Work & Wellbeing

Employers must monitor employee health to ensure productivity

7 min read

05 June 2019

Sickness among the working population costs the UK economy £100 billion a year. But companies taking a proactive approach will be best placed to reduce health risks and potential losses in productivity and company turnover.

Despite encouraging statistics, there are still plenty of misconceptions about the best ways to improve employee health. Many companies are still paying for initiatives that are bringing them a minimal return on investment.

Why is employee health such a hard nut to crack?

Most employers focus a lot of their HR policies and benefits spend on typically smaller employee populations, like those with ongoing illnesses or who are long-term disabled.

It’s very important to cater to these demographics, but businesses should remember every employee has health and wellbeing needs, which shift and change over time.

The challenge for businesses

Businesses must implement wellbeing programmes that cater to a wider demographic of employees, but without risking creating a programme which is too generic.

Avoid this issue by looking more closely at your company’s own, unique risks and try to offer health solutions tailored to these findings.

Personalised offerings mean better employee health

Personalised offerings allow staff to get a more accurate view of the impact certain behaviours have on the workplace too.

For example; recent research discovered employees with an unhealthy diet were 66 percent more likely to have high presenteeism than those who regularly ate whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

Researchers were able to use these findings to demonstrate how poor health behaviours decreased productivity during work hours which, in turn, helped them to introduce more relevant preventative measures.

The more individuals feel a policy is designed specifically for them, the more likely they are to adopt and maintain suggested healthy behaviours. This will lead to lower health risks and less chronic disease.

What are the risks to employee health in the workplace?

The five most common workplace health risks are cancer, heart disease, strokes, lung and liver diseases. But there are, of course, variations in risks across different demographics.

For example; according to Nuffield Health data mental health risk factors are the highest in 20-40-year-olds and symptoms of elevated blood pressure increase by 50 percent each decade.

The risks by gender

The risks can also be broken down further between genders too. For example; while 1 in 10 females have a poor cholesterol ratio, for males this figure increases to over 1 in 3.

National and even industry statistics like these are a good starting point when researching your wellbeing programme.

However, they serve mainly to put managers on notice of a general problem. The important issue is the demographic risk your own organisation faces.

Focus on the specific issues your office faces

For companies struggling to get an employee health initiative off the ground, simply defining its purpose will help build the best understanding of those it’s intended to benefit.

Why not undertake a survey to get baseline health metrics and determine your workforce’s risk of developing conditions like heart disease and diabetes?

At the next stage, drill down further and examine individual locations or business units. Once you know the highest risks, you can create initiatives geared towards these, increasing the ROI of your programme spend too.

The rise of data in corporate healthcare

As personalisation becomes more important, digital platforms are playing a more prevalent role in corporate healthcare.

A growing number of businesses are introducing opportunities for both employers and employees to provide tailored support through these platforms.

At Nuffield Health we introduced our PATH programme, which uses a number of evidence-based mathematical algorithms to determine a person’s risk factors and generate a completely bespoke assessment for them.

The data collected is used to drive an organisation’s future wellbeing strategy, increasing its success rate and ROI.

Our hope is businesses will understand, while one-off health assessments are still beneficial, the collective data obtained can also inform a more meaningful and intelligent wellbeing strategy.

Communicating your findings

If you choose to run surveys or use digital platforms to collect employee data, one of the primary components should be sharing the results with your workplace.

Employees may have heard about the overall organisation results via HR or your internal communications channels.

Still, many will be naturally curious about how their own team compares and whether there are any specific implications or changes that will impact them.

Where does senior management fit into the equation?

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Senior management should make sure any feedback is tailored to their own teams. Leaders should communicate what employees should expect in terms of an action plan based on the results.

Where possible, ask them to play a role in the decision-making process to identify how key focus areas will be addressed.

Some staff may be less keen to be involved than expected, with some worrying the more employers know about their lives, the more control they will have on whether they are retained, promoted or the first to be laid-off in difficult times.

Make sure your staff get involved

To encourage employee participation, it’s essential to let staff know you won’t be able to improve current circumstances and company policies, without their insights. Show staff the value in participating and explain why they should buy into the process.

Explain to employees that any data shared will be kept anonymous and will only be used to create a sense of transparency about success and failure across the company. The focus of any wellbeing programme should never solely be to ‘target’ or penalise specific individuals.