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9 steps to creating an effective health and wellness benefits strategy for 2021 and beyond

Our 2019 research Polarised Perceptions in Corporate Health and Wellness showed that while employers think they’re delivering great health and wellness benefits, their employees don’t agree. Our most recent research (August 2020) found that COVID-19 is driving change: employers are providing specific support for areas of real need, and employees are demanding and using these benefits. In other words, the gap between employer and employee views of corporate health and wellness benefits is narrowing.

Read: What your employees really think of your workplace wellness benefits

Advice for employers

While progress has been made in closing the gap in perceptions, there is still work to be done by employers. This article will detail nine ways in which organisations can develop a meaningful and effective corporate wellness strategy for 2021 and beyond. It includes actionable advice on how your business can improve its health and wellness benefits, as well as how to communicate with them to help maximise engagement and impact.

1. Listen

“Listen to your employees and be prepared to reshape what you offer in accordance with that,” says Simon Miller, Senior Director, Customer Proposition at Aetna International. “Listen to their needs and recognise that one size won’t fit all. Be prepared to develop a more modular, personalised approach that promotes the right thing to the right people at the right time.”

  • Internal surveys — aggregated and anonymised
  • Internal discussions and forums
  • One-to-one conversations

2. Use data

“Use as many data sources as you can to inform what to include in your well-being package,” says Simon. “For example, have a conversation with your health benefits partner to understand your outpatient and primary care demands as well as other trends. For example, to help counter rising musculoskeletal claims, find out about apps like Kaia that can help provide employees with access to remote physio.”

  • Monitor health claims data
  • Discuss your workforce’s needs to find ways to provide occupational health support. Analyse data of existing benefits — within your employee assistance programme (EAP) offering, for example — to guide your choices

3. Take a holistic approach

To ensure you are building the right well-being package, consider whole-person health. “Don’t just label it as a ‘mental’ or ‘physical’ benefit, take a holistic approach. Look at aspects of personal and home life as much as work life and work environment to really understand and support people.”

  • Bring together solutions for the physical, mental and emotional
  • Consider the impact of social and economic influences on emotional well-being
  • Cater to employees’ sense of purpose and professional motivation

4. Focus on user experience

The elements of the package are important, but it is also essential to make it easy to use. Too often benefits go unused because the process or route in is confusing or convoluted. “Make sure it’s easy to access and easy to navigate so that people use it to help make  a meaningful difference to their lives, your risk profile and your investment,” says Simon.

  • Collate your suite of benefits into a single user-friendly experience
  • Focus on the processes people need to follow to achieve their goals
  • Carefully plan the route in and ensure services and solutions are clearly signposted
  • Dovetail your well-being strategy with your communication strategy to increase engagement

5. Fully understand what you’re providing

As a benefits consultant, benefits manager or HR manager, it is easy to get distracted by ‘the new shiny thing’ in health and wellness.

“There will always be new and exciting initiatives, particularly in digital and health technology, but often the best approach is to leverage what is already available to you by your current providers.”

  • Ensure you fully understand what you’re already paying for through your health insurer, life insurer or other protection providers.
  • Audit what you have and what is available to augment it
  • Compare your resource audit with the results of your needs investigation
  • Don’t assume you need to increase your budget. You may just need to better present and communicate your existing benefits.

6. Personalise your marketing to market your benefits

Use intelligent, personalised, targeted communications as part of an overall communications strategy to understand and meet the unique needs of your employees. “Promotion is essential,” says Simon. “Have you got the right communication strategy in your organisation? Is a third party doing that? Whether it’s you or your health insurer or well-being provider, can the communications effectively reach your workforce in a personalised and meaningful way? For instance, they might not be interested in weekly emails about mental well-being, but might need support with their diet or managing neck pain instead.”

  • Pay close attention to the frequency and relevance of your email strategy
  • Invest in a platform that helps you understand your employees’ needs
  • Conduct a 360 degree health assessment to capture data that dovetails into your communications
  • Measure the levels of engagement and be ready to flex and adapt

7. Build a culture of well-being

Well-being is moving from something that companies provide, to becoming a part of its culture. But how does a company move from one to the other? “A culture of well-being comes from the top down and it starts with business strategy,” says Simon. “What are your company’s values? What’s your vision and mission? Put people at the centre of that. Shareholders and customers are important, of course, but your people should also be a focus.”

  • Define and describe how you will make your organisation a good place to work: how you will look after them at work and even beyond — as the lines between work and home life can become blurred.
  • Consider the degree to which social responsibility activity feeds into your mission statement: purpose, cause and role in the community.
  • Getting the DNA of your corporate culture right will help drive a culture of well-being: benefits are the icing on the cake.
  • Lead by example: Aetna International leaders have been more open about their own personal struggles and coping mechanisms during the pandemic

“David Healy, our EMEA CEO has been very open about his own vulnerabilities and concerns,” says Simon. “He’s saying to everyone that it’s ok to have good days and bad days; it’s ok to talk about your bad days and say ‘hey, I need some time out here’. He’s letting us all know that it’s not a weakness. When that comes from the top down it changes the conversations you can have at line management level and in one-to-ones.”

8. Measurement

Like most aspects of business investment, results need to be measured. This has always been a challenge for health benefits and wellness programmes.

  • As a plan sponsor, assess whether your benefits are hitting the mark. Are they being understood? Are they being used? And what’s different as a result of that?

Utilisation data is essential to judging success of your benefits: Are 80% of the benefits being used by 20% of the workforce? In which case, what are you missing out on? And how could you drive that figure up? How can this figure inform decisions about your benefits as a whole?

9. Look beyond the workplace

Our survey found that 66% of employers think that COVID-19 has increased employee expectations of employer-provided support and 63% believe responsibility for employee well-being goes beyond workplace now.

What are the limits to an employer’s duty of care? And what are the benefits of looking beyond work hours and workplaces when addressing employee well-being?

“Think about what you’re trying to achieve as a business,” says Simon. “You’re trying to enable somebody to be the best that they can, to enjoy their work, to come to work and be present, energised, productive and feel a sense of purpose.

“Assuming these are your aims, you need to address anything that might impact a person’s ability to achieve that. What they might be going through outside of work is going to have a big impact on that. It goes beyond duty of care and becomes a part of a forward-thinking well-being strategy that recognises that your stresses outside of work are likely to impact you inside of work.”

This is particularly relevant to expats: “If your family is being moved overseas because of your work, it can feel often feel to them like a forced move and that can bring a whole host of challenges with it. Employers have a responsibility to support the employee but to also to help settle the family: building community locally in a foreign country, accessing health care, schools, and staying in touch with loved ones back home.”

Read: What your employees really think of your workplace wellness benefits

If you’re interested in corporate wellness, you can subscribe to our Fit For Duty podcast? Or you can listen right now.

Why not contact us to see how Aetna International can support your employees’ physical and mental health now and through all the stages of the pandemic? Get in touch in your region.

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