Healthy competition creates win-win for staff and employers

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Health and wellbeing has been the focus of many healthcare providers over the last few years. This is partly because they have wanted to re-position themselves by moving from being viewed as purely sickness insurers to the more positive stance of being viewed as promoters of good health and healthy lifestyles. Many have added to their products services, e.g. on-line healthcare promotion, advice on healthy lifestyles as well as access to discounted gyms and health screens. This of course is not just an altruistic stance as healthcare providers know that in the long term healthier people are likely to make fewer demands on the need for their services.

Increased focus from providers

Forward-thinking providers have taken a more sophisticated approach to the provision of health and wellbeing services by developing a range of medical insurance plans which have an integral health and wellbeing element. Some of these will work with doctors, scientists and academics to create programmes that help members live a healthier lifestyle. This is more than just offering good advice, like eating better or doing more exercise; it will involve setting specific, realistic goals and then rewarding people for achieving them. Employees will be actively involved in such programmes and are likely to be asked to complete a health review to assess their state of health and as they engage in healthy activities they will be able to see how they are improving against set criteria. They will have access to a wide range of healthcare partners to help them focus on health and wellbeing. This type of approach is interesting to employers because they can buy a complete health and wellbeing package along with their health insurance benefit without having to source services from many different providers. 


There are two key elements that need to be considered when employers want to create a greater awareness of the benefits of health and wellbeing:

  1. It is important to try and generate a culture within the business that this is a positive thing to do, and senior management must share this view and back it up with action by making it clear that they believe a healthier workforce is a more productive workforce. Therefore the commitment to health and wellbeing must come from the top down so that everyone within the business is committed to achieving the same objective.
  2. Next, engagement. There is no point in providing a range of activities or initiatives that employers or advisers feel are attractive but that employees do not value, so it is important to do the groundwork first. It is a good idea to speak to an employee benefits consultant or for an employer to do their own research on what other companies have done. Many employers have access to their peer group via employee or HR forums, and this is a great way to make use of them.

Accessible change

There are many things that can be done such as healthy food options provided in a staff canteen, cycle-to-work schemes, smoking-cessation programmes, discounted gym membership, access to health-screening and basic advice which can be provided on line to prompt and encourage people to change behaviour. Behavioural change is the key element and therefore vital if employers are going to see a return. That return may well come in the form of improved absence, lower claims on an employer’s PMI or income protection policies, and at the very least, an improved and more energised workforce. Fitter and healthier people typically feel better about themselves, are more productive and are better able to cope with the stresses and strains of their work or personal commitments.


Another valuable health and wellbeing tool which is used to help employees is an employee assistance programme or EAP, which provides confidential advice on a range of issues such as financial, legal and health but also assists in combating stress-related problems. The provision of a confidential helpline covering these issues has become more relevant in recent years particularly with people working remotely or having limited access to face-to-face support from their HR function. In a recent survey carried out by Employee Benefits Magazine, 69% of the respondents said they felt an EAP greatly assisted in reducing sickness absence, closely followed by the provision of private medical insurance.

Stress-related issues are a major cause of health problems in the workplace and EAPs assist by providing access to telephone and face-to-face counselling services. Helping with work-related stress or stress-related problems outside the workplace is also a key element in developing a health and wellbeing culture, and these programmes can be implemented at a very low cost to a company. A typical comprehensive EAP with face-to-face counselling included can be provided at an annual cost below £10 per employee.

Adopting a greater focus on developing a health and wellbeing culture is also another way of a responsible employer saying ‘we do care about you’. It may sound like a cliché but stating that an employer’s most important asset is their workforce is not only true but even more so during times of economic uncertainty. Yes the pool of available people to employ is greater at times of economic uncertainty and we may also have to trim costs which result in a leaner workforce However, at such times, more than ever before, we have to ensure our workforce is able to cope with greater demands as job roles and responsibilities are shared between a smaller number of people. In this situation we cannot afford to lose key people due to stress or other related health problems.


Are there benefits to improving health and wellbeing? Yes, but we need to be realistic in our expectations, don’t expect meteoric improvements. It’s important to see this in a wider context: see whatever changes you make as steps towards health and wellbeing becoming, over a period of time, part of the company’s culture. There is no doubt a healthier workforce will have a positive impact on presenteeism and absenteeism and anything a company can do in this area saves money. The last CBI survey on Absence & Workplace health reported that corporate UK lost 190 million days in 2010 costing the economy a staggering £17bn. The report confirmed the most common causes of absence or employees not being able to perform to their potential capacity were health issues. So in a way it’s an obvious choice to improve health and wellbeing, but it does require the commitment of the employer and who knows, getting people involved in a bit of healthy competition by working on improving their health may also be fun!

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