Five reasons to benchmark your benefits programmes

Health and wellbeing programmes, and strategic benefits decisions, can only be as effective as the intelligence they are built on.

Alongside core metrics such as cost analysis information and health risk indicators, important insights will also be provided by benchmarking data.

There can be numerous reasons for organisations to compare their health and benefits provision with that of competitors – beyond a desire to simply keep up with the Joneses.

We examine the case for benchmarking and the competitive advantages it can deliver to your business.

Recruitment and retention

Recruiting high calibre employees is a priority for most businesses and, alongside their compensation package, a competitive benefits programme can be a key factor in enabling them to do so.

Perception is key. Indeed, the Willis Towers Watson Benefits Trends survey found that almost two-thirds (61 per cent) of employers recognised their benefits package improved their ability to attract and retain staff.

To gain a competitive advantage however, businesses need to know where they stand in their market. This becomes all the more important in industries where employers face intense competition for sought after skills and experience.

With this information, they can address gaps in provision and important benefit areas in which they are underperforming in relation to their peers.

Supporting the business case

For many years, benchmarking evidence has been called for by board level decisionmakers to vindicate spend on compensation and pension schemes. Such evidence is now increasingly being required to justify wider benefit plan design changes and to provide governance around benefit programmes.

Strategic planning that is backed by solid benchmarking data is more likely to be acted upon and garner corporate acceptance.

Maximising value

Benefits benchmarking can highlight where programmes are needlessly rich or excessively poor from a financial investment perspective.

Faced with a rising tide of premiums, benchmarking can reveal cost-saving opportunities or areas where benefits can be repositioned to deliver greater value. The strategic focus of provision that is out of sync with an organisation’s peers may be inappropriate and could well be proving wasted spend if failing to deliver for either its employees or on wider corporate objectives.

A catalyst for change

Benchmarking can act as a catalyst for change, a time to rethink a benefits programme and wider benefits strategy.

In addition to considering these in the context of the competition and industry sector, companies should also take account of cultural considerations, business risk factors and how benefits should complement wider corporate objectives.

Doing so might mean getting rid of legacy programmes that have failed to meet employee needs, for example, that have failed to engage the workforce or that have failed to deliver value investment or ROI.

A benchmarking review offers an opportunity to establish a benefits programmes that supports a roadmap towards a business’s strategic future.

Improve morale and performance

A competitive benefits package, evidenced through benchmarking, that targets employee needs can help workers feel looked after and feel more financially secure, giving them peace of mind during difficult times.

A package that incorporates health benefits, for example, can promote a healthier workforce, helping reduce incidents of sickness absence.

Where workers are happy with their employee benefits, they are more engaged. Willis Towers Watson research recently found that 49 per cent of employees whose benefit package meets their needs are highly engaged in the workplace. This contrasts with just 21 per cent of those whose benefits packages fails to meet their needs.

Higher levels of staff morale will invariably increase workplace productivity.

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Millennials twice as likely as their parents to suffer from stress

Millennials are almost twice as likely to suffer from stress as Baby Boomers, research has revealed.

The Global Benefits Attitudes Study from Willis Towers Watson (WTW), which surveyed 2,824 employees at medium and large private sector companies in the UK, found 61% of Millennials suffer high or above average stress, compared with 33% of Boomers and 50% of Generation X.

Millennials have frequently been labelled the most stressed generation and this is further highlighted by the fact 34% say they’ve suffered from severe stress, anxiety or depression in the last two years. This figure drops to 28% among Generation X workers and 20% among Boomers.

But there are also encouraging signs, as Millennials are significantly more likely to talk about stress or mental health problems, with 48% saying they would seek support from family, friends or co-workers, compared to 32% of Generation X and 21% of Boomers. More than a quarter (27%) of Millennials would seek support from their manager, compared to 18% of Generation X and 6% of Boomers, and 41% would seek external help – for example, from a medical professional – compared to 33% of Generation X and 28% of Boomers. “There has been an encouraging growth in awareness around issues of stress and mental health in the workplace, and an increasing number of employers are taking positive action to address these problems,” said Mike Blake, wellbeing lead for Willis Towers Watson.

“However, the significant variation in stress levels highlights the need for such action, where possible, to be tailored to the requirements of different demographics. Millennials, for example, face a variety of unique pressures – the immediacy and convenience of modern technology makes it harder to escape work pressures and this generation have been shown to strive for perfectionism more than previous ones.

