Almost half (48%) of UK workers believe their employers are increasingly expected to provide for the health of staff by topping up NHS services, research has found.
The study of 1,123 workers by Willis Towers Watson found that younger people were more likely to believe businesses are being asked to shoulder more of the health burden, with 58% of 18- to 34-year-olds agreeing with the statement compared to 42% of those aged over 35.
Despite this, while 57% of 18- to 24-year-olds and 59% of 25- to 34-year-olds believe their employers make sufficient provision, the figures drop to 39% among 45- to 54-year-olds and 31% among 55- to 64-year-olds.
Mike Blake, a director in Willis Towers Watson's health and benefits division, said that the survey results suggest a large number of workers are increasingly turning to their employer to fund health services they feel may not be available within the public health system.
“Employers may view this as an opportunity to boost employee satisfaction and retention by attempting to plug any gaps in treatment provision,” he said. “Official figures recently showed waiting lists for routine operations such as hip and knee surgery are at their highest for a decade, so businesses can position themselves as responsible employers by offering benefits that can accelerate access to care and support healthier lifestyles.
“An effective strategy may see healthcare benefits and wellbeing initiatives working alongside one another to improve overall health, helping to ease any uncertainty around public health services. Healthcare benefits ‘top up’ provision to help ensure any current health issues are covered, while wellness schemes help forge a more proactive approach that could reduce the need for treatment in the future.”
However, Blake suggested that employers need to consider the kinds of benefits older workers might require. “An ageing workforce means employers are under greater pressure to engage with an older demographic and tailor benefits to address the specific challenges they face,” he said. “For example, eldercare benefits are designed to support employees caring for an elderly relative – a situation that will become more prevalent the older people get – but, more generally, strong two-way communication is needed to identify [people's] need and effectively engage with staff.”