Rising cost the main barrier to introduction of employee benefits programmes (05/12/2017)

The 2017 Benefits Trends Survey from Willis Towers Watson found that 50% of HR decision-makers see rising benefits costs as a key challenge over the next three years, while 35% are concerned they will have insufficient budget to make benefits changes.

Despite this, 40% claim they do not know their current total benefits spend, which could provide cause for concern.

However, there does appear to be recognition of a need for change. The study found 67% of companies plan to review benefits strategy and programme design over the next three years to better manage costs, while 69% intend to do so in order to better influence employee behaviours.

“An increase in the cost of traditional benefits will understandably provide cause for concern but it shouldn’t be seen as prohibitive to implementing a programme of employee benefits that delivers business value,” said Mark Ramsook, Head of Sales and Marketing at Willis Towers Watson Health and Benefits.

“The challenge for businesses is to become more creative in the design of benefits schemes because a one-size-fits-all approach is rarely appropriate. Instead, consideration should be given to how benefits can be targeted towards areas of greatest need and how traditional products, such as medical insurance, might be supplemented by more niche products that can be used to address specific health issues in a more cost-effective manner.

“Employers should start by using available health risk data and employee feedback to identify trends and the underlying root causes. It is then important to build a clear picture of cost and desired outcomes resulting from each area of spend. This will make it easier to measure progress, reallocate spend where necessary and provide clearer evidence of return on investment.”

Further challenges to the delivery of employee benefits programmes outlined by the research include a lack of data to measure results (27%), changes to statutory benefits (26%), and the absence of an appropriate technology solution to deliver benefits (25%).


The Benefits Trends survey is a global study that tracks high level trends around benefit strategy, health and financial wellbeing, and the design, delivery and cost of employer benefits plans. The 2017 survey was concluded in June 2017 and was completed by 1,274 companies across the EMEA region, including 289 in the United Kingdom.

Ten key steps for formulating a long-term sickness absence policy

Employee sickness absence poses a significant business cost – an average of £522 per employee per year according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

Robust policies that ensure companies understand why employees are off work, when they will return and how managers should deal with incidents of absence are essential. Furthermore, they ensure absence is managed in a consistent and supportive manner and can help minimise the risk of discrimination or unfair dismissal claims.

In cases of long-term sickness absence – generally considered to be those lasting 28 days or more – this becomes even more important. The following guide outlines some of the key steps to developing a long-term sickness absence policy.

1. Establish objectives and responsibilities

Companies will invariably seek to balance supporting employees during their recovery from illness or injury with minimising the impact of absence on business operations and the bottom line.

The policy should clarify this, along with who is responsible and the duties facing both managers and employees in cases of long-term sickness absence. This would include the process of acquiring appropriate medical advice and how to deal with cases that relate to pregnancy or disability.

Furthermore, in consultation with employment law specialists, the policy should outline the circumstances under which a company may consider dismissing an employee who is on long-term sick leave.

2. A note from the doctor

Employees whose are absent from work for more than seven days (including bank holidays and weekends) should be required to provide a doctor’s certificate from their GP or a hospital doctor. This fit note certificate will often be referred to as a Statement of Fitness for Work.

If an employee will not be returning to work after the end date stipulated by the fit note, another fit note will be required.

The company’s legal obligations, under the Access to Medical Reports Act 1988 and the Data Protection Act 1998, should also be made clear. These require employees’ consent for medical reports from doctors or occupational health physicians to be shared with an employer. Requests for consent should be in writing. Confidentially and data security are also paramount.

3. Specify when OH referrals will take place

The policy should stipulate the point at which a referral to an occupational health professional is made. This, for example, may be when the employee has been absence for a duration of four weeks or presents with a ‘red flag’ condition such as mental health.

Consideration may be given to referring employees who have been off work, or expect to be off work, for four weeks or more to the government’s Fit for Work service. With their consent, this service will help develop a return to work plan and determine the support that employees may require during this process.

4. Stay in touch

Regular contact and consultation between employer and employee is an essential element of any successful return to work plan, although it is important to strike the right balance.

