DUBAI, UAE, 15 February 2016 - Willis Towers Watson, a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company, released their latest Staying@Work Survey on workforce health and productivity in the GCC. According to the survey, almost half (45%) of GCC employers currently have a workforce health and productivity strategy in place, above the global average of 37%.  In fact, 20% of employers have an advanced strategy customized for different segments of the workforce and use analytics to test effectiveness. This stage of strategy development is double the global average and is expected to reach 45% in three years’ time.

“Employers in the GCC want to be at the forefront of global initiatives to improve workforce health. They recognize that they can support their employees to better manage their health, and in so doing manage the cost of ill-health to their business. This study shows how investing in workforce health isn’t just a nice-to-do, it actually makes good business sense and can be a win-win for employers and employees alike. Employers can get a healthy return on their investment from more engaged and productive employees, and employees get the support they need to improve their health status”, said Steve Clements, Director Health and Group Benefits at Willis Towers Watson.

Nearly 8 out of 10 GCC participants (79%) expect their commitment to employee health & productivity to increase in the next 3 years, while 71% of GCC respondents identify this as important to their strategy.

Despite the low engagement of GCC employees (33%) in health and productivity plans, the Willis Towers Watson 2015/2016 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey (GBAS) revealed that for two thirds of employee respondents around the world health is a priority and they also want their employer to take an active role in encouraging and supporting them. In order to improve employee participation, 25% of employers in the region are planning to re-evaluate whether to use more incentives such as financial rewards, team-based, or biometric outcomes based.

The top 5 top workforce health issues identified in the GCC are stress (70%) followed by tobacco (50%), which does not feature in the top 5 globally; lack of physical activity (48%); obesity / overweight (39%); and poor diet (36%). As stress continues to be considered the biggest health risk by employers in the region, 45% of them stated that in the coming 3 years they are planning to implement a stress management program, while 33% plan to implement a counselling Employee Assistance Program (EAP). In addition, 32% of the organizations plan to implement tobacco cessation programs while 32% plan to implement weight management programs.

The Global Benefits Attitudes Survey also found a disconnection between employer and employee perceptions on the main causes of stress across the world. While the latter associated issues related to pay as the top cause, the employers don’t even consider this in the top 10 causes. Instead, lack of work life balance and availability of technology that expand the working day are seen as the number one and three causes of stress respectively, which can lead to misalignment of employer initiatives.  

Globally, the lack of budget or resources was cited as the top barrier to changing employee behaviors (39%), while in the GCC this did not feature in the top 5 reasons, the main barrier being Lack of Actionable Data (50%). Only 1 in 5 GCC companies are able to successfully measure the impact of their programs on health risks and healthcare costs.

“The health risks that employers see in their workforce here in the GCC (UAE) bear some similarities to global trends but equally show some unique differences. They can’t just take global templates and roll them out without making them locally relevant. Employers here are saying they are ready and willing to invest in workforce health but they need to start measuring and creating this data to make better, smarter and more informed decisions. They want to ensure that their initiatives are aligned to the health needs and perspectives of their workforce in order to get employees more engaged in managing their health risks”, said Steve Clements.

GCC employers are today relying to a large extent (59%) on external providers such as their insurer to help them encourage healthy employee behaviors, and focusing on the design of plans like their medical insurance (47%). In 3 years’ time, the focus is expected to shift to developing broader healthy workplace / culture strategies (71%) supported by financial incentives (6% now rising to 29% in 3 years), as well as plan design (47%).

About the Surveys

The 2015/2016 Willis Towers Watson Staying@Work Survey was completed between May and July 2015 in North America, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia by 1,669 employers. The survey captures details on each organisation's health and well-being strategy and programs in their respective local markets. Additionally, 42 multinational firms responded to a complementary survey capturing the perspective of the global headquarters. In total, the data include responses from 34 countries/markets. Seventy-three percent of respondents operate in multiple countries, and respondents are in all major industry sectors.

The 2015/2016 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey (GBAS) is a comprehensive global study highlighting employees' attitudes toward their health and retirement benefits. The survey contains nearly 30,000 responses collected across 19 countries who completed an online questionnaire in Summer 2015. The survey builds upon previous iterations to examine a core set of retirement and health themes and how they change over time, how they are shaped by company changes, and how they influence employee engagement and productivity.

About Willis Towers Watson

Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW) is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company that helps clients around the world turn risk into a path for growth. With roots dating to 1828, Willis Towers Watson has 39,000 employees in more than 120 countries. We design and deliver solutions that manage risk, optimize benefits, cultivate talent, and expand the power of capital to protect and strengthen institutions and individuals. Our unique perspective allows us to see the critical intersections between talent, assets and ideas — the dynamic formula that drives business performance. Together, we unlock potential.