As companies around the world strive for competitive advantage, they are stepping up their efforts to improve the health and productivity of their workers. Even in countries with government-provided health care, employers are offering additional coverage to supplement these provisions or to allow faster access to treatment.
Building a sustainable global employee health strategy, however, has its challenges: Health care costs continue to rise globally while, in some countries, government-sponsored benefits are being scaled back. What's more, worker health globally continues to be affected by widespread lifestyle risks ranging from stress and mental disorders to obesity and heart disease.
Towers Watson's second annual global survey on workforce health issues presents insights into the strategies and local approaches currently used by multinationals. Following are some of our key findings.
Employee Health Is a Growing Concern
Three-quarters of respondents report employee health as more of a priority for their organization for 2011 through 2012, and even more (87%) expect it to be a higher priority for 2013 through 2015.
Plans to Address the Lack of Workforce Health Strategy
While only about a third (32%) of all respondents currently have a global workforce health strategy in place (marginally up from 26% last year), nearly half (47%) plan to adopt one within two years. However, less than one-quarter (23%) of multinationals headquartered in Asia currently have a strategy, and one-third (33%) have no plans to adopt one.
Emphasis on Worker Health Varies by Region
Reasons for a growing emphasis on workforce health vary significantly by region. In Asia, the focus is on the need to compete for top talent, while cost containment continues to be the primary concern in the U.S. Multinationals based in Europe are interested in reducing absenteeism and improving employee health and safety.
Wellness Programs Growing in Popularity
Wellness programs are offered by three-quarters of companies overall and have been growing in popularity. However, less than two-thirds of Asia-headquartered companies (62%) currently incorporate wellness into employee benefit and total rewards programs
Communicating Employee Health and Safety Strategy Is Critical
Slightly more than one-third of companies (37%) that have a global health strategy have communicated it extensively to their local managers and employees, and only 13% have extensively communicated it to the entire global workforce. Without a significant communication initiative, multinationals' goals for their health strategy will be difficult to achieve.