Investing in employees’ health makes good business sense

Author: Criselda Diala-McBride | Date: 10 Feb 2016

Willis Towers Watson survey examines GCC’s workplace wellness issues

Steve ClementsEmbracing a workplace wellness strategy could help organisations in the GCC region achieve significant healthcare cost reductions, improve staff productivity and become more profitable, according to a new survey from Willis Towers Watson.
 
“It makes good business sense [when you consider that] the medical premium rates in this part of the world are much higher than other regions,” says Steve Clements, director of health and group benefits at Willis Towers Watson. “It’s quite typical to see 10 to 12 per cent year-on-year medical inflation, which means that if companies don’t do anything, they can expect their health insurance premium to double over a five-year period.”
 
Five of the six largest countries in the Gulf region currently implement a compulsory health insurance scheme, funded by employers, as governments seek to shift some of the responsibility of healthcare funding to the private sector. Even Oman – the only country yet to introduce a similar initiative – is “actively considering” the possibility of requiring employers to provide healthcare cover, according to media reports.
 
Clements’ statement follows the release of Willis Towers Watson’s latest Stay@Work survey, which found that half of GCC respondents saw the lack of actionable data – information that organisations can use to measure the impact of health and wellness initiatives and design suitable programmes for their employees – as the leading barrier to changing behaviours towards health management.
 
According to the study, only one-third of employees in the region have taken part in any wellbeing activity or health-related management programme in the last year.
 
Clements said that the low participation rate is not unique to the GCC. “We saw a relatively low participation across the globe, including the US, where a lot of these wellness programmes are much more mature and well developed. In the GCC, [wellness] is a relatively new initiative that companies are taking.”
 
As more data becomes available from within organisations as well as external suppliers such as insurance companies, he expects organisations will be able to assess the exact requirements of their staff and devise a wellness support policy that encourages engagement.
 
Meanwhile, stress was cited by 70 per cent of responding employers as the top workforce health and productivity issue in the GCC. Despite this, only nine per cent of those surveyed said they have a proper stress management strategy in place for their employees – a figure that is expected to increase to 45 per cent by 2018.
 
What Clements, however, found particularly striking about the survey findings was the disconnect between what employees and employers perceived as causes of workplace stress.
 
“From the employee perspective, [stress] is caused by the constant on-call environment that they work in, [followed by low] salary,” he says. For the employers, it is the lack of work-life balance, inadequate staffing and the presence of technologies that expand the day.
 
“When you have a disconnect like that, the danger is employers will put in place initiatives that they think are going to be supportive to their staff, and yet the employees have a completely different view of what's causing stress. It is important for employers to understand what are the real causes of stress in the workplace [by asking] their employees,” says Clements.