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Supporting the workforce and boosting mental and physical health through employee benefits

There are many employee benefits organisations can offer to help improve their workforce’s overall wellbeing, including both physical and mental health. Here are a few benefits businesses might want to consider.

Over the last couple of years, awareness around mental health and wellbeing has continued to grow, resulting in a rising expectation among the workforce that employers take steps to support and protect employees’ mental health.

Likewise, many employers are now realising it’s in their best interests to help employees to improve their mental wellbeing. As well as helping to attract and retain talent by offering benefits employees value, supporting mental health can help businesses to improve productivity and boost performance, while reducing absenteeism and costs.

Indeed, recent mental health research from Deloitte has revealed that the cost to employers of poor mental health has increased up to £56bn in 2020-21 compared to £45bn in 2019.  And as the world of business looks to settle into a new way of working post the pandemic, mental health support should remain an ongoing priority.

But while dedicated mental health support is important, employers should look to assist their workforce’s all-round wellbeing – with benefits to help employees improve both their physical and mental health. These elements are often treated as separate issues but, in many cases, supporting one will naturally help improve the other.

There are many employee benefits organisations can offer to help improve their workforce’s overall wellbeing, including both physical and mental health. Here are a few benefits businesses might want to consider.

1. Health Insurance
Physical and mental health are often discussed as separate issues, but in reality they’re intrinsically linked. Poor physical health can often lead to deteriorating mental wellbeing, especially when faced with long waiting times for treatment. Likewise, people suffering with mental health issues may be less likely to care for their physical wellbeing, leading to further health problems.

Not only is health insurance a highly desirable benefit for UK employees – as recently reported by theHRDIRECTOR – but supporting employees to access healthcare can help foster a healthier, happier workforce. And with mounting pressure on the NHS resulting in extensive waiting times for everything from GP appointments and mental health support to A&E visits and scheduled surgery, helping the workforce to access care has never been more important.

Corporate health insurance policies often come with a wide range of benefits to help employees (members) and their families live a healthier lifestyle, get diagnosed sooner, and access the treatment they need more quickly than through the NHS, without incurring huge costs for their care.

In addition, many policies also include assistance to help members live a happier, less stressed life. This includes a range of mental health support, such as counselling, online therapy programmes and addiction support, as well as lifestyle benefits like nutrition advice, resources to encourage exercise and help to quit smoking.

There are a lot of different plans available in the UK, so choosing the right one for a business can be difficult. It’s important to consult with specialists such as Eppione when selecting a policy.

2. Health Cash Plans
With bills rising across the board, any financial support businesses can offer to help employees care for their mental and physical wellbeing is likely to be appreciated. With a health cash plan, employees can claim back some or all of the cost of certain routine treatments and appointments that aren’t covered by health insurance.

Employers generally pay a monthly fee for each employee to be on the scheme, and each individual can then reclaim their expenses up to a set limit. There are usually different tiers available, so businesses can select a plan that meets both workforce and budget requirements. .

Employees can typically claim back the cost of things like dental treatment and check-ups; optical treatment and purchases, including contact lenses and eye tests; health screenings; wellbeing treatments such as massages; physiotherapy; and counselling. However, the specific areas covered will depend on level of cover.

If a business is currently unable to fund health insurance for their workforce, a health cash plan can offer some support to help employees care for their physical and mental health. However, even if organisations do have a health insurance plan in place, a health cash plan may cover a number of areas not included in a health insurance policy – so it may be worth offering both simultaneously.

3. Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs)
EAPs are one of the most common benefits offered by employers in the UK. These programmes offer confidential, professional support for a wide range of personal issues, including alcohol and substance misuse, financial or legal issues, stress and burnout, and mental health problems. Many offer a referrals service to help direct employees to the support they need, while also offering direct counselling and treatment.

Often, EAP services are also available to other family members in the employee’s household – helping to support their whole family’s health and wellbeing.

In some cases, an EAP service may be included with health insurance, life insurance or income protection, so businesses should check what employees are already entitled to before signing up to a new programme. However, if this isn’t the case, it’s recommended businesses offer access to an EAP as a basic employee benefit to support their workforce with any personal issues.

While many companies offer an EAP, employees are often unaware that it’s available to them – either because they were never told or have forgotten. So, to get the most out of an EAP, communicate what’s available and how to access the programme to employees.

4. Gym Memberships
Encouraging employees to exercise more frequently through a gym membership can help improve both their physical and mental wellbeing – while at the same time helping employees to reduce costs at a time when bills are rising.

There are a few options for offering gym membership as an employee benefit.

Firstly, businesses could fully fund gym memberships such as through an employee benefit that grants access to various gyms and fitness brands, or by agreeing a corporate membership with a specific gym.

Alternatively, organisations can offer a set contribution towards a gym membership, whereby both the employer and employee make payments towards the membership fee. This might be suitable for businesses with a lower employee benefits budget.

Or, if businesses can’t currently afford to make contributions to gym memberships, companies can allow employees to pay for memberships through a salary sacrifice scheme. Employees can choose their own gym, and the monthly charges are deducted from their pre-tax salary to save them money on tax contributions.

Other options include organising regular fitness sessions for the workforce either on- or off-site, or if you have the resources available, opening a gym at the workplace for employees to use around their working hours.

5. Meditation and Mindfulness
Helping employees to practice meditation and mindfulness can deliver several mental wellbeing benefits, including reduced stress and increased focus and emotional intelligence.

Again, there are a few different options available for employers. Businesses might consider hosting mindfulness and meditation sessions, either at work or offsite. There are many courses and trainers available to guide these sessions, so have a look at what’s available.

However, not everyone may be comfortable practicing meditation in a group setting with their colleagues, so it may be worth exploring alternative options. For example, some health insurance policies include resources and limited cover for mindfulness and meditation courses, so check what’s already available for employees through existing benefits and ensure the workforce is aware of their eligibility.

Online resources are also available, such as online courses and apps like Headspace and Calm. Organisations might consider offering discounted or fully funded access to these resources for  employees as a flexible benefit option.

Making the right selection
The options for supporting employees’ mental and physical wellbeing are endless. With the growing focus on wellness, companies are constantly coming up with new and innovative ways to support their employees, while new employee benefits continue to be introduced in the UK market.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to what works for an individual workforce and business. Before committing to new benefits, businesses should consult with employees on what they need and what support they will find the most valuable. When it comes to health and wellbeing, one size will not fit all, so offering flexible benefits may be the best way to ensure benefits are truly tailored to the needs of individuals.

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