With wellbeing products and services coming in so many shapes and sizes, it is the adviser’s job to get all the parts working in harmony, says Sam Barrett
Wellbeing may be the latest must-have in the corporate healthcare sector but, with so many different products and services falling within the definition, understanding what employers want from their adviser is essential.
Part of the problem is that many employers do not fully understand what wellbeing is.
“There are so many initiatives that employers find it very difficult to define wellbeing,” says Punter Southall Health & Protection Consulting head of wellness consulting Beate O’Neil. “No two companies will have the same
requirements so it’s important that an adviser provides a bespoke consulting service to each of their clients.”
Adding to the confusion is the fact that many organisations already have an assortment of wellbeing products, either through the ‘freebies’ included on insurance solutions or because of an uncoordinated approach to procurement, where products are purchased by several people.
Willis Employee Benefits value proposition director Andrew Woolnough likens this to an orchestra full of soloists.
“Everything’s great on its own but it doesn’t really come together,” he explains. “An adviser needs to help employers look at wellbeing as part of a broader strategy. The adviser needs to be the conductor.”
Setting a strategy
The initial stage of the consulting process is to determine what the employer wants from its wellbeing strategy. Objectives can vary greatly between organisations and be blurred further by what is already in place.
Mercer head of corporate consulting Chris Bailey recommends taking a step back to assess what a company needs.
“You need to determine where it wants to make improvements and put together a wellbeing package that will create meaningful change within the business,” he says.
For example, one firm may be seeking to tackle its long-term absence rates while another will be more focused on providing health and wellbeing benefits to help attract and retain employees.
Speaking to as many stakeholders as possible is key to determining exactly what the organisation wants. Woolnough says this can identify key issues, get broader buy-in and also help to bring the strategy alive.
“Talk at C-level about what a wellbeing strategy can bring to the business,” he says. “HR might be responsible for a new occupational health initiative but this could also have implications for the employer’s liability claims, which tend to sit within the risk manager’s area.
“Think about the implications across the organisation.”
Data can also help to determine the shape of an employer’s strategy, as Jelf Group business development manager Chris Cannon explains: “Grounding a client’s wellbeing strategy in data gives you a good reference point against which to chart progress but, as it can highlight any specific issues the organisation might have, it can also help you win support for investment.”
This data can be collected from a number of sources, including absence statistics, employee assistance programmes, engagement surveys and claims on medical insurance and income protection schemes.
Time to review
Once the shape of the strategy has been determined, the next job is to pull together the most suitable services to deliver it.
Bailey acknowledges that this is not always easy. “It’s very rare you’ll be starting from scratch,” he says. “Many clients will already have a mixture of legacy products in place, which make it more difficult to put together the package you want. Your starting point will often be a review of these existing services and products.”
As the legacy services could be stand-alone or an added ben-efit within a risk or healthcare product, this review can be complex. For example, where services are add-ons such as EAPs or GP services, there could be duplication, so it is necessary to determine which, if any, is the most suitable. Similarly, an existing service may not be required in the new strategy but, before removing it, it is important to determine whether it is something that employees would miss.
Cost constraints can also come into play. The novelty of wellbeing means there are still some senior figures, especially in finance departments, who are sceptical about its value. Without any experience to demonstrate this, it can be difficult to obtain additional funding for wellbeing initiatives.
Even where a finance director is sympathetic, the budget cycle can still mean that funds to cover the cost of new initiatives may not be available for six to 12 months.
Building a programme
All sorts of products and services can play a part in a well-being strategy. First, there are the health insurance products themselves. Whether giving employees quick access to medical treatment or picking up the cost of a trip to the dentist, these plans can all contribute to wellbeing.
For example, in Denplan’s Corporate Decision Makers Survey 2015, 91 per cent of employers with a dental plan believed the scheme enhanced employee wellbeing. Denplan corporate channel manager Colin Perry says: “Dental plans always feature strongly in our research as a wellbeing benefit. It’s a good
Some of the add-ons to health insurance and group products can also form part of a wellbeing strategy, especially where a client has only a small, or no, budget.
“Insurers have a vested interest in wellbeing as it helps to drive down the number of claims,” says Bailey. “This can often align with a client’s objectives.”
However, where a budget allows, advisers are keen to bring further benefits into the well-being mix. O’Neil says employers that are engaged with wellbeing tend to want more. “There are plenty of initiatives and training programmes that aren’t available from the insurers but can be a really useful part of a wellbeing strategy. It’s the adviser’s job to provide employers with information on what’s relevant and will deliver the greatest benefit.”
Sourcing these services is not always straightforward. With hundreds of companies operating in the wellbeing market, many of them small or local providers, working out what is best for an employer can be tricky.
Bailey says: “There’s no comparison service to help you pick out the cheapest provider so you need a good understanding of what makes up a vanilla package and then know-how to source the extras for a specific need.”
Thankfully, building and maintaining this knowledge is getting easier. Wellbeing is featuring more and more in HR magazines and at conferences, helping adv-isers to stay on top of both the latest trends and the providers in this market.
Making wellbeing pay
While it is possible to make a healthy living from commission, not all providers pay the adv-iser for recommending their service. As there is a risk that such payments could distort their recommendations, many advisers are adamant their advice should be paid for through a fee.
Jelf Group business development manager Chris Cannon is among those who agree a fee and schedule when providing advice on wellbeing in the workplace.
“It has to be a totally transparent arrangement,” he says.
“If commission is embedded within the product, we’ll disclose this to the client. It would be wrong to base your recommendations on the commission you received.”
Charging a fee for this service also underlines the consultancy approach required. Punter Southall Health & Protection Consulting head of wellness consulting Beate O’Neil explains: “Well-being advice is about helping an employer with its strategy, policy and procedures. There are plenty of services that an organisation may already have or be able to access for free by working with a charity or an existing insurer. Helping them get the most out of these is a valuable service.”
Advice can include how to promote the various initiatives to employees. Here, providers are keen to help, with many providing a range of marketing materials that employers can use internally.
For example, Denplan corporate channel manager Colin Perry says the provider is currently promoting Mouth Cancer Action Month but it has also covered other health- and dental-related events, such as Stoptober, the ‘stop smoking’ month, and Dry January, Alco-hol Concern’s month of staying off the booze.
“We work with a number of brokers who are focused on pulling this information together and using it with clients,” he adds. “This continual engagement can really demonstrate the value they bring.”
Another key component of the wellbeing service sought by employers is a regular review. This helps to determine whether initiatives are on track.
“If you’re looking to meet an employer’s wellbeing objectives, you need to review and evaluate progress regularly,” adds Cannon.
“If something isn’t working, you might want to consider promoting it in a different way or changing it altogether.”
The nature of many firms in the wellbeing sector means it is also important to make sure they continue to deliver. Bailey says a lot of companies are small boutique start-ups, so one person changing their job can have a significant effect on service levels.
While this approach may be alien to some advisers in the healthcare space, Perry thinks it is worth adopting.
“There are some great opportunities to advise employers on their wellbeing strategy,” he says.
“Providing this type of on-going consultancy can make the relationship much stickier.”