“Since the root causes of stress and mental health issues will differ, so too will the support needs. Millennials are happy to talk about their problems, so may respond well to counselling or therapy, but different people will respond to different stimuli, so a best-practice approach to mental health should cover a wide range of initiatives that might include everything from exercise schemes to treatment from professionals.”

There are further differences in coping strategies, with 64% of Millennials saying they indulge themselves as a way to tackle stress and 54% treating themselves to retail therapy. These figures drop to 53% and 44% respectively among Generation X, and 33% and 35% among Boomers.

The research also revealed a gender divide, with women appearing to struggle more with stress. Almost three-fifths (58%) of all women surveyed claim to suffer from high or above average stress, and 37% say they’ve suffered from severe stress, anxiety or depression in the last two years. The figures for men are 48% and 24% respectively.


The Global Benefits survey is a global study that explores individuals’ attitudes to their health and retirement benefits. The survey took place between July and August 2017 and was completed by 2,824 employees at medium and large private sector companies in the UK.

Boosting employees’ immune systems

As well as the colder weather, winter brings with it a myriad of health problems, namely bugs, colds and flu.

And it seems that 2018 has got off to a not so healthy start.

GPs have seen a surge in suspected flu cases over the past couple of weeks, up by as much as 40% on previous years.

According to NHS Choices, it takes around one week for sufferers to feel better after catching the highly-infectious flu, so employers can expect high levels of sickness absence and presenteeism.

When employees do get ill, it is important that they are given appropriate time off to get better and greatly reduce the chances of passing on the illness to colleagues.

But how do employers help to reduce the risk of sickness absence en masse, which inevitably puts a strain on resources?

Although steps can be taken to reduce the spread of germs from coughs and sneezes, employees come into contact with germs outside of the office, so there is no way of eradicating the risk of getting ill.

But employees can take steps to strengthen their immune system, so that they are less susceptible to colds and flu. And with timely advice and support, employers can help their workforce to achieve this.

1. Reduce stress

Stress weakens the immune system, so we should all try and take some time out of the day to concentrate on our mental health and get back to fighting fit.

Thanks to technology, there are a number of aids available to help reduce stress levels, such as meditation and mindfulness apps.

Employers can help employees better cope with stressors in their lives by offering benefits that support positive mental health, such as yoga classes and EAPs.

By putting mental health at the centre of an organisation, the stigma is diminished and those struggling with poor mental health will be more likely to be open with managers and seek help.

This will have a positive impact on productivity and overall happiness of the workforce, with the boost the immune system an added bonus.

2. Get sufficient sleep

Sleep deprivation suppresses the immune system so getting seven-and-a-half to nine hours of sleep a night plays a big role in helping us fight off colds and bacterial ailments.

Meditative apps can help employees nod off, as can limiting caffeine intake and staying away from bright lights before bed, such as iPads and smartphones.

Employers should bear in mind that lack of sleep can stem from stressful working environments.  A WTW study found that more than a third (36%) of workers struggle to get a good night’s sleep because of their job.

Employers can help by educating their employees on the impact of poor sleep on general wellbeing and helping them achieve a work-life balance.  This could include encouraging employees not to check email out of hours, creating clear boundaries between work life and home life.

3. Get moving

Exercise may be mooted as the go-to solution for improving health and wellbeing, but it really does have a positive impact on the immune system.

It helps boosts the number of white blood cells and killer cells in our bodies, meaning we are better equipped to fight infection.

Employers can help assist employees to lead more active lives by offering subsidised gym memberships, running cycle to work schemes or promoting the benefits of wearable technology.

4. Nutrients

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can make us more susceptible to illness so try to maintain a healthy, balanced diet.  Taking a multi-vitamin will help achieve recommended daily doses.

Also try to avoid excess sugar, as this can cause inflammation, which can impair the immune system.

Employers can offer dietary advice to employees, and also help by providing or subsiding healthy food, such as fruit and yoghurt, in the office space.  Weight-loss programmes can be offered, as can health MOTs, to encourage employees to take ownership of their health and wellbeing.

5. Quit smoking

The damaging effects of cigarette smoking is well-documented, with high incidences of cancer and other serious diseases.

Although the number of smokers has significantly declined in recent years, almost one in six adults in the UK smoke*.

Due to the high levels of tar and other harmful chemicals, cigarette smoke can suppress the immune system, making it less able to fight off infections.

Long-term weakening of the immune system increases vulnerability to autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

Employers can support their workforce by offering smoking cessation programmes as a health benefit.

