We are at a crucial crossroads when it comes to wellness initiatives. The workplace is fast evolving, accelerated by advances in technology, and we are witnessing a shift towards flexible and remote working, a rise in contract workers and a move towards assigning ‘tasks’ as opposed to job roles.
To keep up with these changes, organisations will be looking at their business strategy, talent landscape and organisational culture. And as wellness programmes underpin a business’s total reward offering, it is imperative that these are adapted to suit the new workplace environment.
Changing profile of workers
Over the next decade there will be 3.7 million more workers aged between 50 and the state pension age, according to the Office for National Statistics. The scrapping of the default retirement age, combined with other factors, including shortfalls in pensions and savings provision, is expected to significantly alter the demographic landscape.
Wellness programmes will increasingly have to cater for a multi-generational workforce. But there is a danger that subsets will feel isolated if benefits are not seen to be inclusive.
Research for the Willis Towers Watson Health and Benefits Barometer 2017 found that close to half (49 per cent) of employees said their employer makes provision for their health and wellbeing, but this figure drops to 39 per cent among 45 to 54-year-olds and 31 per cent among 55 to 64-year-olds – a clear disconnect between generations.
And then there are the capacity issues within the NHS. Considering this climate, companies should look to preventative wellness benefits and maintaining a healthy and productive workforce as a whole – taking a proactive, rather than reactive, approach to wellbeing.
Unsurprisingly, technology will feature more frequently in future wellness programmes. Forward-thinking employers have an opportunity to capitalise on this trend by adopting, offering and utilising the latest digital health tools, such as wearables and apps.
By doing so they can encourage employees to make smarter health-related decisions, promote workforce engagement and generate valuable data insights, while gamification adds that element of healthy competition.
There is a growing trend towards online coaching around health and wellbeing, as well as virtual access for employees to GPs. These can help overcome some of the hurdles associated with the traditional, face-to-face doctor appointments, including protracted waiting times and leave from work.
Artificial Intelligence doctors are also being developed, capable of making diagnoses using data algorithms, and have the potential to find their way into the future workplace.
Another question companies must ask themselves is if and where interim workers fit into the wellness equation. With transient staff becoming a more common occurrence in the workplace, this will become more of a prevalent issue for employers. When considering this, employers should take several factors into account, the first of which is productivity.
It cannot be denied that contractors are an important cog in the corporate machine and are not immune to wellbeing issues – they will be affected as equally as a permanent worker. There is also the question of moral obligation. Our research has shown that three-quarters of workers believe their employers have a moral obligation to offer the same healthcare provision to all staff.
Protecting the brand and upholding reputation may encourage companies to look at their wellbeing strategy and see if there is an opportunity to establish a baseline of benefits for these types of workers.
Another consideration is administration. The more inclusive the wellness programme, the more streamlined the administration process can be. Companies must weigh up the benefit of a sliding scale benefits system and the costs associated with governance.
Looking to the future
It is understandable if companies are somewhat trepidatious when it comes to developing effective health and wellbeing strategies in a rapidly evolving workplace – after all, they are navigating uncharted waters.
But they should remember that wellness supports the business strategy and treating it as so – with clear objectives and careful planning – will help companies keep focus and strive for success.
But no matter where a company is on its strategy ‘journey’, it should embrace change and keep abreast of new opportunities, such as technology developments. And above all, employers should take the time to review communications and engagement approaches so that employees can see the breadth of what wellness means for both them and their organisation.
Mike Blake is a director at Willis Towers Watson Health & Benefits