Health

Three Ways to Boost Employees’ Mental Wellbeing

21 February, 2019
  • Liana Attard

    Partner, Asia Consulting Leader, Mercer Marsh Benefits

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“Hong Kong’s medical costs significantly outpaced the local inflation rate and employer’s cost on health care continues to grow.”

Office life can be extremely stressful, especially with the competitive nature of work and long hours that can lead to stress and sleep disorders for some employees.

In fact, research by Mercer Marsh Benefits for our 2018 Medical Trends Around the World survey showed that globally the top three risk factors for employees remain metabolic and cardiovascular risk, dietary risk and emotional/mental risk. To put the global mental health problems into perspective, 1 in 3 people in the UK have been recorded as suffering from mental health issues.    

The emphasis is now on employers to help with the mental wellbeing of their employees by providing comprehensive wellbeing strategies for emotional and mental health. Adopting integrated health and wellbeing strategies underpinned by stronger digital and data capabilities will be a critical factor in managing the rising costs of workforce health benefit programs.

Employers are encouraged to adopt a whole system approach to wellbeing, in which mental health is recognized alongside physical health, as one of the essential building blocks to help employees fulfill their potential. But unfortunately, employers are slow to realize the risks concerned with mental health, with less than 50 percent of insurers and respective employer medical plans providing access to personal counseling.

In Asia, mental health tends to be a taboo subject as it has a stigma around it and employees are concerned about coming forward with their issues in a fiercely competitive workplace environment. The Hong Kong Mental Morbidity Survey, a three-year study launched in 2010, found fewer than a quarter of people with common mental disorders had sought medical support in the previous year, and only 3.9 percent had seen a psychologist for help, reported SCMP.

When we asked insurers: What three risk factors do you think influence employer sponsored group medical costs the most? Globally, as I mentioned earlier, mental health was third with 43 percent. However, in Asia mental health ranked bottom, behind occupational risk (44 percent) and environmental risk (51 percent), with 31 percent. 

But this doesn’t mean that mental health benefit programs in Asia should be ignored by companies, even with the increase in medical costs worldwide. According to the 2018 Medical Trends Around the World survey, the global medical cost in 2017 increased at 9.5 percent, almost three times the inflation rate of 3.4 percent. Hong Kong’s increment was below the average global level but higher than the other two developed Asian cities, namely Singapore (8.6 percent) and South Korea (7 percent).

“Hong Kong’s medical costs significantly outpaced the local inflation rate and employer’s cost on health care continues to grow. Therefore, employers should review the existing design of health care plans, further invest in data analytics and adopt a whole system approach in order to effectively manage employee health care cost,” Billy Wong, Mercer’s Health & MPF Business Leader, Hong Kong said.

Employers can tackle the risk of mental health problems by launching workplace health strategies. Check out my ideas on ways to keep your workforce mentally healthy and happy. 

Mindfulness Training: By implementing mindfulness training at work, employees will be able to effectively deal with stress, increase productivity in the office, maintain greater focus and their overall health will improve. But what exactly is mindfulness training? It’s a meditation technique aimed at focusing the mind on the present moment, which enhances an employee’s ability to work on day-to-day tasks and find balance.

Fitness programs: The physical health benefits of working out are well documented, but exercise is also an effective way to boost your mental health. Exercise releases endorphins which make people feel happy. Employees who are feeling stressed, depressed or suffering from anxiety are advised to workout for 30 minutes a few times a week. 

Flexible work schedule: Working from home and flexible work schedules give employees the freedom they need to stay motivated. The flexibility allows employees to take a break and lowers the risk of burnout. Working from home can reduce parenting stress as employees are afforded the flexibility to meet the needs that come with having a family. These factors and more increase employee morale and help to reduce absenteeism.

