Paul Shires: Business benefits of an effective health strategy

Health and wellbeing management is a crucial part of any employer’s business plan.

With the National Health Service (NHS) under pressure to save £20 billion by 2015 and sickness absence costing UK employers about £9 billion a year, employers are under great pressure to ensure the right strategy is in place to manage employee health and wellbeing. But what are the benefits for employers that introduce such a strategy, and how easy is it to accomplish?

In today’s economic climate, investing in a health and wellbeing strategy may not be high on the corporate agenda, but the right strategy can demonstrably help to reduce sickness absence, boost staff morale and increase productivity.

Coupled with the impact NHS cuts are already having on access to routine healthcare services and waiting times, especially for diagnostic tests and non-urgent surgery, the real question to ask is: can your business afford not to have a health and wellbeing strategy?

Cost-effective reward

Health and wellbeing management is a crucial part of an employer’s business plan. And, at a time when funding pay rises and bonuses can be tough, it can also be a cost-effective way to reward staff, increasing employee engagement.

The kind of strategy an employer introduces depends on several factors. By understanding their organisation’s unique requirements, employers can tailor the strategy to deliver real benefits.

Recognising the type and cost of absence within an organisation can help identify the issues the workforce has experienced in the past, while a risk assessment can highlight potential future hazards.

For example, a service business, where staff use computers for long periods, may need to focus on optical issues, whereas a manufacturer may emphasise musculoskeletal problems.

Health cash plan

We see numerous cases where an employee has developed a problem and could face a lengthy period away from the business. But through a health cash plan, for example, they have been able to access the treatment they need and return to work much more quickly than if they had remained on a NHS waiting list.

For example, a labourer at a Scottish engineering firm that provides a cash plan for its staff developed a severe knee problem that left him in pain and unable to work. He needed surgery and faced having to take three months’ sick leave while waiting for the procedure, but because his employer had the right strategy in place, he could use his cash plan to cover the cost of private treatment and return to work in just one month, benefiting himself and his employer.

Budget availability

Budget availability can also affect the type of strategy and level of cover for a business, but there is a wealth of choice for employers, including health cash plans, private medical insurance, hospital treatment insurance and treatment specific benefits, such as dental cover, to suit budgets of all sizes.

Once the strategy is in place, it is important to have the right tools in place to maximise and measure its success.

A good way to assess if the budget has been well spent is monitoring absenteeism and employee satisfaction. If the right communication tools are in place to ensure staff use their cover, employees should be able to get treatment quickly without worrying about the cost.

The health and wellbeing benefits market is hugely competitive now, with providers striving to bridge gaps in healthcare provision and offer employers innovative, cost-effective solutions. With the right advice, research and tools in place, employers can reap the rewards of initiating a successful strategy.


  • All employers need a health and wellbeing strategy to support staff.
  • Identifying the causes of absence can help minimise business costs.
  • Employers can measure return on investment of their spend by monitoring absenteeism.

Paul Shires is executive director at Westfield Health