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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Top five tech trends shaping the future of employee health and wellbeing

Research from Willis Towers Watson has revealed that employees are eager to embrace new technologies to help manage their health and wellbeing.

Forward-thinking employers consequently have an opportunity to capitalise on this trend by adopting, offering, and utilising the latest digital-health tools. By doing so they can encourage employees to make smarter health-related decisions, promote workforce engagement and take a more strategic approach to health and wellbeing programmes with employee-generated data insights.

From wearables to telemedicine, we examine some the latest technology developments that are shaping the future of employee health and wellbeing.

1. Wearable technology

According to the Willis Towers Watson Global Benefits Attitudes Survey, 47 per cent of UK workers regard wearable devices that monitor fitness activity as important tools for managing their health and wellbeing.

Not only can wearables, such as Fitbits and Apple watches, enhance the personal life of individuals, they also offer significant potential for helping shape workplace health and wellbeing strategies by enabling the collection, analysis and sharing of user information.

Data insights such as heart rates, sleep patterns, fitness routines and other daily health-related behaviours can be useful in helping businesses identify areas of risk and empowering staff to take positive action.

This can not only help in the design of wellbeing programmes, it can enable a more proactive approach to absence management, tackling worrying trends before they become a problem. Furthermore, in the longer term such insights may also help in reducing claim and benefit costs.

2/ Mobile apps

While some health and fitness apps draw data from wearable technology, a wealth of standalone apps, designed to help employees take control of their physical and emotional health, continue to be developed.

As employees invariably carry their phones with them during the day, these apps can offer an effective way to make health and wellbeing part of their daily routines.

Many are aimed at managing general wellbeing, providing guidance to employees on vital activities or routines such as taking breaks, stretching or hydration. Others however are targeted at more specific health concerns, such as building emotional resilience or improving mental health with tools for stress management. These include everything from mindfulness sessions to time management advice.

An NHS accredited and approved apps library is available to help guide decisions on app recommendations and adoption.

3/ Digital health aggregators

The widespread and effective use of wearables and health apps in the workplace calls for systems that make it easier for employers to harness their true value and potential.

Software platforms are being developed that aggregate data from a variety of different wearables and health apps. These can enable employees to use their own wearables, compete with colleagues using different technologies and more easily participate in employer-led health initiatives.

Furthermore, they can help employers to collate employee health and fitness data to assess risks and more strategically implement health and wellbeing programmes. The future may see the emergence of personalised benefit programmes for individual employees.

4/ Online training

A growing trend towards online coaching around health and wellbeing offers employees the opportunity to access guidance and training wherever and whenever they have time, or are in the mood to do so.

Furthermore, advances in e-learning technology look set to improve levels of engagement by taking greater account of how employees best respond to the information they’re provided.

E-learning tools are becoming increasingly modular, interactive and tailored for the individual, helping make information more accessible. Online assessments help reaffirm employees’ understanding of a range of topics, covering everything from stress management to nutrition.

5/ Telemedicine

Virtual access for employees to GPs is becoming an increasingly common offering from medical insurers and cash plan providers.

The provision enables consultations to take place via webcam or video link from a computer, tablet, or smartphone. These can help overcome some of the hurdles associated with the traditional, face-to-face, family doctor appointments, including protracted waiting times and arranging leave of absence from the workplace.

Employee appointments with a virtual GP service can usually be arranged within a couple of hours and can help accelerate early intervention to address employee health issues. The services can include integrated health tracking apps, the electronic delivery of prescriptions and medication reminders.

‘Artificial Intelligence’ doctors are now being developed, capable of making diagnoses using data algorithms, and these also have the potential to find their way into the future workplace.

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Top seven benefits for supporting JAM (just about managing) employees

Politicians and civil servants have coined a new buzzword – JAMs, a term that refers to individuals and families who are ‘Just About Managing’.

Prime Minister Theresa May offered a helpful definition in her first speech: “You have a job but you don’t always have job security. You have your own home, but you worry about paying a mortgage. You can ‘just about manage’ but you worry about the cost of living and getting your kids into a good school.”