*Adult smoking habits in the UK: 2017, Office of National Statistics 

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A third of UK workers think they should be financially rewarded for living a healthy lifestyle (07/02/2018)

A third (33%) of UK workers believe their bosses should pay them for keeping healthy, research has revealed.

The recent study by Willis Towers Watson (WTW) also revealed that 34% of employees would only participate in a company health initiative if there was a financial incentive to do so, up from 26% in 2013.

While traditional financial incentives include performance-linked bonuses, profit sharing, and living or car allowances, more contemporary rewards include ‘wellness payments’, which employees spend on keeping healthy, for example, on health screenings, physiotherapy treatment, gym or sports club membership or spa days.

The findings show that this incentive demand is part of a wider problem with employees’ engagement in their company wellbeing initiatives, as 70% of workers do not believe they meet their needs.

Mike Blake, wellbeing lead for Willis Towers Watson, said: “The figures suggest that despite employers increasing their focus on health and wellbeing, existing schemes are not appealing to employees and, as a result, many feel they need extra motivation to participate, in the shape of financial incentives. Having a healthy workforce does, of course, greatly benefit employers, as it leads to lower levels of sickness absence, productivity loss and employee turnover, but employees reap the rewards of living healthier lives too.

“Taking care of health and worker wellbeing should be a shared priority of both employee and employer, not seen as additional workload that workers should be compensated for.

“Companies who struggle to engage with their employees would be wise to review their current health and wellbeing initiatives, so that they are truly valued by employees and meet their needs and personal health goals.”

The research found that, over the next three years, 33% of organisations believe their strategy for encouraging healthy behaviours, such as smoking cessation, weight management or increasing exercise levels, will focus primarily on direct financial incentives, an increase from 12% currently.

But Blake advised companies to be cautious about adopting such an approach.

“It is understandable that companies – particularly those who are frustrated at a lack of engagement – are tempted to offer financial incentives to their employees. But this can be a knee jerk response to problems that may require deeper answers.

“Often a more sustainable solution is to ask more searching questions about the programmes and initiatives that are already in place, for example: are they joined up; do they connect to employees’ wants and needs; is there a broad enough range; and are they well communicated?

“Employers could consider appealing to the tech-savvy, time-strapped, fitness-conscious worker, for example, by offering wearable technology subsidies, promoting the use of meditation apps and introducing health-league tables.  After all, health and wellbeing programmes, as well as health-orientated benefits, are only valuable if they are utilised.

“Very often companies experience an initial upsurge in engagement when they introduce new initiatives or wellness programmes, but experience shows that this can be short-lived as people get used to them over time and they lose their behavioural influence.

“Employers need to plan for this by attracting employees’ attention and keeping them motivated. Communication is key in achieving this.  Regular, effective messaging can help reinforce the personal benefits of participation and lower the risk of complacency or

The Global Benefits survey is a global study that explores individuals’ attitudes to their health and retirement benefits. The survey took place between July and August 2017 and was completed by 2,824 employees at medium and large private sector companies in the UK.

Top 5 fitness crazes employees will be obsessed with in 2018

After a season of overindulgence, gym memberships are metaphorically flying off the shelves and motto of the moment is: ‘this is my year’.

According to the Fitness Industry Association, 12 per cent of gym members sign up in January – but most don’t make it past 24 weeks.

Finding an enjoyable workout is key to sustaining a long-term fitness plan – but keeping up with all the latest trends (goat yoga, anybody?) can be exhausting in itself.

Employers can not only help workers kickstart their fitness journey, through benefits such as subsidised gym memberships, but can also help them stick to their long-term goals, through the use of effective messaging and incentives.

Here, we make it easy and outline the top five new fitness trends that employees are set to become obsessed with in 2018.


HIIT was thee buzzword of 2017.  And the trend is still very much on the rise.  High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) comprises intermittent ‘sprint’ exercises at maximum effort, ranging between 30 seconds and 3 minutes, followed by an active or non-active recovery period.

The short but extremely effective workout has proved popular with time-restricted fitness fanatics across the country – but a more accessible ‘sister’ workout is emerging.

LIIT – Light-Intensity Interval Training – can burn through as many calories as HIIT, but at a slower pace and with longer recovery periods.  Instead of a 30-minute workout, you would be looking at a 60-minute workout, but one that is more suitable for all fitness levels and lessens the risk of injury.

Employees should switch up the styles for maximum effectiveness.

Functional Training

Functional training has been a key focus of the fitness sphere for the past few years, but it is expected to feature more heavily in 2018.

