Employers Reveal a Clear Appetite for Preventative Healthcare, but Tangible Metrics Still Elude Most

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Prevention is more effective than cure when it comes to the impact of healthcare benefits on employees. But this seems to be more a result of good luck than good management.

This represents just one observation based on the key findings of the Employee Benefits Healthcare Research 2018, produced in association with Health Shield.

‘Improving staff health and wellbeing’ came out top at 70% when employer respondents were asked in what ways their healthcare benefits had proven most successful. This gives a clear indication that initiatives are working – in a preventative capacity at least – in most cases.

The success of healthcare benefits in ‘getting people back to work as soon as possible’, however, has declined to 43% this year, down from 53% in 2017.

Meanwhile, considering the survey also found a clear lack of metrics surrounding healthcare benefits – with regards to the cost of providing them, the impact on sickness absence and overall return on investment (ROI) – you could be forgiven for thinking that any assessment of success must be simply based on employer gut-feel or employee anecdotes.

The cost / value disconnect continues

Although the price tag on benefits is a key focus, the value isn’t.

Nine in 10 (90%) cite cost as the main factor influencing their decision to buy, or continue providing healthcare benefits. Yet only 14% actually calculate ROI, and nearly three fifths (58%) state they have no plans to do so in the future.

Furthermore, just over a quarter (26%) have no idea how many days’ sickness absence their employees take a year. So it’s perhaps unsurprising to also find that over half (55%) don’t know what percentage of payroll is impacted by absence costs.

Physical & psychological support

On the brighter side, the survey noted a clear move by employers towards employee mental health support. In fact, it now appears on a par with elements of physical wellbeing.

Mental health resilience appears in this year’s survey for the first time when asking employers about their duty of care obligations. And it takes joint fifth place with ‘eating healthily’ (both 57%), one of the key pillars of physical wellbeing.

Supporting work life balance appears top at 80%: a response that has been consistent in this survey over a number of years.

Encouragingly, nearly 7 in 10 provide support and counselling services to some or all employees. Alongside this, it’s great to see that employers are recognising the contribution of mobile technology to mental and physical wellbeing.

Three in 10 offer some or all employees access to a mental health and wellbeing app. Just over 2 in 5 (22%) provide access to physical health apps, such as those focused on exercise and nutrition.

Integrate for success

The challenge now is to integrate all these services in a way that helps employers provide care pathways and a clear focus on outcomes. It’s encouraging to find that a third (33%) of respondents have an integrated wellbeing strategy – one that takes in the physical, mental, emotional and financial. And another third (32%) are planning to put such a strategy in place.

Applying simple outcomes measures to integrated care pathways (i.e. what are you trying to achieve? Have you achieved it? If not, why not?) could prove a much more relevant measure in future. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that so few people are ‘doing’ ROI simply because it’s not relevant.

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