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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CIPD Absence Management Survey 2016: the key findings

CIPD Absence Management Survey 2016: the key findings

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) Absence Management Report is the UK’s definitive annual study on employee absence.

It provides crucial intelligence on sickness absence trends, policy and practice, offering businesses fascinating insights that can be useful in shaping health and wellbeing strategies.

More than 1,000 HR professionals nationwide were surveyed for the 2016 edition of the report and we have scoured its findings to provide you with five of the most interesting.

Absence at lowest level for seven years

This year’s report revealed a fall in absence across all sectors – manufacturing and production, private, public, non-profit – to the point where it has reached its lowest level for seven years.

The average level of absence is 6.3 days per employee per year, compared to 6.9 days last year and 7.4 days in 2010, while the median cost of absence per employee has fallen slightly to £522.

The largest decrease in absence was noticed in the non-profit sector, where it fell from 7.8 days per employee to 6.9. But absence continues to be highest in the public sector (8.5 days), where employees average over three days more than their private sector counterparts (5.2). Absence also tends to be higher in larger organisations, regardless of sector.

Stress is still a big problem

Stress remains the number one reason for long-term absence, cited as the most common cause by 29 per cent of employees.

And the situation only appears to be getting worse. Almost a third of respondents report stress-related absence in their organisation has increased over the past year.

The study found workloads and volume of work are the number one cause of stress, cited by 55 per cent of respondents, followed by non-work factors (such as relationships/family) and management style, selected by 33 per cent and 32 per cent respectively.

As a result, there is an onus on organisations to put schemes in place to address the problem. These could range from flexible working to employee assistance programmes (EAPs) that provide access to 24-hour counselling support.

Mental health issues on the rise

Another problem related to the prevalence of workplace stress is the increase in reported mental health problems. Overall, two-fifths of companies claim to have seen a rise in the past 12 months.

The report claimed both mental health problems and stress-related absence are strongly linked to a long hours culture and less common within organisations where there is a stronger focus on employee wellbeing.

And while 55 per cent of respondents agree that their organisation is effective at supporting people with mental health problems, only 24 per cent agree staff are well informed about the common mental health risks and symptoms.

This highlights an education gap, which organisations may look to plug through greater education and engagement around the topic, aligned with a culture of openness.

Wellbeing more than just a buzz word?

There appears to be a growing recognition among businesses of the importance of employee wellbeing initiatives.

Almost half of respondents in the survey report an increased focus on wellbeing compared with the previous year, while just three per cent report a decrease.

The most popular wellbeing benefits are counselling, which 56 per cent of organisations claim to provide to all employees, followed by employee assistance programmes (52 per cent) and advice on healthy eating (34 per cent).

However, almost three-fifths of respondents claim their organisation’s approach to wellbeing is more reactive than proactive regarding wellbeing, showing there remains room for improvement in putting wellbeing at the centre of absence management and benefits programmes.

Presenteeism a growing concern

‘Presenteeism’ is the phenomenon of staff attending work when unwell and it appears companies are becoming wise to the negative effect it can have.

Almost half of respondents (48 per cent) report their organisation has taken steps to discourage presenteeism over the past 12 months, compared to 31 per cent in 2015 and 32 per cent in 2014.

The study found a link between presenteeism and stress-related absence or mental health problems, providing a strong reason why organisations should discourage the practice. More than half of those who had noticed an increase in presenteeism also saw an increase in stress-related absence compared with less than a third of those who hadn’t.

Organisations that noticed an increase in presenteeism were also twice as likely to see a rise in mental health problems.

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A third of businesses fail to offer support for dementia sufferers (09/11/16)

One in three British workers (33 per cent)(1) say their employer fails to offer any additional help or support for dementia sufferers.

In a study commissioned by PMI Health Group, part of Willis Towers Watson’s health and benefits team, seven per cent of employees said they either have, or work alongside someone who suffers from, dementia. More than half (54 per cent) of these workers, however, said they received no education or training on the condition from their employer.

“The number of people developing dementia is increasing year-on-year(2) and although it is commonly associated with old age, there are currently more than 40,000 people in the UK under 65 suffering from the condition,” said Mike Blake, Director at PMI Health Group.

“Employees can be affected as both sufferers and carers but companies can make a difference by introducing clear policies on how they can provide support and improve staff awareness.

“By establishing an inclusive, dementia-friendly, working environment, companies can give carers and employees with dementia the opportunity to continue playing an active and important role in the workplace. Furthermore, those diagnosed with the condition would be more likely to report it to their employer and seek support.

“Measures can include early intervention from occupational health professionals and the inclusion of information about dementia, and local support services, in staff newsletters and noticeboards.”

For more information on steps to consider when introducing, or reviewing, dementia policies, please see PMI Health Group’s guide to supporting employees affected by the condition.

