Press Release

Health and well-being programs fragmented, do not meet the needs of stressed Asia workforces, finds Willis Towers Watson survey

May 28, 2018
| Australia, Hong Kong, India +2 more
  • Philippines
  • Singapore
  • Over half of employees in Asia have elevated levels of stress.
  • While employers endeavour to engage them in an increasing array of non-traditional benefits, there is still a disconnect with employees.
  • Finding the “right” programs and leveraging technology will be key as employers start to take a more strategic approach toward health

Hong Kong, 28 May 2018 — By and large, employers in Asia still miss the mark when it comes to their health and well-being benefits, with many employees feeling that their needs are not met, according to research from leading global advisory, broking and solutions company Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW).

According to the Willis Towers Watson 2017/2018 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey, managing their health is a top priority for two-thirds of employees (67%) in Asia. Moreover, over half (56%) say that they suffer from elevated levels of stress. There’s a role for employers, and many are endeavouring to respond by looking beyond traditional benefits and offering behavioural/health management programs (60%), lifestyle risk management programs (44%), and financial well-being programs (33%) to meet the diverse needs of employees.

However, even though 63% of employees say that their employer-sponsored health care plan meets their needs, only 41% say that their employer-sponsored health and well-being initiatives do so.

“The danger is that, although well-intentioned, employers will use a scattergun approach and spend valuable resources on creating standalone and fragmented programs that employees do not value,” said Dr. Amitabh Deka, Regional Consultant, Benefits & Wellness Advisory, Asia & Australia, at Willis Towers Watson. “The reality is that health and well-being has broad reaching business implications — employees in good health are more productive in the workplace, as they are more engaged, less stressed, and less likely to take days off. And as employers increasingly recognise this, they also start to approach health and well-being as a strategic issue.”

Employers start to take more strategic approach

It’s encouraging that the move towards being more strategic has already started among Asia employers. By next year, almost all (97%) of employers will have a health and well-being strategy (compared with 64% today) and almost three-quarters plan to differentiate and customise their strategy to make it a key competitive advantage.

“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 mental health,” said Cedric Luah, Head of Health & Benefits, Asia and Australasia at Willis Towers Watson.

“We suggest that employers rethink how their programs are designed and incentivise to create and encourage long-term behavioural changes. Part of this will also be ensuring 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.”

What employers can do

What steps can employers take to achieve this balance? We suggest the following:

  1. Use medical claims and health risk data to establish a baseline and test the effectiveness of healthcare and well-being programs through financial and non-financial metrics. This approach ensures relevant changes to make programs effective. There’s a positive increase in the percentage of those who plan to use organisational or analytics to test the effectiveness of programs by 2019 (currently 20% to 81% by 2019).
  2. It is critical to introduce the “right” programs. Employers should first understand which health and well-being programs are valued by their employees, and what will generate positive outcomes rather than introduce one-off programs which could be costly and ineffective. Once you have a better understanding of your particular workforce, you can design your benefits to be more relevant as well as providing greater flexibility and choice.
  3. Employers can leverage technology in their programs, policies and culture, as 62% of employees are already using it to manage their own health. Just over two in five (41%) use wearables to monitor fitness activity or sleep, while 40% 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 Dr. Deka. “Technology can be key to integrate these programs that link multiple areas of an employee’s life and help to create a consumer-grade experience that is critical to attracting employees and 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 biennial 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.

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. Learn more at