 

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Catherine Li | 25 Apr 2019

In China, as in many other countries with growing economies, employee health management is a relatively new concept. This presents an exciting opportunity to create something new — but also generous room for error. A superior benefits program meets the diverse needs of active employees and retirees while aligning with the company’s business development and talent strategies. Although these dual goals may seem straightforward, it’s easy for HR to get sidetracked along the way. Have you steered clear of these four pitfalls? Misunderstanding 1: Benefits are Just for Brand-Building   Benefits design commonly goes through three phases: foundation-laying, boasting and returning to fundamentals. Young technology companies have a tendency to get stuck in phase two, coming up with fun, innovative and even newsworthy benefits. These less-traditional benefits programs have several advantages, including supplementing basic benefits and enhancing the program’s overall appeal. They can also help tech companies with a predominately young workforce connect with Millennial talent. For example, some Chinese companies offer an online shopping platform similar to Amazon through which employees can order household goods and other items to be delivered straight to their homes. Others focus on tokens of appreciation at stressful or eventful times of year. An e-commerce company might buy movie tickets for their employees and families after the hectic November 11 shopping festival — an online shopping bonanza that keeps e-commerce employees busy around the clock — to show gratitude for their hard work. But although such niche benefits are attractive in the short term, they have little long-term effect when applied on their own. Be careful not to get swept up in creativity at the expense of sound basic benefits. You can organize a race for charity to show you’re committed to employee health as well as social good, but if you can’t help an employee through a serious illness, how can you claim to care about the well-being of your workforce? The biggest health management challenge for Chinese businesses is staff turnover. New programs take time to launch, so little effect will be seen if the turnover rate is high. Investing in core benefits design yields more consistent results and helps retain employees, whereas short-term benefits solutions rarely build the brand. Misunderstanding 2: We Don’t Need to Design our Own Benefits Program – We can Just Copy our Competitors   Thoughtful design is by far the most important aspect of a successful benefits program for both basic and innovative offerings. Many companies focus on copying competitors’ designs or best practices. After all, benefits design is time-consuming and complicated; why not save on resources by leveraging an existing program? This line of thinking is dangerous. A benefits plan that works for one company, no matter how similar it seems, may not work for yours. Employee needs, business development goals, budget and future plans (in terms of costs and talent retention) must all be taken into account. It’s up to HR to look deep within the organization and ask fundamental questions: How much budget is available? Whom is the benefits program aimed at? What are the needs of the target employees and the corresponding risks? Caring for employee welfare means taking the time to customize a benefits program while taking into account the firm’s resources and priorities. Organizations with limited budgets profit from analyzing employee health data from biomedical screenings, medical claims and health risk assessments to identify the primary health challenges of target employees and design an appropriate program. Note that mental health, including managing stress, is just as important as physical well-being. Misunderstanding 3: Our Benefits are so Great, They Speak for Themselves   According to Mercer’s 2015 Benefits Communication Trend Survey of HR managers in China, more than 70% of employers think benefits communication is important. Yet only 17% of organizations have a specific role for employee benefits communication, and nearly 70% have little or no budget for benefits communication. Assuming your benefits programs will self-promote is a mistake. Even if your benefits are good, busy employees may not have time to learn about them and may misunderstand or underutilize them — substantially lowering your returns. Effective communication of benefits programs can: •       Improve employee retention and engagement •       Boost morale •       Improve employees’ health conditions and productivity •       Enhance employee trust •       Build the employer brand   Note that the organizations with high employee benefits satisfaction are the ones that effectively communicate the value of their benefits. Misunderstanding 4: All Aspects of our Benefits Program Must Show Returns   Return on investment (ROI) is a key performance indicator for many businesses. And with good reason — why invest in a project before ensuring a sound return on the investment? Although ROI is an excellent indicator of performance, not all benefits programs can be evaluated with numbers. When paired with comprehensive core benefits, health management programs and nontraditional benefits can have an underlying effect that is even greater than their immediately measurable impact. For many people, the feeling that their employer cares about their well-being means more than the money in their paycheck. The ongoing effectiveness of any benefits program ultimately depends on corporate culture: how your organization measures the value of benefits management, how it treats employees and whether it’s willing to put employee feedback into practice. Health management and benefits program design are still relatively new to Chinese companies, which tend to attach little importance to their employees’ health. But employee health is the foundation of an organization’s long-term success, and it requires investment in kind. In addition, in a high-growth economy with booming businesses, companies need to identify ways of attracting and retaining top talent. By avoiding these four pitfalls and focusing on tying programs to their firms’ long-term strategies, Chinese companies are enjoying the benefits of healthier, more engaged employees.

