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Sharp increase in workplace mental health issues

Mark Witte

Benefits and Trends Survey 2018 from AON shows a sharp increase in the number of employers reporting employee stress and mental health-related illnesses – from 55 percent last year to 68 percent in 2018. Contributor Mark Witte, Head of healthcare and risk consulting – Aon Employee Benefits.

However, employers are now investing more in proactive initiatives including mental health first aid training which teaches managers and staff how to spot the signs and symptoms of common mental health issues, provide support and guide a person to seek professional help and gain resilience coaching. Employer investment in proactive initiatives to tackle mental health and stress have increased to 42 percent from 36 percent in the previous year.

The survey also showed that more employers are providing health and wellbeing apps, jumping from 21 percent to 48 percent in the year. This is testament both to a wider range of ‘fremium’ apps coming from major insurance lines such as private medical insurance (PMI), as well as an increased employer appreciation of technology, which is helping to engage employees in improving health behaviours. The use of virtual GP services has also increased significantly, with 27 percent of employers using them – up from 16 percent last year.

For many organisations, the challenge of managing benefits costs remains a key priority. Introducing limits on medical plans is the most common cost management approach (43 percent have done this), which is a likely reaction to continued rising medical inflation. Benefits redesign continues to be a strong strategic theme, with 45 percent of employers considering design changes to their flexible benefits schemes.

Mark Witte, head of healthcare and risk consulting of Aon Employee Benefits, said: “If there was one defining theme in 2017, it was the growth of and increased focus on corporate wellbeing programmes across several key areas. We now see 84 percent of employers saying that they consider themselves responsible for influencing their employees’ health behaviours.

“There has also been a 25 percent increase in the proportion of organisations with designated funding for their health and wellbeing programme, with over half of respondents now having a specific budget in place, or intending to within the next three years. This is a contributing factor to the increase in the proportion of employers offering programmes to help lifestyle behaviours, including weight loss, smoking cessation or physical activity.”

Mark Witte continued: “It’s particularly significant, that more organisations are embracing technology to help deliver their strategy, with both health apps and virtual GP services seeing considerable growth. We expect this trend to accelerate further in 2018, as increased adoption of technology supports the growing understanding that employee engagement is critical to any successful wellbeing strategy.”

The survey also shows that employers’ focus is increasingly on proactive and preventative employee health measures, rather than reactive protection benefits. Aon’s view is that it will be interesting to monitor future trends, as more organisations pull a greater portion of their health and benefits spend towards prevention rather than cure.

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