Employee benefits can play an important role in helping JAM workers – particularly those that are often overlooked – maintain or improve their health, wellbeing and living standards by covering or contributing to essential costs.

According to a study on perceptions of benefits and wellbeing schemes from PMI Health Group, only 44 per cent of employees are happy with the benefits they receive and only 37 per cent said their employers make provisions to look after their health and wellbeing.

Although employees may have a tax liability on benefits, this will not always be the case. Moreover, a tax liability can be outweighed by the benefits the employee receives. PMI Health Group reveals some of the cost-effective options available for employers.

1/ Cash plans

Cash plans are low cost policies, costing from as little as £1 per employee per week, used to provide an easy way to pay for essential healthcare – when individuals are ill, and when they’re not.

Cash plans will pay individuals cash benefits for time spent in hospital, either as inpatient or for consultations, or for pre-defined treatments such as dental, optical, private consultations, physiotherapy, chiropractic, and osteopathy.

Higher end cash plan benefits can play a key role in absence management, from high-tech scans and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, to access to wellbeing websites, online health risk assessments and discounts for gym memberships.

2/ Dental plans

One of the most commonly claimed for treatments on cash plan – dental charges – can be covered in isolation under dental plans.

Group dental plans cover employees for both preventative and restorative dental treatments. They can also cover the cost of more serious and costly accidents and injuries.

To maintain good dental health, dental costs are, in the main, unavoidable. With the number of NHS dentists on the wane however, there is an increasing likelihood that increasing costs may cause JAM employees to neglect their teeth

At an average cost of around £10 per employee, per month, dental plans are proving an increasing popular employee benefit. Furthermore, they encourage people to see the dentist regularly, leading to better dental health which is increasingly being linked to general health and wellbeing.

3/ Employee Assistance Programmes

Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) provide confidential advice, support, and counselling to staff with personal or work-related issues.

Problems faced at work or at home can affect an employee’s performance during the day or even result in stress-related absence. EAPs can help tackle these problems.

Costs vary but at around just £15 per employee per year, they offer one of the most affordable benefits on the market. What’s more, they represent an employer’s commitment to taking preventative and protective measures to reduce health risks in the workplace, in line with the Health & Safety at Work Act of 1974.  

4/ Financial education

Financial stability is the biggest factor affecting people’s wellbeing, according to a recent research report by health and wellbeing charity Central YMCA.

The impact of personal finances is likely to be even more acute among the JAM population, but financial education programmes can help by enabling them to better manage and make the most of their money.

What’s more, by reducing stress, employers may benefit from reduced levels of sickness absence and higher levels of workplace productivity.

Financial education can cover a wide range of areas from benefits, such as share plans and pensions, to tax planning and savings strategies. Employers must ensure, however, that when providing financial advice, they employ the services of Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) regulated advisers.

5/ Group Life

Group Life insurance premiums have the advantage of not being treated as a benefit in kind for employees.

In the event of an employee death, the benefit pays a tax free lump sum to the employee’s family.

Benefit levels on these Death in Service’ schemes will, as a rule, pay up to four times an employee’s annual salary, depending upon the scheme. This may negate the need for an employee to pay for a separate life insurance policy to cover mortgage payments and other financial commitments.

6/ Group Income Protection

Long term illness can cause considerable financial strain for employees. A Group Income Protection policy offers a reassuring safety net, paying a proportion of an employee’s salary in the event they are off work due to long term sickness or injury.

The employee can also benefit from rehabilitation schemes provided by the insurer. In addition, as with Group Life, the employee has no benefit in kind tax liability to worry about.

7/ Voluntary discount and voucher schemes

Voluntary benefits such as retail and leisure discounts can help employees’ take home pay go that little bit further – and such discounts may not be available to employees elsewhere.

Gym membership discounts or access to online discounting websites, where employees can get money off everyday shopping from high street brands and cash back on their purchases, can prove popular.

Such schemes may go a long way to boosting morale among JAM employees and promoting good workforce relations.

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Are you prepared for salary sacrifice changes? 5 things to consider

The abolition of tax incentives on the majority of salary sacrifice schemes was one of the biggest stories to come out of last November’s Autumn Statement.

