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Pandemic prompts overhaul of employee benefits as UK companies focus on mental health and virtual services

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Pandemic prompts overhaul of employee benefits as UK companies focus on mental health and virtual services

April 20, 2021

Three-quarters of companies plan to rapidly improve mental health provision for employees, while telehealth services are also a major focus for the coming years

One year on since the first UK lockdown forced large numbers of employees to work remotely, nearly nine-in-ten organisations (87%) are concerned about an increase in mental health issues among their employees, according to a study by Willis Towers Watson.

The newly released Emerging Trends in Health Care Delivery study also shows that employers are expecting to have to expand their healthcare coverage due to longer NHS waiting lists, with growth in telehealth expected in order to safely and efficiently fill the gap.

Mental health

For employers, concerns over employees’ mental health has led three-quarters (75%) of companies to prioritise improvements to their employee benefits provision in this area over the short, and medium, term.

Over three quarters (78%) of companies said that enhancing mental health and stress management services was their immediate employee benefits priority over the next six months. While almost two-thirds (64%) said that raising better awareness of their existing benefit and wellbeing programmes was a short-term priority.

In the medium-term, over the next two years, the top priorities are to enhance line manager’s capability to support employees (60%) and provide more technology, such as apps, that support employee mental and physical wellbeing (51%)

Mark Ramsook, Senior Director, Health and Benefits, Willis Towers Watson, said: “Last year many employers shifted very quickly to a new remote way of working and worked hard to reduce the challenges this posed to employees using existing structures, programmes and benefits. A year later, many are concerned that the mental health implications of this prolonged period of social distancing needs addressing further through new and enhanced employee benefits, as well as initiatives such as peer-orientated support networks and access to trained mental health champions.”

Telehealth and Digital services

With nearly three-quarters (72%) of employers expecting delays to NHS waiting lists to continue, nearly half (46%) say they will need to expand their own healthcare coverage, due to pressure on the health service.

With that in mind, nine-in-ten (89%) companies are expecting growth in telehealth services as employers and consumers seek out safe, time efficient and cost-effective ways of gaining access to health services.

For half of employers (50%), one of the advantages of virtual health care and digital services is a reduction in costs after the pandemic, but many also feared that the biggest barrier to adoption would be added complexity involved in accessing services (43%).

The study showed that the top types of digital/remote services that employers have already in place are: mental health services (68%); consultations with general practitioners (68%); and physiotherapy/musculoskeletal support (45%). A significant number are also planning or considering incorporating them (20%; 12%; and 27% respectively).

Additionally, many companies are planning to expand their wellbeing provision in the next two years to offer enhanced support for menopause (37%), male health (30%), additional female health (29%), gender transition (28%) and fertility treatment (23%).

Ramsook said: “Telemedicine may have hit the headlines in recent years, but it took a global pandemic to shine the light on its true efficacy and potential. The pandemic has forced healthcare providers’ hands and has accelerated the journey to telehealth becoming a ubiquitous part of the health experience.

“For employers, telemedicine brings a large number of benefits. Used appropriately, it can help reduce healthcare costs, increase productivity and boost employee engagement. We are already seeing Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning advancements help healthcare providers to enhance remote patient services, make processes more efficient and streamlined, and provide more accurate remote diagnosis and treatment recommendations.”

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