From staff retention to greater productivity, multinational organizations are keenly aware of the advantages of providing health and well-being benefits to employees.


And now, as the spread of Covid-19 leaves companies struggling to cope with sick or anxious staff, and implementing new ways of working – health and well-being initiatives are more important than ever.


But even before the pandemic, global companies were struggling to provide consistent and cost-effective programs across locations, largely due to the varying levels of care, provider offerings and prevalence of state verses private provision in the different countries in which they operate.


This issue has been exacerbated by the current crisis as regulators and governments across the globe are releasing new information and guidelines daily – with no two countries adopting exactly the same approach.


Fortunately, digital health solutions can be used to deliver a more consistent approach, engaging employees with their health and providing comprehensive benefits to staff wherever they’re based.


Increasing demand for digital

Smart phone penetration and the normalization of on-demand services means that digital solutions will play a growing role in retaining and motivating staff.


In lockdown, remote options are even more welcome as local health services struggle to cope with the virus and many employees will not want to leave home and go to the doctors unless absolutely necessary.


In our Health on Demand survey, 40% of workers stated they are less likely to change jobs if their employer promotes or sponsors digital health solutions.


Accordingly, corporate investment in workforce health is expected to grow over the next five years. 70% of employers say that they were likely to invest and 59% say they believe digital health solutions will aid staff retention.


Therefore, employers looking to build a workplace culture of engagement should consider digital health investments or risk being outperformed by their competitors. This is especially important when seeking to attract top talent and advancing their reputation as a ”great place to work” – whether through word of mouth or in published indices.


Global view – local excellence

We’ve seen in recent years how incorporating well-being into global broking activities can result in cost-effective, consistent and better-targeted solutions. But at the same time, we have found that local well-being activities can clash with an organization’s global objectives.


Most multinationals today are managing and implementing health solutions through local teams and there is no real global governance or strategy. Going digital means employers can set minimum standards at a global level and keep a close eye on local plans to make sure they are met.


The most progressive multinationals are finding ways of standing out in the market recognizing the need to offer innovative, digitally enabled health products that suit the diverse needs of their workforces.


Such plans are not only affordable and convenient, but also effective and customized to the individual. Leveraging global scale to cut costs can be balanced with expert advice on the most appropriate and affordable solutions in each local market.


Employers need to prioritise convenient access to reputable hospitals and healthcare professionals and local brokers can guide employees down the most appropriate care pathways to reduce waste in the system and keep claims rations at an appropriate level.


Getting local strategies right

Multinationals considering a global approach need to think about choosing the right country in which to start investing. We found useful differences between markets and their attitudes to digital health.


Because growth market workers in countries such as China, Columbia, Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil and India tend to be more youthful, energetic and tech-savvy, they also show a greater willingness to trial new digital solutions.


That means employers may benefit from testing new programs in growth markets before scaling globally. In mature markets, employers should work harder to overcome trust barriers around data privacy and protection concerns.


Even within segments there were interesting differences between individual countries.  For instance, 93% of workers in Indonesia have to co-ordinate or provide healthcare for a dependent versus 25% in the UK. Meanwhile, European workers are more likely to prefer face-to-face meetings with their doctor rather than tele-medicine.


Workers in Asia, who are already using online portals and tools, are looking for subsidized nutrition and exercise programs, and trusted online symptom-checkers. In Latin America, they focus on clinics at work.


As businesses and governments continue to grapple with how best to contain the spread of coronavirus, the demand for digital services may well grow more rapidly in those countries facing the most stringent lockdown conditions. Dynamic pandemic navigating tools that use the latest science and epidemiological data to anticipate — as well as monitor — developing situations can support planning for the changing conditions across, and within, countries.


These differences can help multinationals understand not only which markets might be most receptive to trialling programs, but also what specific initiatives will best serve needs at a local level.


Choosing the right solutions

When we asked staff what they wanted from a digital health solution they highlighted five major priorities:


  1. remote access to a relevant healthcare provider (51%)
  2. remote access to an expert (49%)
  3. electronic and portable health records (47%)
  4. digital tools that will aid in managing health conditions (45%)
  5. digital tools that aid in managing wellness (43%)

Employers said that their main objectives for company healthcare and well-being programs are to improve worker safety, morale, engagement and productivity.


As such, companies should consider tools, approaches and metrics that enable them to determine the ROI in terms of lower absenteeism, better overall outcomes, and higher levels of engagement, satisfaction scores and retention.


Of course, in the current pandemic, priorities may have shifted slightly, but some options such as remote access to healthcare and digital tools are likely to be even more in demand.


Reassuringly, the study reveals high levels of trust in employers’ current healthcare practices, with workers willing to share health data in exchange for more personalised care. This opens the door for employers - and their advisers - to innovate in patient-centered benefits packages to differentiate themselves.


Investing in personalized, technology-based and locally relevant healthcare solutions – as well as fostering a culture of well-being – will help set employers apart and enable them to build a more engaged, productive and loyal workforce.


The combination of this with the governance and cost-savings that a global solution brings, makes for an extremely powerful overarching strategy that will benefit employer and employee alike.


And in the current global pandemic, looking after staff’s mental and physical wellbeing could be the key factor that distinguishes those companies that survive, those that fail, and those that ultimately thrive.

Matt Duffy
Matt Duffy

Partner & Global Commercial Leader, Global Benefits Management at Mercer Marsh Benefits