By Professor Denis Kinane, Founding Scientist, Cignpost Diagnostics
COVID had a dramatic and immediate impact on every part of the UK business community. One change that seems set to remain in place long after the pandemic is over is the shift to hybrid working. A substantial 4.33 million of UK employees now work from home all or part of the time .
With rates of COVID vaccination high and concerns about catching the virus falling fast, companies have sought to encourage a return to office. However, the anticipated mass return to working from offices has failed to materialise as employees have learnt to appreciate the financial and health benefits available from hybrid working.
Recent research by Cignpost Diagnostics has shown that employees in the UK are more health-conscious post pandemic, with 42% exercising more and 44% eating better. But there is also now heightened expectations that employers can do more to help their workers’ health and wellbeing. Almost half of employees for example want their employers to offer regular health screenings that allow for greater visibility about wellness as well as the chance to identify health concerns early.
Worryingly, Cignpost’s research also found that 22% of employees have signed off work due to a mental health condition over the last year, with mental wellbeing particularly affecting younger employees between the age of 18-24.
Post-pandemic, employers understand that making their workplaces collaborative and positive places to work will help to encourage people to return to the office. However, focusing on how to improve the health of their employees is undoubtedly an important additional factor and is an important consideration for employees who expect their employer to be invested in their health and wellbeing. Currently, almost a quarter of employees feel that their employer does not support their health well.
The question is, what can they do practically that will make a genuine difference without adding huge extra financial burdens at a time when a recession is looming. At one end, companies can offer things like subsidised gym membership or free subscriptions to wellness apps. These options are low cost but there is little evidence these offer significant health improvements. At the other end, private health insurance can ensure employees are seen quickly when they are ill. But such insurance cover can be extremely expensive if applied to all staff. It is mostly also a “reactive” alternative to the NHS for those who are already ill rather than prevention that enables employees to change their behaviour themselves or seek medical help before a condition becomes serious.
Where these kinds of preventative annual health tests can sometimes be offered by private medical groups, typically take up can be extremely low – as low as 1 in 5 according to one recent study. Companies can therefore end up paying significant sums out without deriving the healthier – and motivated – workforce they crave.
So how can employers harness the positive change in attitude workers have displayed towards wellbeing to provide something that can make a difference. The first is to ensure that staff are aware of what is already available and any health and wellness aids that are available either subsidised by the company or free. Alternatively, to think about how to motivate staff to take annual health checks where these are on offer.
An option businesses are increasingly considering is using annual or six monthly diagnostic testing. On the back of COVID testing, there is a much greater acceptance of the role of diagnostic tests, whether of saliva or blood, can provide vital information about a wide range of conditions, from skin cancer to heart health.
Importantly, health providers, like Cignpost do not rely on employees going to a clinic for test but, instead, brings the testing facility and laboratory to the site where they work. Evidence suggests that take up of this kind of testing option is far higher than traditional screening as well as producing results that enabled people to then take action on any health concerns. Cignpost’s research found that almost 70% of employees surveyed indicated that they were prepared to such diagnostic tests with younger employees even keener to take up such an option .
It has long been a truism that a healthy business begins with healthy employees. But the pandemic has demonstrated the critical importance of finding ways to create that healthier workforce. Those businesses that can achieve that goal will inevitably steal a competitive march on their rivals – and have a more contented, and motivated workforce.