Most employers feel responsibility is now on the individual to promote wellness, and awareness of musculoskeletal problems has risen considerably, says Tynan Barton
While a large proportion of employers (69%) believe they share responsibility to promote wellness, more than three-quarters (77%) say accountability lies mainly with the individual. Employers have put more onus on the individual this year than in recent years. In 2010, the largest proportion of respondents (80%) thought it was the responsibility of the medical profession and the government (75%), rather than individuals and organisations.
Back in 2006, 74% of employers felt that promoting wellness among the UK population was primarily the responsibility of the government. Looking back further to 2000, our Health Strategies Research found that 82% of respondents believed employers had a moral or social responsibility to help employees stay healthy. However, respondents were equally divided on whether improving staff health was a corporate objective: 45% said it was, while 45% said it was not.
There are a number of things that employers believe they should encourage staff to do that can help to improve their wellbeing. The most popular of these is encouraging employees to achieve a sensible work-life balance, although this is something an employer can only partly help with, because only the employee has control over his or her own life. This has been employers’ top aim since 2005, while reducing stress and encouraging staff to keep fit and eat healthily have also remained key issues.
This year, employers appear to place a greater priority on providing healthcare benefits to support the health and wellbeing of employees, rather than to demonstrate the organisation’s reputation or basing it on cost. When looking solely at healthcare benefits, issues such as musculoskeletal problems, preventing future health issues and improving the health and welfare of staff are now considered more important than controlling costs and being seen as an employer of choice.
This is a noticeable change in attitudes. Over the years, reducing musculoskeletal problems has been seen as a priority by a much lower proportion of respondents. However, with musculoskeletal issues consistently cited as one of the main causes of absence, employers may now be taking action to tackle this, particularly if under pressure to cut the costs associated with long-term absence.
Employers’ views of healthcare strategies now also seem to align with government aims. Their top objective is to get people back to work, which supports the government’s plan to review the sickness absence system and cut the cost of ill-health to the economy. It will explore how the system can be changed to help people stay at work.
Employers have already had some success in achieving this aim, with 42% saying they have helped staff return to work as soon as possible.
Long-term absence can be costly for employers, so a healthcare package that addresses the common causes of this has many business benefits. A large proportion have successfully tackled the causes of absence, reducing both musculoskeletal issues, and absence rates.
Unsurprisingly, cost remains the top factor influencing employers’ decisions to buy or continue to offer healthcare benefits, which has been the case since 2006.
However, differing from their views in 2006 and in 2010, employers are now keen to match the benefits offered by their competitors. This is now ranked as the second most important factor in buying decisions, above employee demand and the range of benefits offered by a provider.
Musculoskeletal problems are also moving up employers’ agendas, as demonstrated by the 23% of respondents that now buy or offer benefits in order to tackle specific health issues.
Over one-third (35%) of smaller organisations (those with less than 500 employees) recognise that the cost of healthcare outweighs the risks associated with not having provision in place, a slight rise on the 33% that did so in 2010, demonstrating an increased awareness of the importance of having a robust healthcare strategy in place.
But employers will get the best value from their healthcare benefits provision only if employees are aware of, and understand, what is available. While the most popular methods of communicating healthcare benefits are leaflets, booklets or brochures, and information for new joiners, it is encouraging to see that more employers alert staff about benefits using regular newsletters or emails rather than at an annual review meeting.
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