(1) From research conducted among workers that have, or work alongside colleagues that have, dementia.

(2) According to the Alzheimer’s Society there will 150,000 more people with dementia by 2025.

Employee mental ill health: tips on spotting the signs

Spotting the signs of stress or mental ill health among employees can be vital to the effective management of staff wellbeing and sickness absence.

The workplace can, after all, have a significant impact on our mental health, either as a cause of problems or as a facilitator of wellbeing.

Where employees are struggling to cope, early intervention can hold the key to preventing situations from escalating into more serious, and potentially longer term, problems. Line managers will usually be well placed to monitor employees’ work activities, behaviour and general wellbeing, enabling them to identify early warning signs of stress or mental ill health.

Although symptoms will vary, there are a number of tell-tale signs – often be linked to a change in behaviour – that managers should be aware of.  These early warning signals can be categorised as being either physical, psychological or behavioural.

Physical symptoms

Physical pointers to cases of mental ill health may include the following:

–          low energy or fatigue

–          frequent headaches, back, chest or joint pain

–          a change in weight or appetite

–          physical shaking or verbal trembling

Psychological symptoms

Psychological pointers to cases of mental ill health may include the following:

–          aggression or extreme mood swings

–          a lack of motivation

–          unusual emotional displays, such as crying

–          confusion or memory lapses

–          indecision and a lack of self-confidence

Behavioural symptoms

Behavioural pointers to cases of mental ill health may include the following:

–          increased incidents of sickness absence

–          poorer workplace performance

–          poor time keeping

–          irritability or bouts of anger

–          an increase in drinking and smoking

–          withdrawal from social interactions

Addressing the issue: an intervention strategy

There is good evidence to suggest that earlier intervention leads to better outcomes. But how do you go about it?

Engaging with a problem calls for establishing open communication with the employee in a sensitive and supportive manner and then developing an appropriate action plan. This plan might include signposting advice and support, such as the employee speaking to their GP, undertaking OH assessments or arranging counselling through an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). For more information, see our guide on possible treatments for tackling mental health issues.

Workplace triggers for stress should also be identified and addressed as required. For further advice on protecting employees from the harmful consequences of stress and anxiety, see our guide on implementing an effective stress management programme.

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Almost half of Brits would welcome use of wearables in workplace (18/10/2016)

British business could be set for a wearable revolution after research found 45 per cent of workers would welcome the introduction of the technology by their employers.

Wearable gadgets, such as fitness bands and smartwatches, have experienced a huge surge in popularity, with the global market expected to hit US$5.8 billion by 2018, a 800 per cent increase on its 2012 value.1 This popularity provides businesses with an opportunity to use the technology to collect valuable data on employee health.

The study commissioned by PMI Health Group, part of Willis Towers Watson, discovered almost one in 10 British employees (nine per cent) are already offered wearables by their employers, with the figure reaching 26 per cent in London.

“Wearables have become commonplace in recent years and their popularity provides employers with a golden opportunity to collect valuable data that can be used to improve health and wellbeing,” said Mike Blake, Director at PMI Health Group.

“Already, we have seen several examples of businesses operating company-funded wearable schemes, where employees accept devices in the understanding that the data generated will be shared with their employers.

“Such initiatives can form part of wider health and wellbeing programmes, helping businesses to identify areas of risk and empower staff to take positive action. Not only could this enable a more proactive approach to absence management, tackling worrying trends before they become problematic, but it could also help to reduce claims and health insurance costs in the long term.”

The research also found only 40 per cent of British workers would object to sharing personal health-related data generated by wearables with their employers.

“Businesses will find it encouraging that only a minority of staff are opposed to sharing wearable data as part of wellbeing schemes,” added Blake.

“But even when objections are raised, such barriers can often be overcome through clear communication and consultation with employees. It is important for companies to outline what data will remain anonymous and underline that data will not be used in a discriminatory or unfair manner. In cases where data has been used to secure a reduction in insurance premiums, employees may also benefit from reduced contributions themselves, which will help to further smooth the process.”

1 Wearable Technology Market – Global Scenario, Trends, Industry Analysis, Size, Share And Forecast 2012 – 2018, Transparency Market Research

Disability still seen as a barrier to career progression (26/09/16)

More than a third (37 per cent) of UK workers believe disability is still a barrier to career progression, despite anti-discrimination legislation.

In a study commissioned by PMI Health Group, part of Willis Towers Watson, nearly one in five (17 per cent)(1) also claimed employers fail to make adequate provisions to accommodate their, or their colleagues’, disabilities.

“Companies have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments, where necessary, to ensure employees with disabilities are not disadvantaged in the workplace,” said Mike Blake, Director at PMI Health Group.