Sophia Van | 07 Feb 2019

Health is the new wealth. Our physical and mental well-being impacts every aspect of our lives—including our ability to be loving parents, supportive friends and successful professionals. Information about our health is profoundly personal. No one beyond our trusted medical caregivers should have access to our most private details. The sensitive nature of our medical records, however, makes them a coveted target for sophisticated cybercriminals. Growth economies are particularly vulnerable. Cybercriminals target healthcare for two fundamental reasons: the healthcare industry is a rich source of valuable personal data that commands a high dollar value on the black market, and the healthcare industry’s existing technologies and processes are fraught with vulnerabilities. The exponential growth of personal health data is being generated from an increasing number of connected devices and networks. By the end of 2020, about four billion people will be connected via the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT). According to the INFOSEC Institute, more than 70 percent of IoMT devices lack fundamental security safeguards as applications primarily focus on the features of the software rather than the security of the data. IoMT, therefore, presents cybersecurity experts with unprecedented challenges that require the collaboration of many different stakeholders and care providers within healthcare ecosystems. This is a growing war. Cyberattacks are increasing in terms of number, scale and level of sophistication. A recent CBI Insights report reveals that, “Since 2017, roughly six billion confidential digital records have been stolen from around the world and counting. Just in the last two years there have been at least three separate data breaches in which at least one billion confidential records were stolen or exposed at once.”1   From a single laptop in a rural village to elite teams of experts sponsored by nefarious governments, cybercriminals can operate from any location with an Internet connection, and they are targeting healthcare organizations in growth economies that have not implemented modern, sophisticated defense systems. Healthcare communities, cybersecurity professionals and governments must acknowledge these five stark realities as they seek ways to combat the persistent and ubiquitous threat of cyberhackers. 1. Healthcare has a target on its back.   The three main targets of cybercriminals are electronic health records, healthcare infrastructure and individual medical records. Sensitive information has become a very powerful commodity in modern society. Just as gold, diamonds and printed money have attracted thieves for centuries, information has become one of earth’s most valuable assets. The more sensitive, damaging or revealing the information is, the more value it possesses. Details about how healthy, or unhealthy, individuals and groups are can be ransomed for astronomical prices.     In July 2018, ransomware targeted SingHealth, Singapore’s largest healthcare institution, and stole the information of 1.5 million patients, including the profile of the country’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong—who was identified as a specific target in the attack. These types of ransomware attacks are constantly being perpetrated against healthcare facilities as they struggle to implement comprehensive defense strategies. This trend will only escalate as cybercriminals and healthcare institutions attempt to outsmart and outmaneuver each other as bank robbers and banks have done throughout history.2 2. Hacks can mean life or death.   One of the most concerning current threats to health information privacy is a serious compromise of the integrity and availability of data. Those risks include possible harm to a patient’s safety and health, loss of protected health information (PHI) and unauthorized access to data. In fact, in 2013 The Washington Post reported that the doctors for Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the disabling of the wireless functionality of his heart implant out of fear that it could be hacked by terrorists.3 It’s arguable that cybercrimes in the healthcare industry can have much more drastic consequences to brand equity for institutions than major financial losses. The fear of not being able to access one’s critical health information is a legitimate, and intense, sense of unease. This anxiety is partially what gives the information its value and power. Data security breaches can directly impact the health and well-being of patients, and even result in fatalities. Destroying medical records and hijacking critical pharmaceutical prescriptions can quickly result in casualties and cause death. By stealing information and manipulating public fear, cybercriminals can leverage their stolen assets in unprecedented ways. The reality is these crimes have life-threatening consequences and can be perpetrated from across the world in the middle of the night. 3. Breaches are inevitable and may be internal.   