Author

Towers Watson Media 

Rebekah Haymes

Senior Consultant

Towers Watson

Whilst employers turn their attention to wellness strategies and programmes, many are also considering the link with more traditional benefit programmes. Rebekah Haymes explores the approach employers are now taking to ensure a holistic review of all health related benefit programmes.

There is greater pressure than ever to achieve maximum value from the current benefit spend and provide evidence of a positive return on this investment.

In the current climate, where employers are tussling with much tighter budgets, they are also striving for a healthy and productive workforce. There is therefore a greater pressure than ever to achieve maximum value from the current benefit spend and to start providing evidence of a positive return on this investment. With an aging working population, the need to ‘future proof’ benefits has also never been greater.

It is no longer just about ensuring costs and benefit designs are competitive and fit for purpose. Increasingly, organisations are seeking to maximise usage of health support. The aim is to create an integrated approach to claims analysis and management, with effective processes across all health benefits to help to create efficiencies and ultimately deliver greater value. Whilst evidence of measuring return on investment of health and wellness benefits in the UK is in its infancy, many employers are starting to take steps to improve interventions and processes. Even without any hard return on investment measures, employers are recognising that the effects will improve employee health outcomes. It is often the value of the investment that is considered as opposed to any monetary savings.

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Why take a holistic approach?

Our 2012/13 Health, Wellbeing and Productivity Survey found that 39% of companies do not record and track absence effectively.

Without proper recording and processes in place for monitoring absence, organisations cannot begin to improve the management of it. Our 2012/13 Health, Wellbeing and Productivity Survey found that 39% of companies do not record and track absence effectively. This has prevented many employers from being able to understand the main causes of absence and the associated costs.

However, a lack of absence data does not prevent employers from addressing its employees’ health risks and the steps that can be taken to help mitigate these. The most pro-active employers are utilising the support offered by income protection providers in rehabilitating absent employees. In addition, directional treatment interventions are being developed to help signpost absent employees to appropriate services to help with their medical condition. These are just two examples of steps being taken to improve the performance of health benefits.

Whilst only 42% of employers currently target interventions on the primary causes of absence, an additional 27% plan to do so within the next two years.

Our survey also shows that whilst only 42% of employers currently target interventions on the primary causes of absence, an additional 27% plan to do so within the next two years. This helps to demonstrate the importance of claims and usage data reporting in understanding the specific health issues and providing appropriate solutions.

Of course, a holistic approach acts as a very effective precursor to the development of wellness strategies and programmes. However, whilst employers are turning their attention to wellness measures for improving the health of their employees, there is still a strong case for getting your benefits in order too. Making sure any quick wins are identified and actioned is key.

Achieving a successful outcome

A holistic approach to a more detailed health benefits review coupled with a focus on a managed spend, effective process and targeted support leads to improved end-to-end absence processes. It also enables management to make greater and more targeted interventions to ensure speedier returns to work. A review of this nature will aid a thorough understanding of health risks and priorities to enable management to frame preventative measures, such as health awareness educational material or activities, which could be introduced to support a longer term strategy for wellbeing.

Case study

Our client appointed Towers Watson to review the effectiveness of its developed wellness strategy. Whilst reviewing the preventative interventions its wellness programme offered, our client also wanted to consider the effectiveness of its benefit programmes. The aims of the project were to ensure:

  • Benefits that support employees when they are ill, were delivering on the business objectives.
  • Benefits are utilised appropriately.
  • Processes aligned to the benefits on offer are achieving a greater return to work rate.

We reviewed a number of data sources, processes and programme costs with the view of ensuring a consistent assessment of benefit claims, absence rates, programme usage and outcomes. We carried out a deep dive analysis, cross referencing data and processes to ensure a proactive and results-driven approach was delivered.

The outcome of the review identified a number of areas of focus including:

  • The need for more consistent absence recording and reporting across multiple sites.
  • The need for greater interaction between the occupational health team and the income protection insurance provider to achieve earlier interventions and improved return to work rates.
  • The introduction of treatment interventions for those employees suffering from stress related and musculo-skeletal medical conditions.
  • Assessing the appropriateness of wellness programmes in addressing health risks along with the effectiveness of biometric testing, including testing for high blood pressure and cholesterol.

We helped our client identify the areas to be addressed and prioritised them so as to help build a three year roadmap to improve benefit and wellness delivery. Beyond this our client will consider how it can measure the impact of these approaches so as to try to start to quantify a return on investment.