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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