“In light of these findings, it would be advisable for businesses to ensure they are not falling foul of this legislation. Deploying pre-placement questionnaires that are reviewed by an occupational health professional gives employers the information they need to make reasonable adjustments from the outset. Physical assessments can be carried out by occupational health physicians if more detailed information is required.”

The government has set a target of halving the disability employment gap – the difference in employment rates between disabled and non-disabled people – which stands at 33 per cent(2). This is currently the subject of a parliamentary inquiry(3).

“Health and wellbeing initiatives, including the services available through group income protection and Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), can help in establishing a more disability-friendly workplace so companies can attract and retain skilled staff from this important demographic,” added Blake.

“Health and wellbeing initiatives that facilitate early medical intervention for mental and physical conditions can play an important role in establishing a more disability-friendly workplace and reducing incidents of long-term sickness absence.”

(1) From research conducted among workers that have, or work alongside colleagues that have, a disability.

(2) Analysis of ONS Labour Market Statistics, 2016, by disability charity Scope.

(2) Disability employment gap inquiry, Work and Pensions Select Committee, 2016.

How to use wearable technology to help improve your employees’ health

‘Wearable technology’ has become a buzz phrase in HR thanks to the flood of new lifestyle gadgets that have hit the market in recent years.

From the Fitbit to the Apple Watch, these devices are now seen as essential bits of kit by many workers.

But not only do they help to enhance the personal life of the wearer, wearables offer value in the workplace too. This is because they collect, analyse and share information about the wearer, and such data could be valuable to an employer.

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

But should businesses embrace wearables? We take a look at some key considerations for all employers.

1. Employees show appetite

The pervasiveness of wearables in daily life already seems to be helping soften attitudes towards their application in the workplace. In this year’s Willis PMI Group Employee Benefits Index, only 37 per cent of British workers said they would not welcome the introduction of wearable health technology by their employers.

Furthermore, only 40 per cent said they would not be willing to share personal, health-related data generated by wearables with their employers. This general positivity provides employers with an opportunity to use wearables to their advantage.

By finding ways to subsidise such technology, organisations can put themselves in a position to collect valuable data for proactive absence management, while providing staff with a perceived benefit. This way, data collection may be seen as less invasive by the employee.

2. Put a policy in place

If your organisation decides to embrace wearables, it is important to ensure clear policies are put in place for their use.

Where personal wearables are concerned, guidelines might be provided on how they are used at work and what types of data capture are permitted. This might form part of a revised ‘bring your own device’ policy, designed to protect the company’s data security, privacy and confidential information.

For company-sponsored schemes where wearables are provided to staff, the policy should also specify what data will be used, how it is used and any third parties it will be shared with.

It is also appropriate to consider anti-harassment, grievance and disciplinary policies, covering the misuse of wearable technology.  For example, the concealable nature of wearables might increase the possibility of covert recording of conversations without consent.

3. Beware big brother?

Some employees will understandably be wary about devices being used to collect personal data, so it is crucial to be clear about how staff data will be collected, managed and used.

If information is collected to inform absence management, it may be appropriate to appoint a third-party to manage the process and provide only anonymised data as a way of identifying general workforce trends. Otherwise, it is important to be very clear about what data will remain anonymous and underline that data will not be used in a discriminatory or unfair manner.

For wearable technology to be well received, employees will need to be clear on the benefits offered to them. Therefore it should be positioned as an aid that helps to improve overall health and wellbeing rather being used to assess working performance.

4. Covering the cost

To reinforce the benefits offered to employees by wearable technology, companies may look to subsidise devices as part of health and wellbeing programmes. This investment may be justified by potential reductions in health insurance premiums secured by sharing positive fitness data with insurers.

Already many forward-thinking organisations are taking this route, offering staff incentives for doing exercise and sharing data about their activities. Such data would be valuable in proving a reduction in risk profile to insurers, helping to fight the rising premium tide.

Employees, for their part, would not only receive the device but may also benefit from reduced contributions to healthcare schemes themselves.

5. A piece of the jigsaw

Wearables will be most effective when implemented as one complementary piece of a larger wellbeing programme. The data provided by wearables is only beneficial if it proves employees are living healthy lifestyles, so steps should be taken to ensure this is the case.

Wearable technology may work neatly alongside other initiatives, such as lunchtime exercise classes or regular breaks where staff are encouraged to take time away from their desk for a short walk.

Where wearable data highlights negative trends, action should be taken to provide support. For example, if employees suffer from sleep problems, counselling provided by benefits such as employee assistance programmes (EAPs) may help to address contributory factors. Workshops could also be organised to provide staff with guidance on how to get a good night’s sleep.

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10 ways to fight fatigue

10 ways to fight fatigue

The impact of fatigue in the workplace is too often underestimated but has the potential to be significant and wide-ranging.

Its effects can be particularly acute in manual working environments and fatigue is said to cost the UK £115 to £240 million per year in terms of work accidents alone.

