Sustainable, resilient organisations need healthy workforces. 

Sustainable organisations need healthy workforces. That requires authentic commitment to employee wellbeing.

Covid-19 showed the risks posed to business by poor health, not just at senior level but throughout an organisation. Now, business and workforce transformation are changing the types of wellbeing risks that employers face – as well as employees’ perceptions of wellbeing and work.

In an ongoing war for talent, people want to know that their employer cares about their wellbeing and will support them through moments that matter. As the workforce becomes more diverse and inclusive, health insurances and wellbeing benefits need to change too.  By better understanding all employees’ needs, wellbeing strategies can provide more effective cover and ways of helping everyone remain well for the long term.

New HR policies and practices, such as hybrid working, bring different health challenges that demand a joined-up approach across business units such as HR, occupational health, reward and benefits, and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) teams – in collaboration with providers and partners.

Employee expectations are also changing. Colleagues want to see authentic commitment to looking after their wellbeing, and an engaging approach that helps them to take responsibility for their personal health.  Technology has a major role to play – both in making wellbeing accessible to every employee, and helping employers identify and respond to the health risks in their organisation.

Taking employee health and wellbeing to the next level

The pandemic breathed new urgency into employers’ wellbeing strategies across all sectors and sizes of business, with increased investment and the need to democratise health benefits becoming key priorities.

To sustain that momentum for the future means focusing on key trends:

  • Business transformation needs a well workforce
  • Health and wellbeing priorities are changing
  • Employees want wellbeing their way

Business transformation needs a well workforce

  • New ways of working

    We have entered an era of continuous business and workforce transformation.

    • As organisations introduce new ways of working and rethink their products and services to meet new market needs, wellbeing needs will also change.
    • Addressing these new needs requires a joined-up approach to HR, benefits, and wellbeing that considers people’s health and resilience as a part of change management.
  • The employee/employer partnership

    Covid-19 has also changed the relationship between employees and employers.

    • Mercer’s Global Talent Trends research found that people want to work in partnership with an employer – not simply for an employer.  They want more flexible approaches to employment and are less willing to risk their mental or physical wellbeing because of demands at work.
    • This puts wellbeing at the heart of business change. Employees no longer see wellbeing as a nice-to-have – it is becoming a core factor in decisions about which businesses they choose to work for.

Health and wellbeing priorities are changing

Traditional health insurance products designed for male, senior executives are unlikely to meet the needs of a more diverse, inclusive workforce.  But while the scope of wellbeing may be changing, managing costs is as important as ever.
  • Designed to be inclusive:
    • Closer relationships between diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and wellbeing teams will lead to wellbeing strategies that address the needs of all of the workforce for the future.
    • Inclusive wellbeing strategies need fresh thinking from providers as well. Gender-specific health conditions, ethnicity-related mental health challenges and support for neurodiverse employees, are just some of the needs in current and future workforces that providers could address.
    • Mercer works closely with our network of market-leading health insurers to challenge them on the services they provide, understand how inclusive their services and communication strategies are in practice and work with them to address gaps.
  • Controlling costs
    • Claims costs remain a key focus for employers. Keeping costs under control means identifying and responding to health issues early, as well as building strategies that can mitigate emerging risks such as musculoskeletal issues caused by working from home.
    • Data is at the heart of identifying and reacting to current and future risks. Employers can build a picture of emerging needs by listening to employees, as well as exploring data from insurance claims, sickness absence and benefits usage.
    • Mercer can also help. Our wealth of anonymised claims data can help businesses see wider trends and pain points, such as the current backlogs in the NHS, which can affect employees’ wellbeing and future productivity.

Employees want wellbeing their way

Planning a wellbeing strategy that takes account of different needs, gives employees choice around how they improve their wellbeing, and motivates them in ways that suit their personality type needs an authentic, personalised approach.
  • An authentic approach
    • Businesses cannot pay lip-service to employee wellbeing. A thin veneer of wellbeing benefits covering up a toxic culture will undermine engagement and could even damage corporate reputation. Mercer's People Risk research found that 64% of businesses are addressing workforce exhaustion, showing the extent to which business practices could be directly undermining employee wellbeing.
    • Authentic wellbeing requires commitment from the top of the organisation, as a business imperative.
    • Leadership messages also have to be consistent with line manager practices, the behaviours expected of everyone in the workplace, health benefits, and the way that wellbeing is communicated.
    • Listening to employees through networks, wellbeing champions and employee surveys, is essential, both to refine future strategy, and to make sure employees feel their needs and experiences matter.
  • Moments that matter
    • Mercer’s Health on Demand research showed employees want their benefits to support them through moments that matter in their lives, whether those are causes of celebration or times of crisis.  These are the points where support from an employer makes a tangible difference to someone’s current and future lives, and where they will really value the benefits on offer to them.
    • In health and wellbeing terms, that could mean help with adapting to parenthood and work, accelerated access to diagnosis, or financial support through a period of serious illness. It could also include support for a family member.
  • Valuable to me
    • Personal circumstances, long-term health history, socio-economic background and even personality type can all have an effect on how people respond to wellbeing messages as well as determining the types of support that they need.
    • Many wellbeing strategies have taken a one-size-fits-all approach in the past, with limited success. Gym membership might appeal to employees who are already committed to improving their physical health, but is unlikely to move the dial for those who don’t feel at home in a traditional sporting environment or don’t have the ‘conscientious’ personality type that responds well to structured reminders to exercise.
    • Making sure that wellbeing works for everyone means taking these differences into account in terms of the benefits on offer, how they are promoted and the messages that will motivate employees to take part.
Future-looking health and wellbeing strategies will need to identify and respond to changing risks, understand how to build a culture of wellbeing that reduces ill-health for the long term and adjust benefits offerings as a result.

Six steps for future-looking health and wellbeing strategies

Start taking the next steps today to create an inclusive, effective wellbeing strategy:
  1. Take a joined-up approach:
    The four pillars of wellbeing - physical, mental, financial and social – are all closely interlinked: for example, struggling with money can take its toll on mental wellbeing, and mental ill-health can affect our physical wellbeing as well. Strategies that take a joined-up approach will help give employees the breadth of support that they need.
  2. Break out of silos:
    Wellbeing requires insights and knowledge from many different parts of the organisation. To make sure that wellbeing really sits at the heart of organisational culture, break out of business silos to share knowledge and create programmes that are integrated across disciplines such as HR, reward and benefits, occupational health and risk management.
  3. Identify future risks:
    Future-looking health and wellbeing strategies will need to identify and respond to changing risks, understand how to build a culture of wellbeing that reduces ill-health for the long term and adjust benefits offerings as a result.
  4. Make it personal:
    Employees will need help with different aspects of wellbeing in their moments that matter. That could be supporting a family member through sickness, helping new employees develop good financial wellbeing habits, or improving physical fitness.  Technology, such as Darwin, when used as part of a joined-up wellbeing strategy, can help to make workplace wellbeing more accessible, inclusive and personalised.
  5. Monitor and measure:
    Technology can also enable more effective monitoring and measurement of wellbeing practices, to help businesses understand whether their strategy meets business needs and gives employees the support everyone needs to be well for the future.
  6. Be accountable and authentic:
    Employees want proof that employers care about their wellbeing. Make leaders and influencers accountable, listen to employee feedback and check that day-to-day wellbeing practices match corporate promises. Share honest feedback with both internal and external stakeholders – including employees themselves.
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