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Health and well-being programs not meeting the needs of a stressed Singapore workforce


May 25, 2018

Employers in Singapore are still missing the mark when it comes to their health and well-being programs, with many employees feeling that their needs are not being met.
  • Almost two thirds of employees in Singapore have elevated levels of stress - but the majority of companies are not responding to the issue
  • Employee-employer disconnect on true value of health and well-being programs
  • However, Singapore employers are starting to take a more strategic approach, planning to increase choice and flexibility in benefits.

Singapore, 25 May 2018— Employers in Singapore are still missing the mark when it comes to their health and well-being programs, with many employees feeling that their needs are not being met, according to research from leading global advisory, broking and solutions company Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW).

In response, steps are being taken to introduce new initiatives as companies begin to recognise the importance and business implications of employee health and well-being. The research found that both employers and employees share similar views on the importance of health. According to the Willis Towers Watson 2017/2018 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey, more than seven in ten employees (72%) said managing their health is a top priority, while 84% of employers said increasing employee engagement in health and well-being is a top priority for them.

This alignment is a positive step in the right direction. Employees in good or very good health are more productive in the workplace, as they are more engaged (33% and 37% respectively) compared to those in poor health (17%) and take less days off.

In this context, it is important to consider specific work-related health issues affecting Singaporeans, Willis Towers Watson’s earlier 2017 Benefits Trends Survey found that almost half (44%) of employers identified stress as the number one health issue - an important point of self-awareness, with 60% of employees admitting to having above average or high levels of stress. Despite this, only 27% of employers are actually taking acts to reduce work-related stress.

“Because employers understand the positive impact of having a healthy and engaged workforce on company success, they are constantly on the lookout for new offerings that support employee health and well-being” said Dr Amitabh Deka, Regional Consultant, Benefits & Wellness Advisory, Asia & Australia, at Willis Towers Watson. “However, it is important that employers look at programs that help manage the high levels of stress in the workplace. Beyond mental health impacts such as anxiety and depression, stress can also lead to serious chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease and cancer1.”

Besides the traditional health care and retirement benefits, employers in Singapore are increasingly providing behavioural and emotional health management programs as well. Singaporeans can look forward to new initiatives that give them access to apps and technologies that support healthy lifestyles, access to health information and tracking, as well as financial incentives.

Employers start to take more strategic approach

Though health care programs are being appreciated, employers are not getting a good return on their investments (ROI). While 51% of employees say health care plans offered by employers meet their needs, only 36% agree for health and well-being initiatives. We are also seeing a disconnect on the ROI of well-being initiatives, with 53% of employers believing their programs have encouraged staff to live healthier lifestyles, but only 34% of employees agreeing with this.

While an increasing number of employers are putting more efforts in improving their health and well-being programs, there is still room for improvement. Compared to 40% of employers who don’t have an established health and well-being strategy today, almost 3 in four (73%) will use their enhanced programs to differentiate themselves from other employers, and customise these programs for critical workforce segments by 2019.

“Key to customisation of benefits will also be businesses recognising the interconnectedness between health and well-being issues. For example from our research we know that an individual’s job, relationships, financials, and health are leading sources of stress, and therefore factors of one’s mental health”, said Dr Deka.

“We suggest that employers rethink how their programs are designed and incentivise to create and encourage long-term behavioural changes. Critical to this is to ensure that they are centred on the employee. Employees do not want to be told what to do; rather, they want to be supported with programs that lead to improved well-being. It’s an essential balance that’s not very easy to achieve, but if companies can take care of their workforce, employees can in turn take care of the overall business and its performance, said Audrey Tan, Head of Health & Benefits, Singapore, Willis Towers Watson.”

What employers can do

To do so, first, employers could use organisational analytics, such as medical claim data, financial and nonfinancial metrics, or measure of health risks, to establish a base line and test the effectiveness of health care and well-being programs. Our research in Singapore observes a positive increase in the percentage of those who plan to use organisational or analytics to test the effectiveness of programs by 2019 (currently 13% to 86% by 2019).

Financial incentives will also increasingly become part of benefits offerings. While these incentives are deemed as entitlements by employees - which means it can be difficult for employers to take the incentives away - our research show these rewards are more effective when used in specific ways such as discrete tasks that offer an immediate pay-out.

Employers can also leverage technology in their programs to drive engagement, policies and culture, as six in 10 employees are already using them to manage their own health. Just over four in 10 (45%) use wearables to monitor fitness activity or sleep, while 37% use technology to monitor a health condition, and 34% to track eating habits.

“While online tools help employees make better decisions about health choices, the real change will come from solutions that connect individuals and employers”, noted Tan. “Technology is a key pillar to integrating programs that link multiple areas of an employee’s life and helps to create a seamless experience. Such experiential offering is critical to attracting and retaining employees, as well as sustaining employee engagement.”

About the Global Benefits Attitudes Survey

The Willis Towers Watson 2017/2018 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey measured attitudes of over 30,000 private sector employees in 22 countries — including 9,462 responses from Asia Pacific, specifically from Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Philippines and Singapore. The survey was conducted in July and August 2017.

About the Asia Pacific Benefit Trends Survey

The 2017/2018 Asia Pacific Benefit Trends survey is the fifth in our biannual series. It focuses on high-level trends around benefit strategy, benefit design, health and wellness, retirement plans, benefit delivery and benefit cost. This year’s survey was conducted between April and June 2017, and received responses from over 1,141 large Asia Pacific employers, including 96 in Singapore.

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 more than 40,000 employees serving more than 140 countries. 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.

1Psychological Stress and Disease , Sheldon Cohen, JAMA, October 10, 2007—Vol 298, No. 14

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