Functional training has its origins in rehabilitation and helps build strength, power, stability and mobility, conditioning you to perform your daily routine more effectively.

The emphasis is on mimicking everyday movement, rather than training isolated muscle groups, so expect lots of basic functional movement patterns like pushing, pulling, squatting, rotating, carrying and walking.

You can see this shift in gyms up and down the country, with the addition of slosh pipes, battling ropes, sandbags, kettlebells and suspension trainers, alongside the traditional free weights, such as, barbells and dumbbells.


This is a really versatile workout, making it a good choice for the time-strapped.

All employees need is flexible, elastic rope, which can be suspended between two anchors low to the ground, either on a workout machine or between two trees or posts.

You can start off by trying to stay still on the rope for as long as possible and progress to balancing while walking, crawling, doing lunges etc.  Essentially, the slackline is the new wobble balance board.

Slacklining is a full body-workout, and is especially good for improving core strength, as well as balance, posture and focus (expect lots of falling off).

And a bonus? It’s really fun and employees can squeeze in some exercise while relaxing with friends in the park.

Live streaming

For those who rely on classes to get their fitness fix, it can be very frustrating if busy work schedules, traffic or late booking means you have to skip them.

Never miss a class again with live streaming.

Exercise videos are not a new trend but live streaming is different and set to explode in popularity.  Cameras and mics are set up in studios across the globe and real classes are streamed to your mobile, tablet or laptop.  If you miss a live class, you can download and save it for later.

Some platforms, such as Forte Fit, allow you to see fellow class members working up a sweat and even allows you to sync your Fitbit, Apple Watch, or other wearables, so you can track your performance on the brand’s leaderboards, as well as monitor your progress and achievements over time.

Employers can help support their employees by subsidising wearables, run fitness league tables and reward employees for reaching their health goals.

Returning to play

This is all about injecting the fun back into fitness and a return to the active child-like movement we have forgotten over the years.

Think deep squats, climbing and swinging from trees – essentially playing like you did as a child.

Employees will use up energy every time they change direction, movement or pace and the great thing about this type of workout is that they can do it for free.  They can just pop down to their local park and get out of breath.  And if they feel a bit foolish, they can grab a friend to join them.

If the outdoors is not for them, they should keep a look out for Animal Flow classes in a nearby gym.  The new primal-like workout combines ground-based ‘animal-like movements’ with elements from various practices – from yoga to dance, bodyweight to endurance training.

Ten minutes exercise app

Public Health England has launched an ‘Active 10’ app to encourage people to do at least 10 minutes’ exercise every day. The app is described as an ‘easy way to improve your health and wellbeing’. It is available for Android and iOS mobile devices.

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Poor use of data limits value of employee benefits programmes (23/01/2018)

Businesses could struggle to generate full value from employee benefits due to poor data analysis and governance, research has revealed.

According to the latest Benefits Trends Survey from Willis Towers Watson, only 12% of UK businesses currently use organisational analytics to test the effectiveness of programmes. A greater number use medical claims data, but this figure still stands at only 29%, meaning many organisations may be unable to measure the true value of their employee benefits and the health related issues facing their workforce.

It is an issue that seems to have been recognised by businesses, however, as 76% say they will make use of organisational analytics within the next three years, an increase of 64 percentage points from today.

“Business intelligence is dependent on good data and the underuse of workplace health data is traditionally one of the biggest barriers preventing employee benefits from being used in a strategic manner,” said Mark Ramsook, Head of Sales and Marketing at Willis Towers Watson Health and Benefits.

“Thinking around benefits has often focused on issues such as statutory requirements or a perceived need to be competitive in the job market. But a tactical approach of this nature will typically make it possible to manage costs only in the short term, and limit the potential for benefits to deliver true business value. Instead, businesses would be advised to analyse the data at their disposal – such as claims data, absence data or information from health risk assessments – in order to target benefits towards areas of most need and tailor the offering depending on the requirements of different segments of the workforce.”

The value of a data-driven approach appears to be understood by companies, as 62% of those surveyed claim it is important to design programmes that account for the specific needs of the workforce or drive behaviour change. A further 74% also believe it is important for them to benchmark programmes against competitors.

“Auditing and benchmarking existing schemes represents a good starting point for businesses that are keen to take action,” added Ramsook. “It is then important to establish appropriate governance and processes for ongoing measurement to ensure the effectiveness of benefits is continually assessed, taking into account changing workforce needs. This approach will allow benefits to have a positive impact in a variety of areas, including sickness absence and overall workforce wellbeing.”

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.


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.”