Prioritising employee wellbeing

Today, there is more focus on employee health and wellbeing than ever before.

By Kristian Orispää
Contributors: Henrik Rahm, Markus Munter, Mark Welsh, Salla Lind-Kohvakka and Sofi Alverstrand

Health and wellbeing have become increasingly important issues for employees in recent years. Likewise, prospective employees now also put far greater emphasis on healthcare and medical benefits when looking for new jobs and career opportunities.

According to Mark Welsh, Head of Employee Benefits Underwriting, Norway, “The complete benefits package has become ever more important over the past decade, and this includes access to quality healthcare services. In fact, it is not uncommon for job interviews to include some time spent on which health service providers are offered by the recruiting company.”

Alongside health benefits, people are looking for roles that offer more than just a paycheck.  As noted in a recent Gallup report, How Millennials Want to Work and Live, millennials are “the least engaged generation in the workplace” and most likely to switch jobs, noting, “six in 10 millennials are open to new job opportunities.”

“Millennials and younger generations are not solely driven by money,” Sofi Alverstrand, Head of Employee Benefits Underwriting, Sweden, explains. “The trend for many years has been that younger employees prefer to ’hop’ into new roles elsewhere, they actively look for new challenges, and are driven by the need to gain experience in different roles and across different industries.”

In addition to the above, many employers are actively looking to promote and maintain the wellbeing of their employees. The aging workforce means that these efforts will continue well into the future, from on-premises gym facilities and healthy lunch campaigns to sports day events, with the aim of raising awareness of health-related issues, from nutrition to physical fitness and more.

Physical wellbeing makes a difference

Looking at some fundamental concerns that employers face, at If Insurance we see two key challenges. One issue is the amount of exercise that employees are getting, and the other relates to the impact of ergonomics.

Markus Munter, Head of Employee Benefits Underwriting, Finland, states that, “General fitness and wellbeing are important for an employees’ effectiveness at work. This also has a positive impact, for example, by decreasing the number of sick days.“

A third key component concerns work-life balance. According to Eurostat, one of the biggest factors disrupting the Nordic workplace is time pressure. How can employees find the extra time to work out? And in this respect, where, when and how will employees manage to keep active? Finding time for regular exercise can be a challenge, as people are increasingly short on free time. Some companies offer discounts to gyms or install gym equipment in the office to help with this issue.

As Salla Lind-Kohvakka, Nordic Digital Employee Benefits Development Manager, notes, “Add to this the fact that in general the workforce is aging, and therefore the focus on general physical health will only continue. Stress, burnout and anxiety are on the rise around the world and the coronavirus pandemic has not helped this situation. For many of us, sometimes what we need is rest, instead of an active workout. Therefore, a little bit of free time is easily filled with a quick nap, or just relaxing and enjoying a moment of silence.”

COVID-19 and the workplace

While the negative impacts of long COVID, including muscular and skeletal disorders, are still being being researched, more common issues have emerged during the pandemic, including decreased physical exercise and increased cases relating to depression. Furthermore, the global coronavirus pandemic has clearly raised concerns among existing and potential employees about the medical benefits and healthcare services they have access to.

“In the United Kingdom, there are some two million people suffering from the impact of ‘long COVID’ which includes muscular and skeletal issues that have arisen following coronavirus infections,” Mark Welsh, explains. “Similarly, chiropractors and physiotherapists are increasingly in demand to help people recover from the virus.”

With new COVID-19 variants emerging (not least the Delta variant) and many nations now experiencing a third or fourth wave of infections, many employers are facing a rise in corona-related cases in their workforce.

From physical health concerns, extending to mental health issues, the ongoing pandemic has had, and continues to have, an impact on employee health. This has led to not only a decline in individual performances but has negatively impacted company productivity overall as a result.

According to Mark Welsh, “What we are seeing is that a greater emphasis on mental health cover is steadily growing. People are different and while some have managed well through lockdowns and possible periods of quarantine, others have truly struggled with the changes that have come with the pandemic.”

Overall, general interest in health insurance has increased among employers. For many companies, one challenge lies in promoting the value of comprehensive health insurance to prospective employees. 

Meanwhile, across the Nordics, there are differences in the medical benefits offered to employees, as well as variations on what public health services are available to citizens. However, in many Nordic countries, public health services have not increased in line with the needs of an aging population.

Markus Munter continues, “In Finland, employers are providing more personal insurances for their employees, in comparison to previous years. In addition, the public health sector is struggling and is not able to manage the challenges of an aging population nor the increase in demand for medical services.”

“During the pandemic, we see that generally mental health cases are on the rise, as are musculoskeletal disorders. The latter is possibly a result of less exercise and poor remote working ergonomics. However, there are mixed results when we look at changes in the workload, and the impact on work-life balance. For example, many people are spending more time in meetings, leading to decreased productivity. Arguably, this issue has emerged slowly during the lockdown and employees need to consider new ways to reduce or limit the number of meetings.”

“As COVID-19 continues, and eventually (hopefully) subsides, remote work will continue to play an important role in many occupations and workplaces. The future hybrid way of working (e.g., 50% at home and 50% in an office) is something that employers need to take into consideration when thinking about the wellbeing of their employees,” Markus Munter concludes.

Cost of sickness

According to the Swedish Arbetsmiljöverket, an employee on sick leave due to poor ergonomics costs a minimum of SEK 2,740 per day. However, this figure is only part of the actual cost employers pay in cases where an employee is sick.

A poor work environment directly impacts productivity. In the study, “Lighting, air quality and high noise levels are three important factors that have an impact on how we perform at work. Poor lighting can cause load damage and a study shows that poor ventilation lowers performance by up to 15%.”

Sofi Alverstrand explains that “Employers are focusing more and more on preventive measures, and occupational healthcare workers are actively looking to reduce sick leave instances.”

For example, taking steps to prevent employees from stress-related burnout is of vital importance. In fact, stress is the leading cause of sick leave and absence from work. The Arbetsmiljöverket study found that employee burnout can cost “a minimum of SEK 388,000.”

In the Nordics, on average, one day away from work can cost between 300–500 euros per employee. The true cost, however, is much higher, as indirect costs include replacement labour, lost sales, lost labour input and lost business opportunities.

Minimising absences, incidents and accidents

Promoting an active and healthy lifestyle includes having an approach that offers something for everyone, regardless of an employee’s current physical condition, eating habits or medical history. Employers can encourage wellbeing in the workplace by providing healthy food in the canteen, fruit, as well as opportunities for walking meetings.

Salla Lind-Kohvakka notes, “Although this might not fix the immediate problems, it is a crucial step for employers to take. It takes time to create programs that aim to improve your employee’s mindset towards health and wellbeing. Inspiring employees to be physically active and to eat healthily through positive efforts and promotions in the company is especially important. Consider working together with external partners for fresh ideas, theme days and new incentives for employees on topics relating to fitness and wellbeing.”

Henrik Rahm, Nordic Head of Employee Benefits Underwriting, concludes, “By raising awareness of health and wellbeing related issues and topics, you will provide your employees with the knowledge, services and support to inspire them. Enable your employees to make more informed decisions on health-related issues, from nutrition to sleep and recovery, as well as physical exercise. All these variables will help them improve their quality of life and physical wellbeing.

As we all know, employers have a vested interest in having a healthy, productive workforce – this helps reduce the number of accidents and incidents and supports the overall performance of your company in its daily operations.”

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