If contact is made too often, some staff may feel they are being pressured to return to work too early. However, infrequent communication can cause others to feel undervalued or out of touch.

A sickness absence policy can be used to formalise a company’s approach, monthly contact agreed with the employee in advance, for example.

5. Schedule formal review meetings

A schedule for formal review meetings with employees on long-term sickness absence should be set out in the policy. These reviews should focus on the employee’s recovery process, their wellbeing, capabilities, and what support can be offered.

They might be scheduled to take place at 28 days, for example, and then every three months. A final formal review meeting might be then scheduled in cases where employees have been off for 12 months.

The right of employees to appeal warnings or dismissals should also be detailed in the policy.

6. Clarify sick pay and holiday entitlement

Employees may be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) – the government’s minimum level of pay, payable on the fourth consecutive day of absence – for up to 28 weeks.

Some companies, however, may choose to offer more via an occupational sick pay scheme and this should be stipulated in the company’s sickness absence policy, along with employees’ own employment contracts. Policy details should include the precise duration of the entitlement and how much will be paid.

The company’s rules on occupational sick pay should be clear and adhered to consistently to avoid any potential discrimination claims.

The policy should also clarify that employees can continue accruing annual leave during a period of sickness absence and that they’re entitled to carry their leave forward to the following year.

7. Return to work interviews

Following a period of absence, return to work interviews should be conducted where employees are given the chance to raise any issues which require ongoing support and employers can discuss how best to integrate them back into the workforce.

These private and confidential interviews should be mandated in the policy and should ideally take place before employees’ return to work. If this is not possible, they should be conducted on the employees’ first day back.

8. A phased return

A phased return to work may be beneficial for members of staff who are concerned about how they will cope with the transition back into working life. The policy should outline the circumstances under which a phased return might be adopted.

It should also set out how a structured process of gradually building up to normal working hours will be agreed with employees, in consultation with Occupational Health professionals where necessary.

In addition, the policy might explain how a framework of flexible working can be agreed. This might include irregular hours or home working. This can allow employees to fulfil their obligations while fitting in ongoing treatment or simply working in a safe and comfortable environment.

9. A modified role

In some case, staff intending to return to work may no longer be able to conduct their job in the same manner as they did previously. Adjustments may be required.

The policy should be clear on how possible job modifications would be identified by an employee’s line manager and agreed upon with the employee. This should be reviewed regularly to assess suitability.

In some cases, redeployment may be needed as a short-term measure during an employee’s recovery. In others, it may be a permanent arrangement, so it is crucial for the policy to outline this process. This would include assessing the suitability of the new role, discussing any impact on contractual terms and conditions and offering the necessary training or support.

10. Disability or terminal illness

In cases where an employee has become disabled, the policy should make it clear that the employer is legally obliged under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments to enable that employee to continue working.

The policy should also outline the company’s approach should employees be diagnosed with a terminal illness, including how they are accommodated and supported in the workplace.

Furthermore, the policy should also detail the circumstances under which ill-health retirement is considered and the process that should be followed, including the administering of pension scheme entitlements.

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Health risk indicators

Good intelligence is vital when developing health and wellbeing strategies.

Without insight into employee health trends and the root causes behind these trends, it is incredibly difficult to develop a programme that has any significant impact.

That is why any health and wellbeing strategy should start with an understanding of existing health-related business data.

According to Willis Towers Watson’s Staying@Work Survey, a third (33 per cent) of UK employers cited a lack of actionable data to support targeted outreach as being a significant obstacle to bringing about behavioural changes among employees.

Putting in the groundwork to identify what data is available and how it can be used to determine action and measure outcomes will help to ensure strategies are targeted towards areas of most need and help to support business goals.

Here we identify five of the most valuable health risk indicators that are readily-available to almost any business.

Sickness absence data

Of course, information on sickness absence is crucial when designing any strategy designed to improve employee health.

Every organisation has a process for recording absence but it is important to ensure this system is robust. Data should be collected in a standardised format that allows easy analysis, comparison and reporting – if this is not the case it becomes difficult to draw meaningful conclusions.

