Bringing health and wellbeing services onsite may keep staff at work, and can be helpful if employers are in a remote location, but any potential cost savings may need to be justified against an in-depth risk assessment, says Stephanie Spicer
Although it is inevitable that employees will need to attend healthcare appointments from time to time, doing so can often result in them taking a significant length of time out of the workplace, particularly if their dentist, doctor, or so forth is not located near to where they work. As a result, some employers have taken steps to address the issue by bringing health and wellbeing services onsite for employees.
There are now many types of on-site health and wellbeing services employers can offer staff. These range from on-site doctors and dental services, physiotherapists chiropractors, osteopaths and occupational health practitioners, to more recreational facilities such as on-site gyms, rest rooms, massage and reflexology sessions, and workshops on topics such as nutrition, smoking cessation, sleep and fitness.
Paul Avis, corporate development manager, LifeWorks at Ceridian, says: “There are a wide range of options for employers constructing an employee health and wellbeing programme. These range from those [undertaken to] comply with the law such as occupational health, and health and safety, right through to the ‘nice to haves’ such as massage and healthy-eating options.”
When looking to introduce an onsite perk, Avis explains that the real challenge for employers is to assess the potential effectiveness of what they are looking to implement. “Starting with health risk appraisal tools is a precursor to really targeted action, while on-going assessment of absence statistics, employee assistance programme (EAP) usage data, [and] group income protection [and] private medical claims can really refine these initial actions for tangible employer benefits,” he says.
Taking initial data measurements also means employers have something to compare later figures against in order to gauge the success of on-site services. It is particularly important to monitor the return on investment of these services as they can be expensive. Vanessa Sallows, underwriting and benefits director for group protection at Legal & General, agrees that onsite benefits can be costly depending on what employers offer.
“But you have to consider the [benefit] of employee wellbeing and the cost to employers with regard to having an unhealthy workforce,” she adds.
In some cases, providing easy access to health and wellbeing services onsite may also result in employers obtaining reduced premiums for other healthcare benefits such as group income protection. “If we see an employer being proactive with wellbeing and maintaining a healthy workforce, we can look at reducing income protection premiums, by anything up to 5%,” Sallows adds.
Some wellbeing benefits may also help employers avoid getting to a stage where claims need to be made on insurance products, such as private medical insurance (PMI), and group income protection. “With expensive items such as group income protection, death benefits and PMI not being used on a daily basis, employers should look for more routine benefits to be exposed to employees such as personal health manager tools which provide email alerts and updates and walking or cycling clubs, and so on. Combining support in crisis alongside regular, health-oriented activity and information can become a virtuous cycle,” says Avis.
Cost is not the only consideration for employers looking to introduce on-site occupational health and wellbeing services. Diana Nye, European commercial director at Vielife, believes the biggest mistake organisations can make is implementing benefits purely because they think it is a good idea. Often the best services are those that have some thought behind how they are presented to, and engage, staff. Putting together something as simple as a day where employees are encouraged to eat the recommended number of fruit portions can be effective.
“Employers may want to bring in something that helps people with their overall work-life balance. You can have issues that aren’t necessarily caused by the workplace itself, but still impact on [staff] behaviour and on the office [environment],” says Nye.
The trick is to find ways of addressing the issues staff may have so there is something that will appeal to everyone. This will increase the likelihood of staff using the services provided, so maximising employers’ return on investment.
Joyce Roberts, head of sickness absence management at Axa PPP Healthcare, agrees that on-site benefits must fit with an organisation’s culture. “It is important to get a cultural fit with the things you offer for different types of employees. Also, if you do something like on-site cholesterol screening, exercise classes or alternative therapies, you need to think about what time of day you make those available. Some employees have more autonomy than others and can juggle their time around. Offering a service three times a week, for example, would give more people an opportunity to take time out to participate,” she says.
Line manager input
How and when staff can use the services on offer, without upsetting the needs of the workplace must also be considered. One area that is often overlooked is the need to obtain the buy in of line managers at an early stage into the HR policy.
On a practical level, there are other important points employers should consider when introducing an on-site facility. James Glover, member services director at HealthSure, says: “The provider of any services must have adequate public liability insurance. Are there adequate facilities onsite, for example, is there a private room where health screening can take place, where the screening won’t be disturbed or disrupted? Does the provider have the same values and ethos as the organisation they are being invited into? Are its staff fully qualified?”†
While employers may be convinced of the need to ensure staff are healthy and happy, they are also concerned about the financial bottom line. They, therefore, need to balance cost constraints with the effectiveness of the services they offer to staff. A proper analysis of these two issues can result in a suite of on-site services that meet the needs of the employer as well as the employee.
What do employers offer?
When working out what on-site services to provide, employers should ensure employees value the services that are offered to them.
According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) Absence management survey 2007, the most popular benefits for staff among employers are access to counselling services, employee assistance programmes and smoking cessation support.
Just over a quarter (26%) of employers offer health screening and healthy-eating options in a staff canteen, 21% provide advice on healthy eating and 19% access to physiotherapy.
A further 12% of employers offer in-house gyms, 11% give access to exercise classes, 10% offer on-site massage and 6% provide walking or pedometer initiatives, hydration promotion and free fruit.
Case Study: University of Bolton
The University of Bolton has a pretty fit workforce thanks to a health and wellbeing initiative put together by its HR department and management at its on-site sports centre.
The university secured funding from Sport England which has helped it to offer staff a 50% discount on the use of, and classes at, the university’s sports centre when they sign up to the fitness challenge.
Pozz Lonsdale, sports centre manager, says: “We looked at how we could reduce sickness absence by introducing a wide range of physical activities with monitoring and evaluation being at the forefront of that. We consulted with staff and [the result] was very much [employee] orientated.”
The centre put on a range of activities for staff such as trampolining, climbing, and badminton and it has also run a staff snowboarding and ski trip, horse riding and mountain biking sessions. Most activities take place at lunchtime or after work. Classes such as yoga and Pilates, for example, are run at lunchtime. Health and lifestyle assessments, however, have often taken place during work time, as line managers understand the importance of them.
“The HR department has driven this forward as much as the sports department has so we have had high-level support and you can’t underestimate the value of that,” says Lonsdale.
Some 210 of the university’s 660 employees have joined the challenge.
Shirley Silcock, HR community officer, reports 85% of absence at the university is among staff who have not signed up to the challenge, while the remainder is among those that have. Employees are categorised as green (very active), amber (active, but want to do more) and red (not currently active).
“Of [employees] on the challenge who have had [periods of] absence, those in the green group have not got any mental illness absence issues. I can’t stress enough how having fun and being social plays a big part in the wellbeing of those members of staff,” explains Lonsdale.