How a positive work environment and digital solutions can boost employee wellbeing


What does good health and well-being look like? With so many factors influencing how we feel, it can be a difficult question to answer. Employers are being encouraged to engage their employees with health and wellbeing more than ever. But it isn’t always straightforward. There are many components that contribute to an individual’s health and well-being including diet and activity, friends and family relationships, work and even personal finances. The healthcare market as a whole is also complex. There are a number of influential forces that can create a disruptive business environment, and these can add yet another layer of complexity for employers who want to implement the right workplace health strategy for their people.


A key consideration is the ageing population. An increasing number of people remain in the workplace beyond typical retirement age. This trend is bound to take its toll on the older generation and it’s now starting to affect the ‘sandwich generation.’


In the UK, one in seven of us already combine paid work with caring responsibilities. And according to recent Cigna consumer research, one in five people feel unprepared to take care of their ageing parents’ health and wellbeing. These numbers are likely to intensify as many more start to feel the pressure of caring for children and elderly relatives, all while trying to remain productive in the workplace.


There’s also the increasing prevalence of chronic conditions. In England alone, more than 15 million people have a long-term condition, and this figure is set to increase in the next 10 years.


Another factor is the rise in healthcare costs. Health spend in England rose from £1,868 per person in 2010-11 to £2,057 in 2014-15. The NHS net expenditure has also increased from £75.8bn in 2005-06 to £117.2bn in 2015-16. So it’s not surprising that the NHS is under significant pressure to meet demand.


So among all the diversity, what is the role of the employer and healthcare providers in improving employee health?


94% of employees told Cigna that they wanted to improve their health; but today, only six percent consider their healthcare provider as a go-to resource for support. Our results also show that people are very independent – with a third already claiming sole responsibility in managing their health and wellbeing. For the rest, the NHS is regarded as a good resource.


As NHS resources struggle to meet demand, these groups can fill the gap. It’s a win-win – both will ultimately benefit from a healthier population in the long term.


Healthcare providers need to establish stronger relationships with customers at all stages of their health and wellbeing journey. For employers, a great start is to align the health and wellbeing strategy with the business strategy. It should focus on early intervention and prevention rather than curing illness.


Measuring and monitoring the initiatives that are put in place is also fundamental and the role of a positive work environment can’t be underestimated.


The research revealed that rewards were not a primary motivator for making behaviour change. However if rewards were to be introduced, the most popular rewards were linked to access to more benefits related to their health plan, such as removing excesses or providing a level of chronic condition cover.


Technology can play a pivotal role. The popularity of technology designed to monitor health and wellbeing has increased significantly and the appetite for digital solutions is rising within our ‘time poor’ nation. Almost two-thirds of Cigna survey respondents have used or considered using tools such as mobile apps and wearable devices to support their health and wellbeing. For many, it’s more than a passing fad. Almost a quarter who use them claim to do so on a regular basis.


By harnessing digital technology, healthcare providers and employers can bridge the widening gap between employee needs and the healthcare system. With this in mind, Cigna recently launched a new app, Cigna Virtual HealthTM. This can help employees navigate to better health, by providing a personalised approach to health and well-being improvements.


Forward-thinking employers and healthcare providers now have the opportunity to use digital technology to encourage positive change in employee health. This can directly improve productivity and absenteeism, as well as company efficiency.


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