This information can then be used to compare long and short-term absence, to look at absence rates within specific parts of the business or at certain times of year, to identify prevalent causes and begin to identify patterns.

For example, a high rate of absence resulting from chronic health conditions – such as musculoskeletal problems – will require a different solution to a prevalence of recurring short-term absence, perhaps related to stress or workload pressures.

Health risk assessment data

Building on the insights provided by absence data, a more in-depth analysis might also include health screenings, online health risk assessments and health questionnaires.

Such tools provide information on the underlying health of employees – looking at factors such as blood pressure, heart rate and BMI – but also highlight lifestyle factors that may contribute to health conditions. This might include diet, the amount of exercise undertaken and alcohol consumption.

This information can be highly useful when moving from a reactive approach to employee health to a more proactive one.

A purely observational study could also be useful, especially for smaller workforces, where you can make an assessment of the number of clinically obese employees and those who smoke, together with an analysis of sedentary versus active roles and the level of healthy food options selected in the staff canteen.  For larger organisations, this could be done on a sample basis to give an insight into the wider population.

Rather than waiting for health issues to develop into incidences of absence, organisations can identify concerning trends across a workforce and take targeted action to help staff lead healthier lives.

Benefit costs

The cost of existing benefits, tracked over their lifetime, can provide a high-level indicator of where problems lie and which benefits are most efficient.

If the cost of certain benefits is continually rising at a rate higher than typical price inflation, it provides a clear indication that closer inspection is required, perhaps indicating an increase in the number or value of claims.

Continually rising costs may also necessitate a reorganisation of benefits, especially when looking to provide cover for an entire workforce. If private medical insurance is proving cost-restrictive, it may be appropriate to look at niche or scaled-back products, such as cash plans, to fill in any gaps or provide targeted support for specific, common health issues.

Claims data

Benefit cost may act as a helpful high-level indicator but it is always recommended to delve further into claims data to reveal the specific problems that are damaging an organisation’s risk profile and causing premiums to rise.

Health and wellbeing schemes can then be more focused, tackling issues before they are able to develop into claims. A high number of claims for back treatment, for example, might highlight a need for an investment in occupational health advice or manual handling training.

Close examination of claims data may even reveal opportunities where claims can be avoided in the future through more effective case management.

Early interventions can often help reduce the necessity of claims and, in some situations, the NHS can be more appropriate than private healthcare for treating injuries or illnesses.

Employee retention rates

There is a proven link between health and wellbeing schemes and improved employee retention and engagement.

This may include data on staff recruitment costs – to highlight the business case for investing in schemes that help to boost employee retention – and employee engagement scores or feedback, which will help to outline any areas of concern among staff.

Of course, there are a number of other factors that also impact upon employee retention and satisfaction, which means this data cannot be viewed in isolation. But when considered alongside a range of other health metrics it offers significant value in helping to develop a detailed picture.

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Balancing childcare with work hits parents’ health and wellbeing (26/09/2017)

More than a third of parents (34%) claim balancing childcare responsibilities with work has negatively impacted their health or mental wellbeing, research has revealed.

In a study of 1,123 workers by Willis Towers Watson, only 27% of workers said their employer currently offers childcare support or benefits. Furthermore, a third said their employers fails to pay maternity or paternity leave above the statutory minimum.

“Although the government’s new Tax-Free Childcare scheme may be helping to address the financial burden, this is just one piece of the jigsaw,” said Mike Blake, Director, Willis Towers Watson Health & Benefits. “For some parents, additional benefits such as further financial support, access to a workplace nursery or provision of flexible working practices, may prove invaluable.”

The right to request flexible working was extended from parents and carers to all employees with 26 weeks’ or more continuous service in June 2014. Requests can still be turned down however if they have been addressed by the employer in a “reasonable manner”.

According to almost a third of workers (30%), not enough is being done and employers should be offering more childcare support – a statistic that rises to 42% for those aged between 25 and 34. Blake has pointed out that doing so can make good business sense.

“Supporting working parents can have a positive impact for organisations in a number of key areas,” he said.

