Out Of Touch Health Support: Why Employers Risk Damaging Retention & Productivity

In Employee Benefits, Health and Wellness, Mental Health by Raina Dhillon

A significant disconnect exists between how employers view the health and wellness support they offer and the perceptions of employees. This is one of the main findings of a new report by a global health benefits provider and it’s a reality that is said to be negatively impacting productivity.

According to research by Aetna International, despite the vast majority of businesses (94%) saying they want to prioritise physical and mental health over work, most employees do not agree that this is the case. Indeed, while 70% of employers think they provide good access to health and wellness programmes, less than a quarter (23%) of employees are of the same opinion. In fact, 24% of employees polled actually rated the support provided by their employer as poor.

These findings and more are revealed in the first of two new Business of health 2020 reports from Aetna International, Tackling polarised perceptions of corporate health and wellness, which reveals the opinions and experiences of 5,000 HR Directors and employees in the UK, USA, UAE and Singapore. The report was commissioned to analyse the changing needs of employees and employers globally, with a specific focus on individual mental and physical health priorities, and the impact they have on businesses.

‘Companies need to do more’

When it comes to the greatest risks to productivity and time off, employers say flu and other common viral diseases are the biggest health challenge, closely followed by stress, serious illness, back pain and mental health issues. But despite stress ranking so highly, over a third (38%) of employees view stress support as poor. This compares to just 1 in 10 (11%) employers.

While disparity exists across all countries included in the study, it is particularly pronounced in the UAE, where employees rate access to programmes that support health and wellness as the poorest globally, with only 20% ranking them as good. Meanwhile, three-quarters (76%) of HR Directors in the UAE rate access to wellness programmes as good – the highest number internationally.

Perhaps of most concern is the fact that 87% of employees globally say they are worried that stress could impact their ability to work in the future. Yet there is a widespread perception that employer support programmes are seemingly lacking, which could affect companies’ ability to recruit and retain the best talent, as well as their future productivity and performance.

According to the Aetna International report, two-thirds (67%) of workers said they wouldn’t join a company if it didn’t have a clear mental health support policy, including stress, anxiety or depression, highlighting the priorities of today’s jobseekers.

Speaking about the findings of the research, Dr Mitesh Patel, Medical Director at Aetna International, said: “A clear gap is emerging globally when it comes to the level of mental and physical health support businesses are providing and the impact this is having on employees. While employers recognise that offering wellness and health support is becoming as vital as policies around holiday time, sick leave and retirement plans, companies need to do more to better understand and meet the needs of workforces.”

The Aetna International study should serve as a wake-up call for employers – especially those who think the benefits packages and support programmes they currently offer are meeting the mark in their employees’ eyes.

I have over 15 years client facing experience in the Employee Benefits industry having worked for Mercer HR Consulting and The Willis Group in London. Bringing my expertise to mid and large corporate clients, I joined Premier Choice Healthcare in December 2015, with the aim of advising and developing a varied Corporate client portfolio.