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Benefits Are Only Half the Battle: Engaging Employees in their Health

As leaders in the workplace, we play a critical role in advancing the health and wellbeing of our employees by creating effective health benefits programs. But providing benefits is only half the battle!

Offering medical benefits and access to wellness programs is crucial to supporting your employees’ health and wellness, but it's only one aspect of the bigger picture. We must work collaboratively with our employees and benefits consultants to address the unique needs of our community of employees.

Sometimes, employers can provide the best benefits on the market and create wellness programs with all the bells and whistles, but their employees simply don’t engage in them. So we must ask ourselves, why are employees not engaging?

To solve this challenge, business leaders and employee benefits professionals must get on the employees’ level by listening, communicating, then taking the action best suited to their specific health needs.

To better understand why wellness programs including employee assistance programs and medical benefits are not being properly used and to help develop solutions for business leaders to boost employee health engagement, consider the following illustrative example.

Challenges to Boosting Employee Health Engagement

Let’s say you have an employee, Mark. He’s an accounting superstar, a team player, and a great employee. Mark is also a single parent raising two school-aged daughters on a minimum wage salary.

Unfortunately, Mark was in a minor car accident last week that set him back financially. This means he’s struggling to put food on the table and has been having a hard time making it to work due to transportation and childcare challenges.

Mark works for a manager who doesn't provide the flexibility Mark needs to go to the doctor for a follow-up visit after his car accident. Since Mark was intending to save his sick time and PTO for his children’s needs, he just doesn't have the time to go to the doctor during business hours.

But it's not just about time. It's also about finances and, for Mark, it’s about fitting wellness into a tight schedule with competing priorities. He works from eight to five and is always rushing before and after work to tend to his children's needs. That includes transportation, homework, cooking, and cleaning. By the time Mark tends to everything, it’s ten o’clock at night, he’s had zero downtime, and may only get five hours of sleep before he'll have to do it all over again.

Engaging more with his benefits program is probably the last thing on Mark’s mind. Even if it is a high priority, he will likely still struggle to find the time to use his benefits to maximum effect.

Reframing Employee Benefits for the Real World

When I think about Mark and other employees like him, I think about all the stress they could be under from a mental, physical, and financial perspective.

As a natural byproduct of living through real life—especially in a world with a global pandemic, an uncertain economy, and other high stressors—employees are becoming less engaged and productive at work.

Consider the following statistics from a recent Deloitte survey on stress and burnout in the workplace:

  • The survey found 77% of respondents say they have experienced employee burnout at their current job, with more than half citing more than one occurrence.
  • A staggering 91% of respondents say having an unmanageable amount of stress or frustration negatively impacts the quality of their work.
  • Nearly 70% of surveyed employees feel their employers are not doing enough to prevent or alleviate stress and burnout within their organization.

When it comes down to planning and prioritizing, Mark’s driving goal is providing for his family. Chances are high that he’s really not thinking about eating a salad for lunch or making it to the onsite fitness class.

Tips for Boosting Employee Health Benefits Engagement

As a business leader concerned with the health and well-being of your workforce, it's important to provide opportunities and resources for employees like Mark to create a healthy, stable environment with minimal stress.

To get employees more actively engaged in their health and health benefits programs, employers must truly listen to and pay attention to the needs of all their employees and start thinking outside the box about ways to make using their benefits more convenient.

It’s important that we dig deep and take the demands of real life into consideration in order to create realistic approaches to health and find new ways for our employees to live healthy, happy lives.

In turn, this will increase retention, productivity, and possibly health outcomes for all employees—including Mark!

Learn how to boost employee engagement while minimizing healthcare costs for your organization.

Related Categories

Employee Health & Wellness

Roxanne Leal

Roxanne Leal is the Director of Wellness for SWBC Employee Benefits Group. She specializes in developing strategic wellness programs based on high-cost claims, survey data, and aggregate reports.

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