“By looking after their financial and emotional wellbeing, incidents of sickness absence can be reduced and productivity can be increased through improved levels of motivation and engagement. Furthermore, support for this important workforce demographic can reinforce an organisation’s reputation as an employer of choice and, in turn, help boost recruitment and retention.”

Workers believe UK business is under pressure to top up NHS care

Almost half (48%) of UK workers believe their employers are increasingly expected to provide for the health of staff in order to top up NHS services, research has found.

The study of 1,123 workers by Willis Towers Watson found opinion is strongest among younger workers, with 58% of 18 to 34-year-olds believing businesses are being asked to shoulder more of the health burden, compared to 42% of those aged over 35.

Over recent years, initiatives such as the government-led Public Health Responsibility Deal have encouraged employers to play a more active role in ensuring their employees lead healthy lives.

But it appears this drive has had mixed success. Less than half (49%) of those questioned in the survey claim their employers make provision to look after their health and wellbeing.

“These results suggest a large number of workers are increasingly turning to their employer to fund health services that they feel may not be available to them within the public health system,” said Mike Blake, Director at Willis Towers Watson Health & Benefits.

“Employers may view this as an opportunity to boost employee satisfaction and retention by attempting to plug any gaps in the provision of treatment. Official figures recently showed waiting lists for routine operations such as hip and knee surgery are at their highest for a decade, so businesses can position themselves as responsible employers by offering benefits that can accelerate access to care and support healthier lifestyles.

“An effective strategy may see healthcare benefits and wellbeing initiatives working alongside one another to improve overall health, helping to ease any uncertainty around public health services. Healthcare benefits ‘top up’ provision to help ensure any current health issues are covered, while wellness schemes help forge a more proactive approach that could reduce the need for treatment altogether in the future.”

There appears to be a particular disconnection among older workers when it comes to the provision of health and wellbeing benefits.

Although 57% of 18 to 24-year-olds and 59% of 25 to 34-year-olds believe their employers make sufficient provision, the figures drops to 39% among 45 to 54-year-olds and 31% among 55 to 64-year-olds.

Blake added: “The figures may not actually reflect a difference in provision but instead a difference in perception among older workers that could result from a failure to effectively communicate benefit options.

“Whatever the reason, an ageing workforce means employers are under greater pressure than ever to engage with an older demographic and tailor benefits to address the specific challenges they face. For example, eldercare benefits are designed to support employees caring for an elderly relative – a situation that will become more prevalent the older people get – but, more generally, strong two-way communication is needed to identify need and effectively engage with staff.”

How to nurture employee buy-in for health and wellbeing

The age-old adage a business is only as good as its people certainly rings true today – it is undeniable that productivity, morale and talent retention is directly dependent upon effective employee engagement.

It is only when a workforce is engaged that it can fully appreciate and utilise health benefits made available to it by its employer.

Conversely, health and wellness helps to drive employee engagement through access to valuable support, thus creating a stronger culture of health and enhancing the employee value proposition.

But it is only with high participation levels that employers see the Value on Investment of such schemes.

WTW’s Global Benefits Attitude survey found that the majority (56 per cent) of employees believe their employer now has a role to play in helping them live healthier lifestyles and three in five employees view managing their health as a top priority in their life.

Couple this with the fact that 97 per cent of employers are committed to health and productivity in the years ahead* and you have a strong springboard for positive interaction and engagement in wellness.

Here, we look at six ways to promote employee engagement in health and wellness.

1. Cultivate a culture of wellbeing

Building a culture of health and wellbeing within the workplace will, in the long-term, help with retention of key talent, boost productivity and cement their reputation as a leading employer in their field.

Willis Towers Watson’s Global Workforce Study showed that workers who consider their employer to have a strong culture of health, regard them as also having a good reputation and are better able to attract and retain high-quality employees.

Senior leadership is key in shaping this culture in the workplace – so early buy-in should be encouraged.

Leading by example and embracing health and well-being strategies will inevitably filter down through the ranks, raising awareness of what health initiatives and benefits are on offer and motivate employees to follow suit.