The potential monetary gains for cyberhackers are enormous. Unsurprisingly, more than 70 percent of healthcare industry companies expect a breach from financially-motivated cybercriminals. However, the pervasive image of a lone cyberhacker working from a dark apartment in an anonymous city, or nefarious state-sponsored groups of squinting cyberthieves lined up in rows of bland cubicles, only represents part of the story. Internal employees also pose a great threat to healthcare institutions. Every employee is a human being, and whether or not they are disgruntled, financially distraught or simply unaware of how their behaviors can impact security protocols, there is the potential for corruption. Having the right security clearances, passwords and access to sensitive information may simply be too tempting for internal employees with an ulterior motive.  4. Robust security measures are needed.   The cat-and-mouse chase and confrontations will continue to evolve as cyberhackers continuously seek new ways to penetrate the defenses of healthcare institutions and stakeholders within the healthcare systems—including the manufacturers of connected medical devices. Today’s international and tech-savvy criminals are determined, sophisticated and creative. Healthcare institutions must be even more so. Though the growing awareness of cybersecurity threats have shaken the entire industry, many companies in growth economies have not set up and executed a holistic security framework that provides comprehensive governance and board oversight. Security measures lack an integrated approach that leverages the talents and acumen of not only healthcare professionals, but cybersecurity forces and policymakers at every level of government. The seamless integration of defense resources is required to combat cybercriminals who pose a dynamic and evolving threat. All stakeholders dealing with health data should shift from passive cyber defenses, to active cyber defenses. Cybersecurity for IoMT must also be a major agenda for next-generation medical devices. Governments and policymakers should provide security guidance and regulatory protocols for medical device manufacturers. The industry must quickly develop and adopt best-practices, frameworks and architectures for ensuring cybersecurity protections across all of IoMT. Hospitals and health systems need to secure medical devices in the same way that banks ensure the security of the credit cards they issue. Growth economies must respond, and lead, with appropriate security measures and cybersecurity policies. 5. Healthcare can fight back.   Ransomware and cybercrimes can create unimaginable chaos. But businesses, communities and growth economies are not powerless. When working together, they can create a network of systems, assets and protocols that can thwart even the most tenacious hackers. Diligence is key. The healthcare industry must be proactive about preventing cyberattacks before they occur and be smart about responding to them and mitigating damage when they do occur. Though many healthcare institutions have begun to develop effective security strategies, few have implemented a complete plan that addresses preparation, prevention, detection, and response and recovery strategies.  The healthcare industry and associated stakeholders must approach cybersecurity defense strategies with the same level of seriousness and strength that militaries apply to their own defense strategies. For instance, an effective and aggressive defense program would include the use of deception technologies that stop attacks by deceiving the attackers. Also, artificial intelligence (AI) can monitor traffic in and out of each connected device and differentiate between normal and abnormal behavior in real-time—alerting network security professionals when the device is listening to or talking to criminal networks, servers or individuals. AI can proactively block bad actors in real time before they can gain access and inflict damage. Winning cybersecurity strategies intercept and prevent attacks proactively; after all, once a device has been compromised and higher-level servers have been breached, the damage has been done. Lastly, the healthcare industry should consider other innovative defensive measures such as quantum computing, cybersecurity war rooms that provide around-the-clock security operations centers, and a holistic strategy that leverages not only technology but also human behavior and processes. To learn more about how cybercriminals are holding healthcare institutions hostage, and what the industry can do to protect itself, read this whitepaper.   1 Why Ai, Blockchain, & Enhanced Encryption Are The Future Of Enterprise Data Security http://www.cbinsights.com/research/ai-blockchain-encryption-enterprise-data-security-expert-intelligence/ 2 Singapore Suffers 'most Serious' Data Breach, Affecting 1.5m Healthcare Patients Including Prime Minister Eileen Yu - https://www.zdnet.com/article/singapore-suffers-most-serious-data-breach-affecting-1-5m-healthcare-patients-including-prime/ 3 Intermountain Healthcare Launches Security Operations Center To Combat Health Data Cyberattacks https://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20151114/MAGAZINE/311149977

