THE global financial crisis continues to bite the health and wellbeing industry as companies shy away from investing in programs that are seen as nice-to-haves. Despite this, the number of employees in voluntary wellbeing programs across Australia is estimated to have doubled in the past four years, largely thanks to government support.
Growth drivers of wellbeing programs
There’s been three drivers attributed to this growth:
- Companies have been adopting health and wellbeing programs to beef up their recruitment offering as wages remain tight.
- A worker health program funded by the Victorian state government, coupled with nearly $300 million in federal government funding for workplace health for six years from 2009-10 from the Department of Health and Ageing (DOHA).
- Splitting voluntary wellbeing programs from OH&S programs.
Government funded programs
The Victorian Government has funded free WorkHealth checks. 15-minute assessments look at heart health and Type 2 diabetes risk.
Outside of the Victorian program, much of the industry’s growth has been in the mining sector where wellbeing programs are being used to attract and retain staff and differentiate employer brands.
Public sector programs
The public sector too has increasingly adopted wellbeing programs for their own departments as governments tackle the problem of what to do with an ageing workforce. But it’s a different story in many other industries, including retail and financial services.
It is estimated that larger organisations spend between $100 and $300 per person a year on their employee wellbeing programs, a figure that hasn’t budged since 2008. Smaller businesses would typically spend even less.
Few Australian companies offer health insurance or subsidised health insurance to their employees. Instead, companies often seek to:
- Improve their employees’ health and wellbeing.
- Find cost-effective total solutions.
- Find metrics to measure the impact of programs on retention, productivity, absenteeism and presenteeism.
For small to medium enterprises:
- Group personal fitness sessions are popular.
- Sessions are available from under $10 per employee per week, onsite or offsite.
- Many personal trainers offer mobile services.
- Wellbeing can be anything from bootcamps to Zumba classes, pilates or a running group.
Another trend emerging is for companies to create stations specifically in their offices that offer a workout in normal work clothes to help resolve the most common problems caused by sitting at a desk all day, such as back and neck tension and stiffness.
The stations are designed to be used:
- A few times a day.
- For three minutes at a time.
- To improve circulation.
- To instill better posture.
- To boost concentration.
- To enhance productivity.
Online wellbeing offerings are growing for businesses small and large, partly because they have an individual feel to them yet can tap into economies of scale. Programs include:
- MLC Best Doctors, a second opinion service for MLC superannuation members.
- HCF My Health Guardian, an online health planning and monitoring tool.
The internet has already revolutionised the way wellbeing companies collect and store data, but there are big changes still to come where:
- Employees’ wellbeing files could link in with their health records from doctors, hospitals and physicians.
- There could be lockable and editable sections that can be accessed only by the relevant caregiver, or the employee themselves.
Once everything is online, wellbeing providers can seamlessly refer employees to other health care providers — such as physios and specialists — and connect with them through the software.
The keys to wellbeing programs
- Keeping up the interest among staff can be challenging.
- Staff interest is vital.
- Co-creation with workers when developing a wellness strategy.
- Senior management need profiling or consultation with their employees.
- Direct relevance to the individual, to facilitate take-up.
- A health check allows the individual to gain results and to develop an action plan.
Case study: BUPA
Bupa knows first-hand the benefits of a wellbeing program. Since the business started offering its own staff a health program, Bupa has seen tangible results.
Bupa’s focus on health and wellbeing has contributed to:
- Absenteeism falling from 9.7 to 8 days per employee.
- Employee turnover has fallen from 28 per cent to 22.5 per cent.
- OH&S occurrences being reduced by more than 60 per cent.
Bupa’s program is based on four key stages:
- Diagnose the health risks of the employee population using online health risk assessments.
- Prescribe a program to address particular health risks.
- Treat by executing the program.
- Measure the results.
Bupa has been able to call on some of its own businesses to provide exercise programs and coaching, flu vaccinations, massage and online wellness solutions and seminars.