2. Invite employee feedback

Securing the co-operation of the leadership team is crucial when it comes to creating health and wellbeing strategies but it is important to have grassroots involvement too.

Considering that less than half (44 per cent) of employees are satisfied with the range of benefits they receive from their employer** and two-fifths claim that initiatives offered by their employer do not meet their needs*, there is an evident disconnect between what employers think employees need and what they really value.

In order to overcome this, businesses should aim to be transparent with the workforce and listen to their feedback.

By promoting interconnectivity, businesses are more likely to develop an effective strategy, which sees higher employee benefit uptake.

3. Bring in the professionals

After identifying the issues that are of most concern to employees, businesses can work on a proactive approach to tackling them.

Some of the issues raised can be sensitive in nature, such as mental health, alcohol consumption, obesity and smoking.

Many staff might see employer intervention in these areas as an unnecessary incursion into their private lives, so a careful approach is important.

Workshops are an ideal way of educating the workforce, without fear of being singled out.  These can be conducted by health professionals, who can offer valuable expert advice.

Regular health checks, through biometric testing, Health Risk Assessments and coaching, can also facilitate employees taking ownership of their own health and wellbeing, with support from their employer.

Whatever action is taken, the approach should be a multi-faceted one that combines education with analysis and support.

4. Communication is vital

Opening up the channels of communication between employee and employer is key to effective delivery and encouraging programme uptake.

If employees are unaware of the programmes available to them or fail to engage with health initiatives, businesses will not see the benefit and their investment will be wasted.

It is important to be consistent with messaging and businesses can help achieve this through health-centric internal marketing campaigns.

Regular email bulletins, briefings, seminars or newsletters might be used to raise awareness of a series of topics, covering everything from stress management to diet.

Seasonal and lifestyle-targeted campaigns will be more engaging for employees, for example, advice on how to avoid colds in winter or exercise tips for summer.

Whilst promotional communication material serves a purpose, employers should create a communication strategy that raises awareness, educates and drives behavioural change.

5. Embrace technology

Wearables and health apps can help further increase engagement in health and wellness by tapping into employees’ lifestyle habits and providing the tools for change.

Furthermore, data on things such as heart rate, fitness routines and daily habits could be very useful when tackling sickness absence, designing wellbeing schemes or, in the future, negotiating the cost of health benefits.

Where wearable data highlights negative trends, action should be taken to provide support and address contributory factors.

To reinforce the benefits offered to employees by wearable technology, companies may look to subsidise devices as part of health and wellbeing programmes.

6. Encourage healthy competition

Adding the element of competition through ‘gamification’ can help assist in the quest for better health standards.

By tapping into the modern and popular ‘gaming’ concept, businesses can encourage employees to compete against each other to reach agreed health goals and make positive behavioural changes in the process.

It could be individuals competing against each other or departments, boosting morale on the office floor.

This could be further incentivised with workplace rewards for those who hit health targets or achieve their long-term goal; be it a bonus leave day, a bicycle, or health retreat.

*Willis Towers Watson Staying@Work Survery 2015/16

**Willis Towers Watson Health and Benefits Barometer 2017

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Five key ways in which you can part with unhealthy presenteeism

Five key ways in which you can part with unhealthy presenteeism

Presenteeism has been a discussion point for several years but appears to be an issue that many organisations still have not properly got to grips with.

Recent research conducted by Willis Towers Watson Health & Benefits found more than half (51%) of UK workers claim their workplaces are affected by a culture of negative judgement around sickness absence.

On top of this, 54% claim they are put under pressure to return to work before they are fully recovered from illness or injury, which highlights a clear challenge for business. This suggests that either there are problems with the policies and structures used to tackle sickness absence or issues with communication – leading to a disconnection with staff that causes them to believe they are not able to take adequate sick leave.

No matter the reason, there is an onus on employers to take positive action on the issue of presenteeism, as a failure to do so could hit productivity and morale, as well as leaving employees exposed to greater long-term problems.

We take a look at five ways to tackle the issue.

1/ Review policies that discourage sickness absence

Although many companies have policies to manage absenteeism, presenteeism is rarely afforded the same consideration.