But fatigue is an important consideration for all employers, regardless of the industry or environment.

A number of studies highlight the link between fatigue and reduced productivity, as well as increased stress and absenteeism. Fatigue also results in slower reactions, reduced ability to process information, memory lapses, absent-mindedness, decreased awareness, lack of attention, underestimation of risk and reduced coordination.

Therefore, it should be treated in the same way as any other workplace risk or hazard, with steps taken to mitigate its impact. Here we outline 10 ways in which you can help to combat fatigue among your employees.

1. Give careful thought to shift patterns

Fatigue can be a particularly significant factor for shift workers, especially those regularly working night shifts or unusual hours.

Employers can use tools such as the HSE’s ‘fatigue risk index’ to conduct risk assessments around shift patterns, allowing them to design schedules that minimise risk and best suit their employees.

Key risk factors include the workload, the work activity, shift timing and duration, direction of rotation and the number and length of breaks during and between shifts. Employees should also be consulted during this process to obtain their input and feedback.

2. Put a policy in place for working hours

This policy should provide specific guidelines on working hours and set limits for employees. It should also address factors such as overtime and shift-swapping, with arrangements put in place to monitor and enforce the policy. This may include a robust system for recording working hours, overtime, shift-swapping and on-call working.

If it is found that the policy is regularly being breached, efforts might be taken to increase staffing levels, rearrange workloads or provide employees with support.

3. Regularly update job descriptions

Individual job descriptions will inevitably change over time as employees take on new responsibilities and their role changes in relation to colleagues. Therefore, it may be appropriate to regularly audit job descriptions and workloads to see if there may be a reason why a certain person or department may be struggling with fatigue.

If you see that a job description is unbalanced or has had responsibilities added to it over the years, consider taking steps to redesign the job by varying the balance between mental and physical tasks, for example.

4. Ensure work stations are ergonomically designed

Postural fatigue caused by an awkward working position can also result in general tiredness, but ergonomic adjustments to the working environment can help to combat this. For example, steps should be taken to help employees sitting at a desk to ensure their arms are well supported, they do not have to reach for their keyboard and don’t adopt a slouched position.

Equally steps to reduce screen glare and ensure employees sit at a safe distance from their monitors will help to reduce strain on their eyes.

5. Provide water

Symptoms associated with dehydration include mental fatigue, headaches, poor concentration, and muscle weakness, so it can contribute to an overall feeling of tiredness or sluggishness.

Physiological reasons for these symptoms include a reduction in blood volume, which can result in less oxygen, glucose and nutrients being carried around the body.

Employers can take swift action here simply by providing a water cooler and offering staff education on recommended water intake.

6. Encourage a healthy diet

Diet is a big factor in levels of daytime fatigue, and brain function is dependent on adequate nutrition.

NHS guidance suggests a healthy, balanced diet containing foods from all four of the main food groups is essential, while it is important to eat at regular intervals to ensure your body learns to manage feelings of hunger and sustain energy levels.

Breakfast is also important to set us up properly for the day but, despite this, up to one-third of us regularly skip breakfast according to the British Dietetic Association (BDA). Employers can help by setting up breakfast clubs, providing healthy snacks and balanced meal options, or by providing general nutritional advice.

7. Provide regular health screenings

Health screenings can perform a key role as part of a more proactive approach to employee health. They can measure everything from blood pressure and body fat to lung function and hearing and act as a non-taxable benefit if conducted on an annual basis.

The information gained from such screenings can help to flag health or lifestyle issues that may contribute to fatigue, allowing employers to take appropriate action.

8. Think about the environment

General changes to the workplace can address fatigue and its accompanying risks, as there are a number of environmental factors that can contribute to feelings of tiredness. For example, fluorescent lighting or lighting that is too bright can contribute to eye strain and fatigue, so it may be appropriate to reduce lighting levels or fit dimmer switches.

Even music has been found to have a positive effect on fatigue, so it is important to consider creative methods for keeping staff engaged and happy.

9. Allow staff to take 40 winks

Some companies may find it appropriate to provide a ‘nap room’ for their employees, giving them somewhere to rest during the working day. This could be a cool, dark and quiet room for sleep breaks, complete with eye masks and ear plugs.

However, it may simply be a space for quiet reflection, allowing staff to take breaks in a peaceful space away from the usual pressures of the working day.

10. Encourage more active lifestyles

It may seem counterintuitive, but studies show expending energy by engaging in regular exercise may pay off with increased energy in the long run. So a walk may be better than a nap for boosting energy and fighting fatigue.

This means employers should consider offering exercise classes or discounted gym memberships to employees in order to encourage them to perform more regular exercise. But action in this area may also be as simple as allowing employees regular breaks to escape their working environments and take a short walk.

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