare data on benefits take-up, spend, employee absence and engagement is critical for HR and benefits professionals looking to show the effectiveness of their strategies. Having the right technology in place is imperative and enables HR teams to put forward a compelling business case for investment, and materially improve the wellbeing of their people.