In the middle of a cost-of-living crisis and on the verge of a recession, the year draws to a close with an ever-increasing need for employers to offer worthwhile benefits. With NHS healthcare support often difficult to access and the pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic still in our rear-view mirror, a key priority for many HR and Benefits teams is to consider how to attract, retain and motivate employees through meaningful health benefits, whilst also seeing a strong ROI.
What key learnings from the past year should HR teams bear in mind as they launch their benefits strategies for 2023?
Benefit programmes should include digital care
The demand for virtual health support is here to stay: Virtual care and digital solutions grew in demand during the pandemic, but unlike many other trends that quickly faded away, this one seems to have become a regular feature of the work landscape. Employees are comfortable accessing healthcare in this way.
With digital solutions, the benefits for employees and employers are clear – they can access care as and when they need it, often without having to take time out of work for an in-person visit to the doctor. For men, the benefits of virtual care are even more pronounced, meaning far better engagement. “The evidence is that men do worry about their health, but don’t know how to access the right help and advice, especially for personal issues. Arguably, traditional services are not made with men in mind, which is why virtual solutions are a good opportunity for them to engage more with their health in a confidential and convenient way – and that means increased engagement” says Helen Lake, Director and clinical lead of men’s health services at Peppy.
Life-stage health and reproductive care must be inclusive to have impact
A huge focus for employers in 2022 was life-stage and reproductive health. From family planning to menopause support, these have been recognised as a priority by forward-thinking companies when it comes to staff benefits. According to research published earlier this year, 45% of businesses plan to launch menopause support in the next two years, and 40% plan to launch fertility benefits.
And it’s crucial that initiatives offering life-stage and reproductive health benefits are underpinned with inclusivity. Employers who offer this support need to focus on ensuring it can not only be tailored to the individual, but also covers LGBTQ+ experiences and different pathways to parenthood, including surrogacy and adoption.
Families come in all shapes and sizes. “In the case of LGBTQ+ staff, it pays for employers to understand the extra challenges they are up against when starting or increasing their family, especially as the number of same-sex families has grown by over 50% in the last five years. LGBTQ+ staff have a much higher chance of needing support when starting or growing a family,” says Francesca Steyn, Peppy’s Director of Fertility Services and Chair of the Royal College of Nursing Fertility Nurses’ Forum. “Finding inclusive employers who will support their family plans has become a priority for your potential staff. Businesses need to offer personalised support for all communities,” says Francesca.
Black women are up to twice as likely to have fertility problems and rising numbers of same sex families and single women are having IVF. LGBTQ+ parents represent over 14% of all adoptions in the UK. Supporting, protecting and retaining workforces, whether hybrid or not, requires that HR teams have a rounded understanding of the ways that big life events can impact on diverse groups within the workforce and offer clear pathways to support that are easily accessed.
Benefits should be leveraged to achieve gender diversity objectives
Recent research carried out by Aon in their Benefits and Trends Survey reported that 73% of businesses see women’s health as a concern. This is perhaps unsurprising considering that if women are not supported at work around life issues like menopause and pregnancy, they may just leave their job. As many businesses work towards meeting gender diversity targets and achieving a more gender balanced executive, paying lip service to women’s health issues is simply not an option.
Research shows that 25% of female staff said a women’s health condition had affected their opportunities for promotion, and with 85% of working age women having experienced at least four women’s health issues, this clearly has significant and far-reaching consequences. “Around 80% of women experience period pain, while up to 75 percent of menstruating women experience PMS, which can have a serious impact on emotional wellbeing,” says Francesca. ““Many companies are now introducing period policies – which have been said to contribute to better employee retention, improved working relations and increased productivity,” says Francesca.
While attitudes are changing, according to ACAS 75% of employers do not have a menopause policy in place. Women of menopausal age are the fastest growing workforce demographic in the UK and menopause is still causing misery for working women – in fact, according to recent studies, 1 in 4 have considered leaving their jobs because of the menopause, and 1 in 10 have done so. It’s vital for companies to keep this group in the workplace by offering flexibility and support.
Furthermore, it’s well known that the gender pay gap opens at the birth of a woman’s first child (and never closes again). Services and support that specifically help women to stay healthily and happily in work are therefore growing in popularity, alongside the other benefits ‘essentials’ of parental leave and flexible working.
Benefits do more than just offer valuable support – they also help create an environment where health issues are spoken about. This can help engender an open and honest culture where women thrive. “Benefits should be personalised and empathetic, and support needs to be accessible, so women don’t turn to unverified internet sources for answers – nor vote with their feet and leave due to a lack of workplace support,” says Francesca.
Looking into ‘23, businesses want more bang for their buck when it comes to benefits
With rising costs and financial instability, plus difficulties in accessing NHS support when it’s needed, there is a greater urgency for businesses to introduce health benefits that are proven to work – and which they know will be trusted, easily accessible and high impact.
During this difficult time – when pay rises aren’t always possible – meaningful benefits can be a vital tool for businesses to engage their employees, whilst attracting and retaining talent. Benefits can be leveraged to support cultural and DEI objectives, giving employers the edge in building employee loyalty and enhancing productivity.