Health and wellbeing for a changing workforce

Those aged 18 – 34 will soon make up around half the entire UK workforce. How can health and wellbeing programmes shift to meet their needs? Asks Pippa Andrews at VitalityHealth

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Apr 11, 2019
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Workplace demographics are changing. And that means employee health and wellbeing needs are changing too.

The so-called Millennial generation already makes up 35% of the UK workforce, and is expected to account for 50% all employees by 2020, according to accountant KPMG’s Meet the Millennials report.

Keeping them healthy and motivated, while continuing to meet older workers’ needs, is one of the biggest wellbeing challenges facing employers today. 

Faith Howe, Director of Talent at communications agency FleishmanHillard Fishburn, said: “Millennials approach work and life differently to those who have gone before.  

“This creates opportunities, as well as challenges and places different imperatives on health and wellbeing support.” 

Given this backdrop, it’s hardly surprising that more than half the companies that responded to insurer Aon’s latest Benefits and Trends Survey admitted that their current benefits programmes did not meet the needs of all generations. 

Or that 90% expect they will need to change their benefits offerings as future generations begin their careers. 

Liz Hayward, Marketing Director at management coaching software company Open Blend, said: “With five generations in the current workplace, there is a complex landscape for employers and managers to navigate when it comes to understanding the needs and motivations of their people.”  

Here, we explore some of the different approaches companies can take to ensure their health and wellbeing programmes meet the needs of the modern workforce. 

Prioritise mental health

Mental health has long taken a back seat to physical health, both in the workplace and elsewhere. 

With Vitality’s Britain’s Healthiest Workplace research showing that close to nine in 10 employees are exposed to at least one mental health and wellbeing risk, it’s time for that to change. 

The good news is that a growing number of employers now recognise the impact mental health issues can have on productivity and profitability – and have started to take action accordingly. 

“In the last two years, we have seen a concentrated focus on workplace mental health initiatives as businesses recognise the role they have to play,” Hayward said. 

But it’s also important not to forget that workers from different age groups have different mental health needs.

Vitality’s research shows that Millennials are more likely to struggle with depression, while their older colleagues are more predisposed to suffering from workplace stress. 

And according to Willis Towers Watson’s Global Benefits Attitudes Survey, published last year, younger workers are much more likely to talk about stress or mental health problems, with 48% of Millennials saying they would seek support from family, friends or co-workers, compared to 32% of Generation X-ers and 21% of Baby Boomers. 

The younger generation’s inclination towards sharing helps explain the success of online MH support community Big White Wall, evidence from which reveals a 41% reduction in GP appointments as a result of using the service and 51% of employed members said they were more productive at work. 

Harness technology to improve communication

Whatever employee benefits you offer, they can only help those who take advantage of them. 

So, communicating effectively about your health and wellbeing programme is essential to its success – especially as take up of Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) is currently only about 5%. 

At the present time, emails and poster campaigns are the most popular means of communicating about employee benefits. 

However, higher tech online solutions are likely to become increasingly widely used as Millennials – who have been using the internet since before they hit their teens – start to make up more of the workforce. 

Online benefits portals, for example, are becoming more commonplace, with Aon’s figures showing 45% of employers already have one in place and a further 20% plan to introduce one within the next three years. 

And health and wellbeing apps are a huge growth area – so much so that it now pays to be prudent about which ones you take on. 

“Easy-to-access, ‘always on’ apps that are flexible and personalised will become the norm,” Howe said. 

“That said, streamlining is key, as app fatigue is definitely a problem when organisations jump on the bandwagon across all aspects of their employee experience.”    

It’s vital where health and wellbeing is concerned to ensure the apps you choose are evidence-based. The good ones speak for themselves in terms of outcomes and, in particular, supporting prevention goals. 

For example, around 20,000 Vitality members have logged mindfulness activities through Healthy Mind - a product that incentivises members to engage in mindfulness activity through a range of apps - since its launch. Significantly, of these individuals, around 70% did not report being at risk for more severe mental health issues through the Vitality Age assessment – a measure of how healthy you are relative to your actual age. Therefore, this product is appealing significantly in a preventative sense, with members using the app to manage their wellbeing and prevent problems in the future.

Stay human in a hi-tech world

According to Aon’s survey, just 2% employers now think they have no responsibility for influencing employee health. 

Conversely, more than 95% agree that employees’ expectations of their work experience are changing, with flexible working hours, agile working, mental health, and diversity moving up the agenda. 

This growing requirement for flexibility is just one aspect of the more human approach Millennial workers value in their employers. 

So, while apps and online solutions can enhance benefits communications, it’s vital not to ignore the power of face-to-face chats. 

“Research shows that the younger generations in the workforce are looking to work for organisations that can demonstrate a genuinely people-centric culture,” Hayward said. 

“The need to create genuine human connections at work and build relationships is becoming increasingly important. 

“So, things like flexible, agile working; cool workspaces that encourage interaction; and a more human-focused approach to people management are key.” 

This is particularly true when it comes to helping those experiencing mental health issues, which is one reason many industry experts believe that the growing world of Internet Assisted Cognitive Behavioural Therapy definitely has its place, but works best in conjunction with face-to-face sessions.


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We’re the first insurance company to reward people for healthy living. We aim to be the best at what we do, offering comprehensive and award-winning Health and Life cover and positively different investments to our members. We believe in the idea of ‘shared value’: we help you take a more active role in managing your own wellness, which can encourage you to develop healthy long-term habits that are good for you, good for us and good for society.

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