Chancellor Philip Hammond announced that, from April 2017, most benefits offered via salary sacrifice will be subject to the same tax and National Insurance (NI) contributions as a cash salary.

Given the current popularity of salary sacrifice, this will have wide-ranging implications for a large number of businesses.

In many cases, employers will be faced with difficult a decision on whether to continue with existing arrangements without the tax advantages or to provide equivalent benefits without the salary-sacrifice element.

Here we take a look at five key considerations for employers in the wake of the changes to salary sacrifice.

What exactly do the changes mean and when do they take effect?

Salary sacrifice allows employees to receive benefits by ‘sacrificing’ a portion of their pre-tax salary, effectively paying for the benefits from their gross income.

Thus employees avoid paying tax and NI on the sacrificed amount, while the employer saves on its own NI contributions. Following the changes, benefits provided via salary sacrifice will be subject to the same tax and NI contributions as cash salary. Companies will also have to pay employers’ NI contributions of 13.8% on those portions of salary that can no longer be sacrificed.

Changes come into force from  6 April 2017 although arrangements for cars, accommodation and school fees are protected until 6 April 2021. Salary sacrifice arrangements already in place before 6 April 2017 will continue to benefit from tax and NI incentives until 6 April 2018 or the end, change, or renewal of the contract.

Pensions and pensions advice, childcare, bikes-for-work schemes, and ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs) will continue to be allowed.

Employee communications

Good communication is key to managing the transition.

If your organisation intends to continue offering the same benefits, it is important for employees to understand exactly how the changes will affect take-home pay. Essentially, if benefits are still offered on a salary sacrifice basis, it will equate to the same impact as the employee paying for them from their net salary.

This will undoubtedly lead to a large number of questions from employees – and potentially considerable workload for HR and Reward teams – so it makes sense to anticipate questions and prepare factsheets in advance.

It may be also be appropriate to canvas opinion among employees – perhaps through surveys, focus groups and briefings – regarding which benefits are viewed as most desired or essential in order to start shaping a long-term offering that meets need.

Reviewing uptake of benefits

It would be advisable to do a ‘stock take’ to assess take-up, usage and value of benefits. Some benefits such as health assessments may not be taken annually so it may be prudent to look at more than one year of data.

Analysis could look at the return on investment (ROI) offered by existing benefits, based on factors such as reduction in benefits spend, premium reductions, uptake, engagement and staff appreciation.

If benefits cost more to the organisation than the perceived value received by employees then they may not be working effectively enough.

On the one hand, benefits must offer choice and flexibility while covering the entire employee lifecycle. But on the other hand, too much choice can be a negative and it may be better to offer a smaller pool of more targeted benefits.

Rethinking the employer-paid/voluntary mix

After reviewing uptake and popularity, the next step is to re-examine the mix of benefits that are employer-paid versus those offered on a voluntary basis.

Given changes to the cost of benefits caused by the changes to salary sacrifice, it may be a suitable time to re-evaluate how benefits are paid for.

Benefits defined as ‘essential’ throughout the review process and consultations with staff might be offered on a company-paid basis as they offer the necessary ROI. They could then be supplemented by a range of voluntary benefits, which allow the employee to benefit from choice and flexibility while paying a lower cost than equivalent consumer products.

This might mean an unravelling of existing flexible benefits schemes to provide a more strategic selection of benefits that meet the needs of both employees and the business.

The business case

Given the increasing cost of providing benefits for employers, it makes sense to identify which offer value for this extra investment. This means a shift away from providing benefits simply as an employee perk and a greater focus on designing schemes to meet business needs.

When making plans, employers should be aware there is a lack of clarity surrounding some arrangements, in particular excepted group life policies and income protection.

In current salary sacrifice arrangements, the premium is paid before tax so the benefit is subject to benefit in kind tax (BIK). But it has not yet been made clear whether they will continue to be subject to BIK when purchased from taxed income. If so, income tax will have been levied twice, on the original income and the benefit.

HMRC is expected to issue a statement of clarification late January.

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