Martine Ferland | 24 Jan 2019

Imagine this. At the start of his day Mike speaks to his smart phone and his virtual assistant pops up a personalized screen dedicated to his health and wellbeing.  There is a congratulatory message telling him he’s earned a reward voucher for his favorite cycling store for hitting his body composition target. The power of this system is that it integrates work needs with personal health requirements. It shows the morning’s schedule of meetings, and suggests a slot for a lunchtime group run that fits with his day. There is a to-do list already organized based on Mike’s priorities and deadlines, but also an analysis of last night’s sleep pattern, some suggestions for how to improve his sleep, and a flag that Mike needs to rehydrate if he is to maintain peak cognitive function. To create this pleasant morning ritual, Mike’s employer uses AI to connect and analyze data generated by his preferences, behaviors and biometric data. The new technology encourages Mike to bring his whole self to work and, by doing so, strengthens the connection to his employer. In the end, everyone benefits.  The scene described above provides a glimpse of the future of work, one where employers use digital technology, big data and AI to enhance employees’ entire well-being and strengthen that employer- employee relationship. Technology drives engagement, which then improves productivity and company culture. Employees want careers that complement their personal lives, not vice versa. This is seen with greater demand for role-flexing, which brings benefits to the employee and the employer. Fifty-one percent of employees want more flexible working options that allow for extended time off, for gym breaks, caregiving and avoiding rush-hour commutes (or commuting altogether).1 With this ability to balance, more headspace can be used for innovative ideas rather than worrying about who is picking up the children from school. Indeed, one in two employees wants a greater emphasis on well-being in the workplace.1 Technology is crucial in facilitating that desire. Technology not only enables employers to provide choice, flexibility and on-demand benefits in a practical sense, but also enhances the overall employee experience by being relevant to the audience of one. Employees now expect the technology experience they receive outside work to reflect the technology they are given access to inside work. Organizations who are slow to adopt will find they are actively disengaging their workforce. Since 61 percent of employees choose health as their top concern2, it is important to pay attention to this concern. Providing solutions that span the range of true well-being, from meditation apps, virtual doctor visits, biometric-led fitness coaching, and other tools enhances company values, culture and productivity.  That’s why Mercer acquired Thomsons Online Benefits in 2016 with its leading technology, Darwin. Darwin helps employees connect their benefits with their wider lives by giving them access to personalize their benefits offering. It provides employers with a single source of truth for benefits data, enabling a complete picture of your scheme at a country, regional, or worldwide level, and the ability to make better decisions about how to invest your benefits spend for optimum return on investment. For employers, offering customized solutions using technology helps personalize benefits for employees, resulting in higher impact and engagement. Companies that are using a technology-enabled approach are having the greatest success. Those with the technology to measure the impact of their benefits program are 80 percent more likely to respond to the employee need for well-being.3 We have only begun to scratch the surface on understanding how technology can be applied to advance well-being. Companies that invest in technology have a competitive advantage because their healthy, happy employees can thrive.4 By placing the diverse needs of their employee at the core of their efforts, employers can drive engagement and productivity to unimagined heights.                                1. Global Talent Trends Study 2018 https://www.mercer.com/our-thinking/career/global-talent-hr-trends.html 2 Global Talent Trends 2017 https://www.mercer.com/newsroom/global-talent-trends-2017.html 3 Global Employee Benefits Watch 2017/18 Report https://www.thomsons.com/resources/whitepapers/global-employee-benefits-watch-201718/ 4 Thriving in a Age Of Disruption https://www.mercer.com/our-thinking/thrive/thriving-in-a-disrupted-world.html

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