In February, we gathered some of our key clients from across the UK to discuss the state of the UK’s healthcare, and the role employers and employee benefits play in the changing landscape.
Henry Clover, chief dental officer at Simplyhealth Professionals and Pam Whelan, Director of Corporate, both gave insightful presentations, on oral health and its link to overall wellbeing, and the state of the UK’s healthcare and employers’ roles within it, respectfully.
Through both presentations a couple of key messages stood out: a health and wellbeing strategy is now a must for employers, as well as educating employees on the importance of taking responsibility for their own everyday health and promoting a preventative approach to healthcare through a CLEVER use of communications.
The round table discussion that followed focussed the future of health and wellbeing strategies, and on prioritising the maintenance of a workforce, homing in on three key areas: financial health, physical health and a topic standing firmly in the media spotlight at the moment: mental health.
Mental health in the workplace
Following prominence in the news cycles, support from the Royal Family and the recent Thriving at Work report on mental health in the workplace, it’s fair to say mental health has shot to the top of many employers’ agendas.
How can employers be supporting employees with mental health problems? The discussion was a positive one. Employees are seemingly happy and willing to be open about their mental wellbeing and clients are highly engaged in working towards maintaining better mental health within their workforce.
It was agreed across the board that a key factor in this is educating line management. Line management is best placed to spot the symptoms of an employee struggling with mental health and also best placed to help said employee. John Lewis are just about to roll out a training programme to educate line management on spotting signs and speaking with their staff and Hilton ran sessions along the charity Mind to improve line managers’ awareness.
Having an excellent and easy-to-access EAP programme is great, but the 1:1 discussion with line management is just as important.
Obstacles to overcome
As well as educating line management, the discussion identified challenges in reducing the stigma around mental health; reducing presenteeism levels, which can be very difficult to monitor; and working with remote workers – how do you, as an employer, recognise a change when you don’t see that employee on a regular basis?
‘Mental First Aiders’ were trialled at Royal Mail and received negatively, with employees failing to understand that rather than provide counselling, these first aiders were there not as a medical professional, but as a signpost. With hindsight, calling them ‘wellbeing champions’ may have worked better with their role being to raise awareness and support the line manager specifically.
Looking at new ways of communicating to employees is high on companies’ agendas, and working with providers will be instrumental in maintaining high levels of engagement. Using the EAP as an example, it was suggested communicating more everyday services would be useful, like neighbourhood disputes rather than poor mental health. Continuing to communicate on the preventative aspect and renaming the service were also suggested.
Consistent communications within a multi-generational workforce
Consistent communications with employees around their benefits package are vital. It is not enough to communicate around renewal windows; companies should be keeping engagement high all through the year. But how are we communicating in a world of multi-generational workforces? We asked whether our clients tailored their communications strategy dependent on age and whether it worked. The response was mixed.
As large organisations, with employees working at different sites with access to different communications channels, as well as highly diverse workforces, it can be difficult to tailor communications to suit all generations. It proves costly and time consuming.
Staff notice boards and posters are still used but employees can become desensitised to these. Roadshows are becoming less worthwhile although having mini check-ups with medical professionals there would make them more meaningful.
Communications is one of the biggest challenges large, diverse employers are facing, and they are struggling to keep employees engaged through traditional communication methods. They are looking to their benefits providers to be able to help with navigating this in the coming years.
There is much more providers can do to support their clients. Companies are facing a host of upcoming hurdles, employees’ financial health being one of the more worrying (“putting food on the table is more important than a cash or dental plan”). Looking at ways we can support clients with financial education requirements is significant in the near future.
Companies want to work with a trusted brand. They want good customer service, good welcome pack information, good complaint resolution and speedy claims reimbursements.
Suggestions going forward included: a combined proposition making clear all benefits are coming from Simplyhealth and an incentive to increase take up at the outset of the sign up process.