How many times this month have you worked over your lunch? Or stayed late? Or checked your emails at the weekend? The answer is probably more times than you’d care to admit.

We’re working in a world that is ‘always on’, and the lines between work and life are becoming increasingly blurred. For most, more time at work means longer periods of inactivity, increased stress, and less physical activity. National figures around obesity and stress-related critical illness paint a bleak picture of worsening national health. And this is a big problem for businesses. Absenteeism has an immediate impact on business productivity, but general poor-health among employees and presenteeism also takes its toll over the longer term.

It’s for these reasons that we’re seeing employee health swiftly rising up the business agenda. For the first time our annual UK Employee Benefits Watch 2016/17 research revealed that employers are ranking ‘improving employee wellness’ as one of the top three positive impacts they’d like to see from their benefits programmes.

The problem is, many employers are struggling to support employees in making better lifestyle choices – continuing to rely on traditional, structured benefits designed to treat rather than prevent illness. For inspiration, HR and reward teams should be looking to the small group of forerunners in this space; those organisations taking a truly transformational approach to workforce wellbeing by offering employees the flexibility to choose the benefits that will keep them healthy and happy.

If you’re looking to kick your health and wellbeing approach into shape, here are 5 questions you need to be asking:

1. Is my benefits strategy supporting my people strategy?

If your primary people objective is to improve employee engagement, then your benefits programme needs to support this. Consider introducing health benefits that will promote exercise, better sleep patterns and healthy eating. It could be as simple as hosting a mindfulness workshop or weekly meditation sessions. And it is already paying off for employers who are aligning their people and benefits strategies, as they are up to 30% more likely to be meeting their benefits engagement objectives

 

2. Is my approach based on prevention or cure?

Traditionally health benefits have focused on providing for an employee when they are ill. For example, over 70% of UK employers still provide life assurance. By comparison, few employers are providing benefits that can prevent employees becoming ill in the first place. Only 29% of employers offer a virtual GP service, even though this will help employees address their health concerns quickly, minimising the time they are out the office and safeguarding business productivity. And 43% of time-poor employees are already crying out for this service.

 

3. Am I really providing for all employees?

There’s no blueprint for getting benefits right because no two workforces are the same. One way around this conundrum is to give power back to employees. Our research found that over half (51%) of employees would appreciate a wellness pot to support them in tackling their personal health goals. Not everyone wants to join the gym – most people would much prefer to do their own thing, whether this is taking a Zumba class, drumming lessons or attending a running club. At present though, only 4% of organisations are providing this level of flexibility by offering wellness pots and letting their employees choose for themselves.

 

4. Are my benefits communications cutting-through?

Even the best benefits in the world will not engage employees if they are not supported by effective communication to promote them. This is particularly pertinent when it comes to health benefits, as these need to be constantly showcased to ensure they remain at the forefront of their minds. This is just one instance when digital communication – a quick e-mail or text – can be key to motivating employees and reminding them of their benefits all year around.  Two thirds (66%) of employees would like to receive digital communication about their benefits, and yet only 50% of employers currently provide this.

 

5. Am I measuring and improving?

Ensure that you are learning from your programmes. Think about how you’re measuring the impact of your new strategy – you’ll need to prove that the investment in health-related benefits is worth it to those who hold the purse strings. If you have introduced visits from an occupational therapist for example, look at reductions in claims for musculoskeletal treatments and how much this will save the business on health insurance premiums. Accessing this type of data is critical to measure effectiveness, and is made infinitely easier if you have an online benefits platform with analytics capabilities.

 

Looking at this year’s UK Employee Benefits Watch 2016/17 research, one statistic leaps out; those employers offering online wellness pots receive an average 23% uplift in employee engagement levels. Enabling your employees to improve their own health will boost productivity and business performance – and if that doesn’t grab the attention of the board I’m not sure what will!