News Life and Health29 May 2018

Asia:Fragmented wellness plans fail to meet the needs of stressed employees

| 29 May 2018

Employers in Asia by and large still miss the mark when it comes to health and well-being benefits, with many employees feeling that their needs are not met, according to research from leading global advisory, broking and solutions company Willis Towers Watson.

According to the Willis Towers Watson 2017/2018 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey, managing their health is a top priority for two-thirds of employees (67%) in Asia. Moreover, over half (56%) say that they suffer from elevated levels of stress.

There’s a role for employers, and many are endeavouring to respond by looking beyond traditional benefits and offering behavioural/health management programmes (60%), lifestyle risk management programmes (44%), and financial well-being programmes (33%) to meet the diverse needs of employees.

However, even though 63% of employees say that their employer-sponsored health care plan meets their needs, only 41% say that their employer-sponsored health and well-being initiatives do so.

“The danger is that, although well-intentioned, employers will use a scattergun approach and spend valuable resources on creating standalone and fragmented programmes that employees do not value,” said Dr Amitabh Deka, Regional Consultant, Benefits & Wellness Advisory, Asia & Australia, at Willis Towers Watson.

Employers start to take more strategic approach

Still, it’s encouraging that the move towards being more strategic has already started among Asia employers. By next year, almost all (97%) of employers will have a health and well-being strategy (compared with 64% today) and almost three-quarters plan to differentiate and customise their strategy to make it a key competitive advantage.

“Key to customisation of benefits will also be businesses recognising the interconnectedness between health and well-being issues. For example, from our research we know that an individual’s job, relationships, financials, and health are leading sources of stress, and therefore mental health,” said Cedric Luah, Head of Health & Benefits, Asia and Australasia at Willis Towers Watson.

“We suggest that employers rethink how their programmes are designed and incentivise to create and encourage long-term behavioural changes. Part of this will also be ensuring that they are centred on the employee. Employees do not want to be told what to do; rather, they want to be supported with programmes that lead to improved well-being. It’s an essential balance that’s not very easy to achieve.”

What employers can do

Willis Towers Watson suggests that employers can take the following steps to achieve balance:

  1. Use medical claims and health risk data to establish a baseline and test the effectiveness of healthcare and well-being programmes through financial and non-financial metrics. This approach ensures relevant changes to make programmes effective. There’s a positive increase in the percentage of those who plan to use organisational or analytics to test the effectiveness of programmes by 2019 (currently 20% to 81% by 2019).
  2. Introduce the “right” programmes. Employers should first understand which health and well-being programmes are valued by their employees, and what will generate positive outcomes rather than introduce one-off programmes which could be costly and ineffective. Once you have a better understanding of your particular workforce, you can design your benefits to be more relevant as well as providing greater flexibility and choice.
  3. Leverage technology in their programmes, policies and culture, as 62% of employees are already using it to manage their own health. Just over two in five (41%) use wearables to monitor fitness activity or sleep, while 40% use technology to monitor a health condition, and 34% to track eating habits.

“While online tools help employees make better decisions about health choices, the real change will come from solutions that connect individuals and employers,” noted Dr Deka. “Technology can be key to integrate these programmes that link multiple areas of an employee’s life and help to create a consumer-grade experience that is critical to attracting employees and sustaining employee engagement.”


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