We would all agree that a healthy workforce can contribute to a healthy bottom line.

When making a business case for a strategic investment in health and wellbeing initiatives however, knowing where to start can be tricky task. We spoke to Mike Blake, Director at PMI Health Group, part of Willis Towers Watson’s health and benefits team, considers the business case for employee health and wellbeing programmes, and the benefits that can help underpin them.

How do you draw up the facts for a strong business case? 

Any meaningful business case, and subsequent programme, will only be as good as the intelligence it is built on and so an initial assessment of prevailing employee health and wellbeing is essential. If analytics are limited from the get-go, this assessment may initially be based on well-founded empirical observations.

Willis Towers Watson Staying@work survey 2015/16 identified the lack of actionable data as a key barrier to changing employee behaviour, with 33 per cent of respondents having difficulty in utilising data to drive change. However, there are some quick wins to be achieved through data which should be readily available to organisations.

What top level picture should organisations look at? 

An estimate of key health risk indicators, such as the percentage number of smokers within a workforce, levels of obesity, incidents of mental health conditions or musculoskeletal conditions, might be gauged and compared against national averages.

This can paint a high-level picture, highlighting the extent to which a corporate culture should be fostered to promote a healthy lifestyle for all. Initiatives can be introduced that look to address specific problem areas by encouraging healthy behaviours and lifestyles. Willis Towers Watson research shows that only half of organisations target prevention programmes to known health risks.

What would be the next step?

Health screenings, online health risk assessments and health questionnaires take analytics a step further, offering a more accurate employee health barometer and flagging up any underlying issues that should be addressed.

Demonstrable evidence can also come from management information on absence rates and the reasons behind incidents of sickness absence. If robust measurement processes are in situ, this data – supported by metrics from suppliers such as the medical or income protection insurers – can provide valuable insights. The business cost of absence per employee, for example, can be calculated from average daily salary statistics and absence totals. What’s more, helpful patterns can be identified, such as the prevalence of absence caused by specific conditions such as mental ill health or musculoskeletal injuries.

What would be the next step?

Health screenings, online health risk assessments and health questionnaires take analytics a step further, offering a more accurate employee health barometer and flagging up any underlying issues that should be addressed.

An analysis of claims history on medical insurance schemes can also help reveal where healthcare problems exist and where resources might be best channelled to help mitigate future risks and control future claims costs. A high number of claims for back treatment, for example, might highlight a need for an investment in occupational health advice or manual handling training.

In addition, support for employee health and wellbeing has the potential to impact staff retention rates, and so the business case may also include metrics on staff recruitment costs, and the assessment of employee engagement scores to gauge further concerns.

What are the benefits of a full business case? 

By establishing a business case with such insights, HR practitioners can not only demonstrate the opportunities for return on investment, they can also take a more strategic approach to targeting need. In some cases, this process may not simply highlight a need for health and wellbeing spend, but instead reveal opportunities to better utilise existing benefits to reduce claim costs.

HR managers should consider all the options available to them and ensure health and wellbeing benefits are effectively communicated to staff.

Can there be benefits on the bottom line? 

Low level claims – physiotherapy for musculoskeletal conditions, for example, or counselling for mental health issues such as stress – might be funded more cost effectively through a cash plan than a PMI policy.

Some Income Protection (IP) providers will even offer Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) as part of their rehabilitation services to help address incidents of employee stress, anxiety or depression.

In other cases, the NHS can be more appropriate than private healthcare for treating injuries or illnesses. If employees covered by a PMI scheme choose to receive treatment at an NHS hospital rather than at a private hospital, it will not only help to control premiums but the patients can also be eligible for cash benefits from the insurer. Dedicated services employing qualified medical professionals can help advise and organise care for employees where required.

Health and wellbeing programmes can ultimately cover a multitude of benefits and initiatives, but it’s important they are employed strategically to deliver on targeted objectives, helping ensure both human capital and business risks are managed effectively.