Health and wellbeing strategies are evolving fast as employers seek to create more inclusive workplaces. New products and services are emerging to support everything from neurodiversity to fertility and men’s health, but a joined-up approach is essential.
Willis Towers Watson’s 2022 Emerging Trends in Healthcare Delivery report shows how demand is shifting. It found that competition for talent (72%) and an increased focus on inclusion and diversity (67%) are the key drivers behind benefits reviews. New focuses include one in four looking to introduce support for neurodiversity and a fifth looking for support for men’s health (22%), reproductive health (20%) and carers (20%).
Lucie McGrath, director, health and benefits (GB) at Willis Towers Watson, says it makes sound business sense to offer more inclusive health and wellbeing programmes. “Together, these groups make up a sizeable part of the workforce,” she says. “Feeling excluded can take its emotional toll on an employee, making them less productive and more likely to leave or reduce their hours. It can also support other business objectives: offering benefits such as fertility, menopause and carers’ supports will help an organisation attract and retain women and achieve gender parity in pay.”
More inclusive benefits are also expected by employees. Millennials were already demanding this approach but the pandemic has accelerated this trend across the workforce. Organisations that fail to recognise this shift could lose out in the talent war.
One of the key focuses for organisations extending their health and wellbeing programmes is women’s health. “We’re seeing lots of clients asking for support for menopause,” says Debra Clark, head of specialist consulting at Towergate Health & Protection. “It’s only a small part of women’s health but it’s great that there’s this interest.”
It’s not surprising: government statistics show that although menopausal women are the fastest growing demographic in the workplace, a quarter consider leaving their job with one in 10 handing in their notice. Wellbeing of Women, the charity behind the Menopause Workplace Pledge, estimates that around 900,000 women have quit their jobs as a result of the menopause.
To help employers change this, a range of women’s health services are available. These include standalone ones such as Peppy and Fertifa but also add-ons to insurance products.
Francesca Steyn, director of fertility and women’s health at Peppy, explains: “We offer services for menopause, fertility and women’s health more broadly, either on a standalone basis or through partnerships with Vitality and Axa. Women can struggle to access support through their GP. It takes an average of 7.5 years to get an endometriosis diagnosis and the symptoms for polycystic ovary syndrome can often be masked.”
Bupa is among the insurers that have recognised the need for more women’s health support. As well as its menopause healthline, it has a variety of opt-in benefits for different women’s health services. These include menopause, where employees can access support through Bupa clinics, and fertility, which provides assisted fertility and egg freezing. “We’re always looking at how we can extend these services to ensure we support a diverse workforce,” explains Louise Harvey, propositions director at Bupa. “On the women’s health front, we’re currently developing a proposition for period problems. This will give employees access to women’s health experts to solve common period problems such as endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome.”
Another area of health and wellbeing that is receiving more attention is neurodiversity. Johnny Timpson, consultant and member of the Group for Autism, Insurance, Investment and Neurodiversity (GAIN) committee, says: “One in seven people are neurodivergent and there is a real need for more support and understanding in the workplace. Simple adjustments such as offering hybrid and flexible working, avoiding noise and bright lights and having a different colour palette on screens can make a huge difference.”
Services are emerging in this space. As an example, Bupa offers manager training and support resources and is rolling out an assessment, diagnosis and treatment benefit as an opt-in on its corporate medical insurance.
As waiting lists for a diagnosis are long in both the NHS and the private sector, Clark welcomes this move. “Someone’s mental health can be badly affected if they’re not aware they’re neurodivergent. These types of services are very positive,” she says.
The latest wave of products may be seeking to expand beyond the traditional benefits model, but organisations also want to do more for men’s health. McGrath says it’s a bit of a buzzword at the moment. “There are plenty of statistics to show that men are dying prematurely. They don’t seek medical help as readily as women so there’s a need to address this,” she says. Harvey agrees. She’s particularly keen to ensure that men are able to access mental health services. “There are still stigmas around this but it can often come down to communications,” she says. “We saw one company where there was poor mental health. The workforce, which was predominantly male, spent a lot of time on the road so we put stickers in their vans with the helpline numbers. It reached them and made it relevant.”
While it’s positive that there are plenty of products and services available to support a more inclusive health and wellbeing strategy, its success comes down to the culture of the organisation. “Employers need to show they care and understands that everyone is an individual,” says McGrath. “Not every organisation can afford all these benefits so we recommend they look at what they can do.”
Flexibility and inclusive policies can help to set the right tone. Policies should be sufficiently broad to cover everyone that could be affected with advisers well placed to provide an objective eye to existing wordings. Line managers also have a key role to play in an inclusive strategy. Clark recommends providing them with training so they are aware of the resources that are available. “They are usually the first to notice a change in someone. Being aware of the types of things people could be going through and what’s available to support them will help point employees in the right direction,” she explains.
It’s also beneficial to involve employees, with Timpson recommending setting up employee resource groups. “For a larger company, these are a great way to find out what employees want,” he explains. “Smaller companies can plug into industry groups, such as GAIN, to help them meet employee needs.”
Engaging with employees can help to shape the benefits and support that an organisation offers but, where there are budgetary constraints, it is still possible to create an inclusive health and wellbeing programme. “Benefits are evolving fast and many will now include cover for some of these additional areas of health and wellbeing,” says Clark. “An EAP can be a great starting point; I’d recommend highlighting the breadth of advice and support they can offer employees. If an employer can demonstrate that it understands the issues employees may face, they will be more likely to approach it for help when they need it.”
There is also plenty of training material available from benefits providers but also charities. This can also help to create a more inclusive workplace without breaking the budget. “Doing something is better than nothing,” adds McGrath. “Ultimately, an employer needs to show they understand, hear employees and support them.”