Joining the dots

Workplace health offerings are a confusing patchwork. We need total solutions says Navigator Health managing director Stephen Haynes


Stephen Haynes, Navigator Health
Stephen Haynes, Navigator Health

Workplace health is changing. Scratch that – it’s in a state of flux. Let’s recap some of the stats that we see every day: the workforce is getting older but not healthier. In the past 20 years, the number of people over 65 at work has doubled to 1m. Almost half the working population has a chronic condition, representing around two-thirds of the total spend on healthcare. Three-quarters of spend goes in managing conditions which were preventable. One in four will suffer a mental health related condition at some stage. Employers are seeing double digit PMI increases year on year. Most employers record absence, many fail to consistently manage. Employers love “wellness”, but argue, where’s the return? The list goes on.

So how do we tackle this as an industry, and more importantly, what are the engagement behaviours of us as and employers?

As an industry, we are pretty impressive. If you take everything on offer, we cover practically every health and wellbeing issue an employer could face. Even if you just looked at what some of the group income protection providers offer, you’ve got the makings of a reasonable workplace health & wellbeing programme.

As individuals, we are getting savvy – and we have a huge industry growing up around us to meet our thirst for wellness. Just take health apps alone – today there are over 40,000, with an estimated 1,000 new apps coming into the market every month.

Employers are getting smarter at managing the health, wellbeing and engagement of the workforce. But this is still a slow burn and as an industry, we are simply not crossed-skilled enough to recognise and advise on the broader issues. It is still common to see short-term thinking amongst employers to address wider problems. My favourite is tackling PMI increases with the excess – especially those with a cash plan tagged-on – please don’t get me started.

But equally, we have muddied the waters. There is almost too much choice now, so it comes as no surprise to see improved communication of health benefits at the top of many employer’s priorities. Indeed, many of the companies that approach me are looking for integration simply to resolve the communication issue caused by the sheer wealth of benefits they already provide and staff not knowing which benefits to use and when.

Our clients are buying workplace health solutions from different people and I would argue when looking at employee benefits, OH/ rehab and wellness, what appears to be different industries. But because we as an industry do not consistently advise across all sectors, and our clients don’t always buy from the same source, we end up with inconsistencies and ineffective spend.

Let’s also not forget the growth in “wellness” solutions – which to some extent has been fuelled by providers building them in as added-value services. I regularly see employers considering wellness initiatives but either struggling to see the fit in their overall business strategy or buying into them without positioning them as part of a wider wellness strategy and therefore not capitalising on the return they could deliver. This is frustrating to see as I firmly believe, done right, “wellness” does deliver return on investment – and much sooner that we think. 

To quote a fellow peer who said “broking is broken” I would add, “Workplace health is broken”. But is health & wellbeing something which can be tackled by products alone.

Some outsiders, and indeed insiders, feel our industry lacks vision and direction. I agree in part, although I’m not totally convinced. I believe we have a tremendous amount of talent and desire to best serve the needs of our clients in this marketplace. But I believe we need a little more coordination and up-skilling.

At the end of the day, when we face a physical or mental health issue, we are more concerned about getting well than who gets us there. Whether I’m using the employer-paid PMI, whether I’m fortunate enough that the policies and procedures of my employer mean I fall into the early identification category and get managed by the rehab services of the GIP my employer didn’t tell me about, or perhaps use the EAP that, had I been aware of and called from the very outset, would never have gotten into this situation, I’d rather just see better signposting and simpler management from the outset.