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Employers move to implement global wellbeing strategies as health costs soar

Most multinationals see workforce health as a higher priority in next few years, according to the latest findings from a Towers Watson global survey.

Faced with rising health care costs and a growing concern over the health of their employees, the majority of multinational organisations plan to place a higher priority on workforce health initiatives and the overall wellbeing of their workers over the next few years.

The survey also found that wellbeing programmes have become prevalent worldwide as more multinationals promote health and wellbeing.

The Towers Watson survey found that three out of four companies said workforce health and promoting health and wellbeing will be more of a priority this year and next, while 87% said it will be a higher priority over the next two to four years.

To address this growing priority, almost half of the respondents (47%) plan to implement a global workforce health strategy over the next two years. Currently, less than one-third (32%) of multinationals have a global workforce health strategy in place.

When asked to rank the three most important objectives for their health strategy, more than half (54%) of respondents said it was to demonstrate their continued interest in employee well-being, resiliency and stress management, while slightly fewer (52%) said it was to help control rising health costs.

But there were significant differences by regions. More than two-thirds (69%) of multinationals headquartered in the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region ranked employee well-being and stress management in the top three. By contrast, 62% of Asia-headquartered respondents ranked providing competitive rewards among the top three objectives. Not surprisingly, 59% of North American companies listed controlling costs in the top three.

Overall, three in four (75%) multinationals currently offer a wellness programme, which can include preventive care, health screenings or education. And these programmes have been growing in popularity over the past few years. The one exception can be found among Asia-headquartered multinationals where only 62% of employers offer a wellness programme. The survey noted that this may be due to the emerging nature of preventive care in the region.

Francis Coleman, senior international consultant with Towers Watson, said: "Given the variety of health systems and market practices around the world, and the significant differences in costs for employers to sponsor health plans, the need for a global workforce health strategy has never been greater. Multinationals with a clear strategy can better coordinate local health activities to improve their overall workforce health and increase the efficiency of their total spending on health care."

"Multinationals in various regions have different needs and goals. European corporations, for example, are concerned with disability, lost productivity and absenteeism, while corporations in the Americas are much more focused on medical cost containment. EMEA employers are focusing on using their strategy to directly influence employees' health. Asia-based corporations view their health programmes as a way to attract and retain top talent."

The survey was conducted in early 2011 and includes responses from 149 multinational corporations representing a total workforce of 5.2 million people.