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Canadian companies step up promotion of health and wellbeing for an organizational edge

Health and Benefits|Integrated Wellbeing
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March 21, 2019

Just a handful of Canadian employers are currently promoting their benefit programs for recruitment and retention.

TORONTO, March 21, 2019 — However, this is projected to change considerably over the next three years when nearly three-quarters (72%) expect to do so, starting with customizing benefits for critical workforce segments. This, according to Willis Towers Watson’s (NASDAQ: WLTW) Best Practices Survey.

“Plan sponsors are quickly realizing the power in using their health and wellbeing strategies to differentiate themselves from competitors,” said Wendy Poirier, managing director, and Health Innovation Leader at Willis Towers Watson. “They’re taking steps to gain this competitive advantage by integrating physical and emotional health, and social and financial wellbeing programs into their total rewards programs, while clearly recognizing the value of benefits to meet their talent and prospects’ evolving needs.”

In tandem with offering more compelling benefits, employers are looking to provide more flexibility and decision-making support to enhance their plan members’ experience. “Personalization and informed choice are key,” said Dawn Noordam, senior director, Health and Benefits Consulting and leader of Willis Towers Watson’s Benefits Marketplace Canada. “We know from the survey findings that the majority of plan sponsors intend to increase the variety of benefits they offer and want to place more of a spotlight on voluntary benefits and workforce perks, while also helping employees to make the best choices suited to their individual needs,” said Noordam.

According to the study, 60% of employers now offer flexible benefits but this is set to rise to 78% by 2020. By then, almost two-thirds (60%) expect their employees will be customizing which benefits and options to purchase with their employer-provided benefit dollars, up from 43% today. At the same time, 41% of survey respondents plan to make workforce perks, such as child care services, volunteer time off, onsite conveniences or concierge services a core part of their employee value proposition, compared to 21% today.

“Another important development is the emergence of a continuum of solutions to support emotional wellbeing,” said Poirier. “There are a number of tools and technologies that provide solutions for measuring stress in the workplace, developing resiliency, educating and training managers and employees, providing virtual counseling access to clinicians for cognitive behavioral therapy, and providing enhanced medical management of mental health issues. This means employers now have options to bridge gaps that have traditionally existed between support, prevention and treatment, enabling a truly holistic approach.”

Although only 29% of respondents currently have a companywide mental health strategy, 85% expect to have an action plan in place by 2020. Other improvements that survey respondents expect to implement include measuring and monitoring workforce stress and its causes (66% up from 27%), and offering training and coaching to managers specifically to identify emotional health issues, stress and life events that impact work performance (77% up from 32%). Over two-thirds of respondents (69%) plan to include wellbeing as part of their organization's corporate social responsibility strategy and mission.

However, the survey findings also show that employee engagement in wellbeing remains a challenge. “Three-quarters of employees do not take advantage of financial incentives, where they exist,” said Noordam. “One potential avenue to encourage participation is through the use of new technologies. A promising indicator is nearly a third (31%) of the organizations we surveyed are willing to launch technology pilots to support health and wellbeing programs.” Using technology to assist decision making and health and wellbeing choices will continue to increase. Close to 80% of respondents say they will offer access to online wellness platforms or apps by 2020.

Overall, the Best Practices survey results demonstrate that Canadian employers’ commitment to wellbeing has never been stronger,” said Poirier. “The findings show that the overwhelming majority of plan sponsors are re-evaluating their programs with an eye towards design effectiveness and value for money, as they look to enhance their employee’s physical, emotional, financial and social wellbeing between now and 2020.

About the survey

Willis Towers Watson’s Best Practices Survey is the most comprehensive study of Canadian employers' current actions and future plans for employer-sponsored benefits. Areas of study included strategy and planning; financial management; absence and disability management; physical, emotional, social and financial wellbeing; employee engagement and experience; measurement and analytics. The survey participants include 108 large and midsize Canadian employers representing 1.3 million employees across a wide range of industry sectors.

About Willis Towers Watson

Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW) is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company that helps clients around the world turn risk into a path for growth. With roots dating to 1828, Willis Towers Watson has 45,000 employees serving more than 140 countries and markets. We design and deliver solutions that manage risk, optimize benefits, cultivate talent, and expand the power of capital to protect and strengthen institutions and individuals. Our unique perspective allows us to see the critical intersections between talent, assets and ideas — the dynamic formula that drives business performance. Together, we unlock potential.

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