Data: The answer to a successful wellbeing strategy

Employers can use data and wearable technology to shape health and wellbeing strategies

Data can mean the difference between a successful and an ineffective wellbeing strategy.

A third (33%) of UK employers cite a lack of actionable data as being a significant obstacle to bringing about behavioural changes among employees, according to Willis Towers Watson’s Staying@Work Survey.

Workers are, however, eager to embrace health-related technologies, such as smartphone apps and wearable devices. Our 2017/18 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey (GBAS) found that 50% of employees currently use technology to manage their health.

Thirty-five per cent of employees use technology to monitor their activity, such as sleep and fitness; 26% monitor their diet; 22% use social media and online forums on health issues; 17% monitor a health condition; and 16% use online tools such as telemedicine and virtual GPs for medical consultations.

Forward-thinking employers should look to capitalise on this trend by adopting, offering, and using the latest digital health tools. These wearable devices already collect highly-detailed data on the wearer’s health and fitness, which can be advantageous to employers.

These devices lay the groundwork for promoting positive behaviours among the workforce. They also provide the data to identify problem trends among employees, establish a business case for wellbeing initiatives, and track progress.

Companies may look to subsidise devices as part of their health and wellbeing programmes. Where wearable data highlights negative trends or behaviours ,organisations should provide support and address contributory factors.

But implementation of this type of initiative is slow. Only 16% of employers currently offer employees access to apps or new technologies to support healthy lifestyles or to manage chronic conditions, according to the GBAS, and just 21% provide access to a portal to deliver health information or for tracking programme activity and incentives.

Yet some employers are beginning to respond; 12% are planning to offer access to apps or new technologies, and 14% are planning to provide portal access, over the next year.

The demand is there too. Twenty-two per cent of employees said they would be willing to pay a higher amount out of their salaries each month for access to better tools and services that could help them live healthier lifestyles.

Digital resources, such as online coaching, can give staff easy, confidential access to guidance and training at their convenience, while virtual access to GPs is becoming an increasingly popular offering as either a standalone service or as part of a cash plan provision.

By using technology employers can encourage their workforce to make smarter health-related decisions, promote workforce engagement, and take a more strategic approach to health and wellbeing programmes with employee-generated data insights.

But perhaps one of the biggest barriers to effective benefits technology engagement is employees not wanting to share health-related data with their employers.

More than half (58%) of GBAS respondents said they don’t want their employer to have access to information about their personal health. This is particularly prevalent when dealing with sensitive issues such as alcohol misuse, obesity, and mental health.

Employers need to gain the trust of their workers in areas pertaining to health – particularly when this involves the use of personal data – and position themselves as a go-to resource for improving the health and wellbeing of their employees. Staff need to be reassured that their health-related data will remain private and secure.

For some people improving their health and wellbeing will always be a strictly personal pursuit. But, even in these cases, employers can play a pivotal role by creating a workplace environment that supports everyone as they tackle any health issues that come their way.

Mike Blake is wellbeing lead at Willis Towers Watson