A holistic approach to health and wellbeing can encourage staff to take more care of themselves, as Kirsty Jagielko explains


Employers are now being encouraged to engage their employees with their health and wellbeing more than ever. This means providing proactive support, advice and motivation, all focused on the prevention of illness. Employers must also be able to effectively manage ill health within the workplace. Providing their staff with healthcare cover alone is no longer enough. With such a broad and holistic remit, the right support has never been so important.

Health engagement focuses on moving employees from a passive role of managing their health, to an informed and active participant. If employees take action to understand and improve their health status, their productivity will also improve. These improvements will not only help to reduce overall health costs, but also lower long-term operating expenses.

But this is not an easy challenge. Employers firstly need to recognise the issues employees face both inside and outside of work. These might be related to demographics such as age, family status and income, or lifestyle challenges such as smoking, alcohol misuse or poor diet and activity levels.

Physical and mental health complaints may also be having an impact on attendance and performance. And accessing NHS care quickly may be a further complicating factor.

Developing a basic understanding of your employees needs is a valuable first step in designing an effective health and well-being programme. An annual online Health Risk Assessment (HRA) is a popular starting point and can serve as a powerful workplace tool. Employers can then tackle identified issues such as the organisational culture or population demographics, by working closely with their health plan provider.

Taking a holistic approach to health engagement requires focus on the prevention of ill health, early intervention to help get symptoms checked quickly, and support for those living with a health condition.

It’s a wide remit, but the good news is that healthcare providers are innovating in all of these areas. Some of the new developments include rapid access to screening, which helps to identify conditions that require immediate treatment. The introduction of diagnostic pathways also helps employees to get their symptoms checked quickly. Online interactive tools are emerging, too. These encourage the wider population to make appropriate lifestyle choices.

There’s now a definite focus on engaging all plan members with their health, not just those who are ready to make a claim. Cigna’s Health Navigator is just one example of an online interactive tool. It can help employees to make the most of the choices available to them, at every stage of their health journey. Alongside Cigna’s health and wellbeing portal it provides tips for healthy living, information on how to manage living with various health complaints as well as access to websites that offer additional support. The tool encourages employees to make the most of their medical plan while accessing resources that support their wellbeing.

Of course making the tools available is just one small step. Driving participation and changing behaviour requires more effort.

A recent report published by Philips, The Picture of Health¹, shows that UK adults and healthcare professionals both agree that preventing poor health is the responsibility of the person in question. Yet, as a nation we continue to make bad health choices. At present, less than half of UK adults are actively managing their health. So there is still a clear disconnect between what individuals think they should do and what they actually do.

Employees are more likely to take action and cope with any challenges they face if they’re motivated to do so. This motivation could come from company-led incentives, like offering staff discounted access to health and wellbeing facilities, or perhaps running a competition or initiative.

The important point is to align incentives with desired behaviour, consider what employees value and be flexible with how they earn their rewards. Appointing a wellbeing champion throughout different areas of the business can also make a significant impact on building and sustaining wellbeing initiatives. Senior management sponsorship and participation will, of course, help to endorse these efforts.

There is no hard or fast rule on how to build motivation. Ultimately, employers need to test different initiatives and find out what works best. But investing in a health plan is part and parcel of this long-term approach, and focusing on health engagement will drive down usage costs and help employers to retain a healthy, motivated and engaged workforce.

1. The picture of health report, Philips (2015)