This lack of understanding, combined with aggressive absence policies to prevent abuse of sick days, can unwittingly promote presenteeism.

Indeed, Willis Towers Watson research has found a fear of a negative impact on job prospects is the number one reason workers feel under pressure to return to work before they are ready.*

Procedures should be reviewed and revised if required to promote trust, encouraging employees to take time off when necessary without them fearing that it might negatively impact their job security.

Corporate policies should be supportive and properly communicated and understood by all managers and employees.

2/ Strike the right balance

Businesses are faced with a fine balancing act between managing staff back to work as quickly and efficiently as possible and ensuring they do not work through health conditions.

This is where a proactive approach can reap rewards. Case management led by occupational health practitioners can identify early interventions to prevent conditions becoming more serious, through appropriate treatment and workplace adjustments.

HR professionals and managers should also be provided guidance to help them identify the early signs of illness and make informed judgements about when referrals are required.

The traditional ‘stiff upper lip’ approach frequently does not work. It’s not only because encouraging staff to work through illness can affect productivity and morale, but also because minor illnesses, such as colds or stomach bugs can mask other health issues such as stress and emotional problems.

3/ Implement appropriate benefits schemes

The business cost of presenteeism is comparable to that caused by sickness absence. There is potential for employees to become unproductive or disengaged because they feel they are being overworked or forced to struggle on through illness.

It is therefore important to listen to staff in order to identify health trends and offer the appropriate benefits and wellbeing initiatives.

Health screenings and health risk assessments can be useful tools in helping to unearth root causes for health issues. Employee feedback and claims data can then also be helpful in tailoring benefits to need.

For example, cash plans can be a cost-effective option for staff with musculoskeletal issues, allowing them to seek physiotherapy, while the counseling and support offered as part of employee assistance programmes may be useful in targeting stress and mental health issues.

4/ Accommodate and promote flexible working

Studies have shown that flexible working can increase productivity and reduce stress – but companies need to do more to promote such arrangement to counter presenteeism.

Thanks to advancements in technology, opportunities for flexible working are greater than ever and employees have a legal right for any request for a change in working hours to be formally considered.

Flexible working will help an employee who has been off for a long period of time reintegrate back into the workforce and will lessen the risk of them becoming ill again from being overworked and overwhelmed.

5/ Open lines of communication

Employee engagement is key to changing the current situation and is a common thread running through all of the previous points.

It is important that employees have a clear understanding of the treatment options available to them and feel able to seek help from management. Ongoing education around sickness issues, through briefings, seminars and email bulletins for example, can also help to open a dialogue and further understanding.

Ultimately, by creating a culture of openness and two-way communication, it is possible to provide employees with the reassurance they need to discuss conditions without fear of judgement. In turn, this will offer greater potential for early interventions and successful returns to work following periods of absence.

*The Willis Towers Watson Employee Benefits and Wellbeing Barometer explores attitudes to employee benefits among UK workers.

The research was conducted among 1,123 adults, aged 18-64, who are currently in full or part-time employment in Great Britain. The interviewed sample was weighted to represent the adult population of Great Britain.

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Tiredness hits productivity for UK businesses (20/07/2017)

Almost two-thirds (66%) of UK workers claim tiredness negatively impacts on productivity at work, research has revealed.

The study of 1,123 workers by Willis Towers Watson (WTW) also found that more than a third (36%) of workers are struggling to get a good night’s sleep because of their job.

Of the respondents who struggled to nod off, more than half cited difficulty in winding down after a stressful day at the office as the main reason for sleeplessness (55%), followed by job worries (45%), early starts (41%) and late-night working (35%).

The research closely follows the launch of the world’s largest sleep study, which made headlines last month after a recruitment drive for 100,000 volunteers. Scientists in Western University, Ontario, hope the study will help them to gain a better understanding of the effects of sleep deprivation on brain function.

Speaking about the new research, Mike Blake, a director at Willis Towers Watson Health & Benefits, said: “The work environment is no longer confined to the office, with the stress of heavy workloads creeping into home life.

