21 May, 2020

By Stephen Hempenstall

In these unprecedented times, employee benefits can be used to manage people risks and help build a resilient, engaged and productive workforce, while also reducing cost within the business.


We believe there’s never been a more important time for HR decision makers to connect and collaborate with insurance and risk management decision makers to ensure people risk is addressed strategically.


Some of the key people risks facing businesses include:


  • Talent retention: In order to be successful, organisations have to recruit and retain the right talent, but 54% of companies have difficulty doing so.

  • Disengagement: Businesses need healthy and productive employees, but approximately 15% of payroll is lost in the UK every year due to disengagement and a resulting lack of productivity. Around 15.4m working days are lost to stress and depression.

  • Rising costs: Health and benefit costs are rising significantly, at broadly three times the rate of global inflation. And that was pre-Covid 19, so the challenge will now be much greater. These are real risks that need to be addressed to support an engaged employee and drive value for the business.


Actions for employers


There are four key actions organisations can take to support and engage employees, and manage costs:


1.      Understand and measure your people risks.

The most effective health benefit and wellbeing programmes are evidence based. Working to properly understand your employees’ needs and health risks is worth the effort: the top five firms in our Britain’s Healthiest Workplace study have higher productivity, and health-related costs are as much as 25% lower than the average company.


Organisations should make use of any health-related data sets available, including absence data, occupational health and safety, employee assistance programmes, health and protection benefits data, and employer’s liability claims data for truly holistic risk management. This will help businesses to understand their key health risks and trends, meaning these can be targeted for improved productivity and better value spend.


2.      Is the design of your benefits programme fit for purpose?

It’s important to determine whether your benefit programme provides adequate access to healthcare in the new world. Tools such as telemedicine, virtual GP consultations and physiotherapy sessions by video will help with this. Face to face appointments are currently difficult, and to avoid delays in diagnosis and treatment virtual consultations can ensure employees still get diagnosed and treated quickly, increasingly the likelihood of a swift return to work.


The increasing risk of mental health in the workplace should be another area of focus. Mental health issues are in epidemic proportions and increasing significantly, with people either still working from home and isolated, returning to work and worried about their safety and health, or furloughed and worried about their future and financial concerns. It’s vital to support employees quickly and proactively.


Employee assistance programmes are often underutilised but can be a great source of support - ensure employees are aware of what is available. Make sure line managers are trained and equipped with empathy skills to spot the early warning signs. And establish clear pathways to treatment to ensure employees get the right support without delay. These pathways can make a big difference – a Mercer clinical pathway reduced mental health-related absence for a client by over 40%.


3.      Don’t forget the financial side.

Given the inevitable focus on cost and savings in the business, now is a good time to start looking at financial vehicles and benefits. If you’re a multinational employer, then purchasing benefits insurance on a regional or global basis can save significant premium spend - we see typical savings of 10% of total premiums.


Do you have a captive vehicle in place for property and casualty insurances and risks that could be used to house employee benefits and insurances? Savings can be had there from insurance margins, and can really appeal to the risk managers. And is it time to review the funding vehicle, whether it should be self-insured or insured? Significant savings again can be achieved here.


4.      Engaging employees using strong communication

Easily accessible, personalised, and impactful communication is crucial for engaging employees and driving habit change. Digital communication – particularly mobile-enabled - will have a major part to play in that, and in spreading the word on what is available.  


Our research shows that on average, employers offer 34 health benefits and interventions, but employees are only aware of nine and use only five, which is not great value for money. There’s often no need to spend more: just communicate well.


  • As part of this, some companies are focusing on creating a superior wellbeing experience. There are many digital solutions available, and Mercer has just launched an app called Ondo, that gives easy access to wellbeing content. It also segments individuals into personality traits and types, enabling personalised communication. Employers can also add curated content. Hence over time, as the employee engages with it more, their feed becomes more personalised and the wellbeing information they get is tailored to them (i.e. some will get more financial wellbeing information, others may get more mental or physical health information).

Social media style chat functionality builds a real community experience amongst employees, and can be used for peer-to-peer communications and leadership to engage with staff. This is particularly helpful now that people have been isolated.


In summary, we recommend that HR and risk insurance teams collaborate. Businesses need to understand the health risks their employees are dealing with, and review the design of their benefits programme to target those risks. Finally, they should optimise financing, as well as engaging employees in a highly personalised and relevant manner. 


If you would like to talk to someone about any of these issues, contact your usual Mercer consultant or Stephen Hempenstall on 07789 030798


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