Employers want guidance and support from advisers and providers but must take a more strategic approach to their health and risk benefits, Owain Thomas hears.
Employers need to better understand the needs and demands of their workforce when installing and utilising health and wellbeing programmes.
They also need support from advisers and insurers in being able to access and analyse data about how their benefits are used and to maximise their utilisation.
The Health & Protection Roundtable in association with HelloSelf also heard about how employers are now looking to be more proactive and engage their providers and advisers in how schemes run.
“We’ve seen a huge demand for employers asking us for support and training for the first time,” said Canada Life protection sales director Dan Crook.
“Pre-pandemic the provider was kept at arm’s length a little bit and there wasn’t the demand for us to go in and offer these training services, but now we’re welcomed with open arms.”
Crook noted that this was tempered by how the subject was addressed with organisation leaders keen on health and wellbeing angles.
“Within the group risk market we realise that if you want to talk to an HR director or finance director about group life benefits you get about five minutes,” he continued.
“However, if you want to talk about wellbeing, about benefit equity, about who’s using it, if children and family are supported or where we invest our monies from an environmental, social and governance (ESG) perspective, all of a sudden the doors are open and we’re welcomed in.
“So we’re having a lot more time now with employers directly talking to them and educating them on the products we offer,” he added.
Most appropriate value
While this enthusiasm was appreciated, the importance of employers focusing on appropriate health and protection benefits for their workforce rather than getting distracted by the latest trends came to the fore from the panel.
Organisations were urged to understand the benefits they need to offer to keep staff and then when looking into the cost, to consider what is going to add the most appropriate value.
And it was noted that media commentary and high-profile subjects could push firms to include things which would not be used by their employees.
HelloSelf chief innovation officer Dr Annemarie O’Connor warned that when doing this “it doesn’t feel like they really understand what their strategy is to support their employees and they’re looking to intermediaries and insurers to come up with those answers.
“That’s where there is a bit of a gap and a mismatch, and that comes into the training point Dan mentioned, because there are so many managers within an organisation and they have different skill sets, they don’t really know how to use some of those.”
WTW senior associate for health and risk Sacha Lowe agreed with the need for joined-up thinking and communication among firms and the role for the industry to engage employers.
“Sometimes it’s a huge team as well and they’re not all actually synced together,” she said.
“I know some providers will have wellbeing calendars, and have their own programmes such as menopause, men’s health, Black History Month or similar but there’s not high engagement in it.
“So it’s a case of what they want and what they do is two completely different things, and that’s one of the reasons why hopefully I’m here to try and navigate them in the right direction.”
Working practices prevent engagement
It was noted that one of the key issues for employer limitations was that working practices have changed so much that managers do not know their people as well as they used to.
“They don’t see them very much, they don’t have those kind of watercooler moments anymore,” explained HelloSelf chief clinical officer Dr Rumina Taylor.
“One of the biggest things is just to know your people, get to know who they’re caring for outside work, get to know if they do stop work at 5:00.”
This trend was echoed by Aviva UK Health medical director Dr Doug Wright who also highlighted that many employees now expected their employer to take a more proactive role in keeping them healthy.
“That is one of the big changes we’ve seen isn’t it, the trend was there before that employees were expecting more of these types of benefits from their employer, but it has taken off since the pandemic – people are so aware of it,” he said.
“And you’re absolutely right, people are choosing which job offer to accept based on whether or not they can work flexibly from work from home, and what health benefits are available.
“That’s a huge change from where we were before, even though the trend was there, it’s just accelerated.”
Canada Life’s Crook added that aging populations and looking after family members were an increasing burden for many people which could have a significant impact on their working life.
This could be a particular concern for women who tend to undertake the majority of caring outside work, which can play into situations such as the gender pay and pension gaps.
“I’m starting to feel that employers we talk to are tuned into that challenge around the ageing workforce and asking how they keep that diverse talent within the organisation and how they recognise what challenges they may be going through,” he said.
“Better understanding employees, their challenges and what they’re going through, and how to offer them relevant choice that is appropriate for what they’re going through at their time of life to make a difference to them is vital.
“That’s so easy to say, so difficult to do, and I don’t think any of us have cracked it yet, but I think that’s the journey we’re on.”
Too much in the garage
One point that resonated with the entire panel was that current workplace health and protection benefits were almost too vast and all-encompassing without enabling easy access and early support.
As Benenden Health head of innovation David Winter explained, it seems the sector has been on a trend of introducing exciting new technologies, partnerships and capability into their offerings, but this can be confusing without the correct backup.
“Effectively, everyone’s got a really big garage and they’ve just kept putting more and more stuff in the garage and then they hope various consumers in periods of high stress will be able to come into that garage and fish out exactly what they need from the box at the back,” he said.
“That probably doesn’t enable that smooth journey to get the right solution for the right people at the right time.”
This was supported by Aviva’s Dr Wright who agreed that this came back to there being no clear strategy from the employer and what they needed.
“It’s probably a fundamental change in how they need to think about how they set up the workplace and what that means in terms of their own employment policies, their diversity policies and all the rest of it, and how it all fits together,” he said.
“It’s been almost too attractive a solution that we’ve presented to them of putting stuff in the garage without thinking about that side of it enough.”