“Whilst companies may benefit from a perceived ‘increase’ in productivity in the short-term, ongoing stress, coupled with lack of sleep, can risk having an overall negative impact on operational performance.

“And the launch of the worldwide sleep study is a clear indicator that fatigue will become a more prevalent and serious workplace issue that employers can ill afford to ignore.”

Despite 65% of workers saying tiredness has become a bigger workplace problem over the past five years, WTW’s research revealed that just 17% of employers proactively educate their employees on the effect of sleep on general wellbeing.

Blake said employee-focused health and wellbeing programmes can help companies address the growing issue of fatigue at work.

“Employers who become more attuned to the needs of their workers outside the office are more likely to retain a happy and healthy employee base,” he added.

“Companies should aim to identify and tackle potential issues before they become a problem.  Open dialogue is key to establishing a positive workplace culture that addresses and mitigates stress and fatigue.

This will allow managers to identify dips in productivity and tackle the root causes before more serious issues arise, such as absenteeism and presenteeism.

“By placing an emphasis on the importance of sufficient sleep, workers will also feel more comfortable approaching managers about fatigue and solutions can be found, such as meditative practices, review of workloads or flexible working hours.

For more information about the Willis Towers Watson Health & Benefits Barometer 2017, click here.

Research highlights presenteeism challenge for UK employers (28/06/2017)

More than half (51%) of UK workers claim their workplaces are affected by a culture of negative judgement around sickness absence, research has revealed.

The study of 1,123 workers by Willis Towers Watson also found 54% of workers believe they are put under pressure to return to work before they have fully recovered from illness or injury. This could contribute to greater levels of presenteeism – turning up for work when unwell – which is thought to affect productivity, morale, and recovery from illness.

Fear of a negative impact on job prospects is the biggest reason workers feel under pressure to return, cited by 50% of respondents, followed by worries about letting colleagues down (46%), and worries over workload and deadlines (35%).

“Presenteeism can have a significant impact on performance and employers may leave themselves exposed to greater long-term problems if they do not make adequate provision for illness and injury when it first occurs,” said Mike Blake, Director, Willis Towers Watson Health & Benefits.

“Businesses are faced with a fine balancing act. They must do their best to tread the line between managing staff back to work as quickly and efficiently as possible while also ensuring they do not work through health conditions. There is also a clear employee engagement issue here – under the umbrella of a more positive sickness culture, businesses should work to educate employees on appropriate procedures for handling sickness, establish strong communication in cases of absence and ensure staff are aware of the treatment options available to them.”

Another potentially concerning finding for businesses is the fact less than half (47%) of UK workers believe their employers provide adequate specialist support, care and advice to help them return to work following a period of long-term absence.

Of those workers who have taken more than four weeks of continuous absence at any point within the last five years – who made up 19% of all respondents – a third (33%) claim they did not receive regular communication or support from their employers while off work.

Blake added: “Good communication with employees is important if employers are to better understand prevailing health issues, provide appropriate support and make workplace adjustments where necessary. This kind of open dialogue is key to establishing a positive culture around absence.

“Services should then be put in place to address need and tackle negative trends. Case management is one service that can provide the support to ensure these benefits are used appropriately, coordinating input from different sources and liaising with both employer and employee to develop an effective return to work plan.”

What exactly is a ‘millennial’? 7 ways to look after millennial employees

7 ways to look after millennial employees

So, what exactly is a ‘millennial’?

Although the word has reached common usage, there is no strict definition as to what defines a millennial.

However, the term is widely assumed to refer to people born sometime between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. It’s the demographic cohort that follows Generation X and has become associated with a certain set of behaviours and habits.

Driven by the digital age, millennials are thought to seek instant gratification and be on the look-out for adventure. They see themselves as global citizens and are passionate about values.

In the workplace, they are seen to be driven by flexibility, personalisation and progression, as well as a desire for a strong work-life balance.

So how do you cater for this demographic and do you need to tailor your benefits offering to suit? Here are seven tips to consider.

Take an holistic view

Compared to previous generations, millennials generally appear to take a broader view of their health and, consequently, put more thought into daily decisions concerning factors such as diet or exercise.

This means employers looking to engage with millennials might want to consider increasing their focus on employee wellbeing to support these life decisions.

Initiatives such as cycle-to-work schemes, free fruit, healthier lunch options, discounted gym memberships and health checks might be particularly well received, helping to supplement more traditional benefits.

The benefit to the employer is that this feeds into a more proactive approach to employee healthcare, helping to reduce the risk of illness by having a positive impact on overall health.

Gamify it

Gaming comes as second nature to millennials. This generation has grown up with computer and mobile games, so they understand the concept and derive great pleasure from them.

Therefore it might make sense for employers to apply ‘gamification’ to employee healthcare. Gamification involves the application of typical gaming mechanisms – such as point-scoring and competition – with the goal of incentivising health improvements.

A number of apps and wearable technologies take this approach, allowing the user to track fitness improvements and earn rewards when they achieve certain goals. But employers may even take a more simple approach, applying an element of friendly competition to schemes that encourage weight loss, healthy eating or regular exercise by offering prizes to the employees who make the greatest improvements.

Provide quick information

Information is easy to come by in the digital age. Millennials are used to having the answers to everything at their fingertips and will often do a large amount of their own research before making any decision.

So, employers should consider how they communicate health and wellbeing schemes to ensure they are meeting the needs of this generation. Regular communication, providing information on everything from benefits availability to health advice, can help to boost employee engagement an uptake of schemes.

But it is also important to consider how this information is delivered. Millennials do an increasing amount of their browsing on mobile devices and tablets, so the bread and butter of face-to-face briefings and email bulletins might be supplemented by information delivered via appropriate healthcare apps.

Offer plenty of choice

Following on from the desire for greater – and more frequent – information, millennials like to think of themselves as more informed than previous generations. This means they like to make their own choices based on the information they have gleaned.

So, while previous generations may have been more willing to be led on employee benefits, it might be more appropriate to provide younger employees with an increased number of options, allowing them to personalise their package.

Employers may approach this by gathering feedback from staff on what they want to gain from their benefits before implementing a carefully-managed selection that meets both employee and business goals. An appropriate technology platform through which employees can make their choices is also a key consideration.

Be a little flexible

Work-life balance is more of a focus for millennials than previous generations, perhaps due to the increased amount of discussion around this topic in recent years.

Thinking beyond health and wellbeing initiatives, employers may want to consider a more flexible approach to working practice as a way to boost morale and mental wellbeing. Millennials may be particularly receptive to arrangements that allow them to avoid the pain of waiting in rush-hour traffic or provide the opportunity to work remotely.

The advent of new technologies, such as video conferencing and cloud-based office software, mean it is easier than ever to meet this demand. As a result, flexible working may increasingly be viewed as an important part of the overall wellbeing mix alongside benefits and healthcare schemes.

It’s good to talk

Studies have shown that millennials are more aware of mental health issues but also that they are more prone to depression and anxiety than previous generations.

Therefore, it is perhaps more important than ever that organisations put the proper framework in place to offer constant support and advice around issues of mental health. Management may be offered training in empathy or the identification of mental health issues in order to help them better cope with the changing demands.

It may be appropriate to consider benefits such as employee assistance programmes (EAPs) that provide staff with access to a 24-hour telephone helpline and counselling support, allowing them to discuss any issues with trained professionals.

Similarly, mindfulness courses may be a low-cost way of helping employees to find coping mechanisms for everyday issues.

Provide regular feedback

Millennials have been found to crave regular feedback more than other demographics so it may be appropriate to establish a practice of regular one-on-one manager meetings.

This will help to keep them group engaged and motivated, providing them with goals to aim towards in work and health, as well as the encouragement they need to reach them.

By offering regular feedback and providing the opportunity to discuss workplace issues, management can make adjustments to help millennials better perform their jobs. Research by the American Psychological Association found millennials feel the effect of stress more than other generations. This group are said to be more prone to workplace stress so a proactive approach may help to address any early signs and put measures in place to mitigate the risk.

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