Aon plc (NYSE: AON), a leading global professional services firm providing a broad range of risk, retirement and health solutions, has released research which provides an in-depth look at the health and wellbeing provisions offered by employers across the UK. According to Aon’s UK Benefits & Trends Survey, only 44% of employers have a formal wellbeing strategy, despite significant investment in health and benefits by employers. In addition, 22% said they did not intend to have a strategy within the next 12-18 months.

Mark Witte, head of health and risk consulting, Health Solutions UK at Aon, said:

“The fact that less than half of the employers we surveyed have a comprehensive wellbeing strategy in place is perhaps one of the key observations from this year’s survey. There is no shortage of investment in health and benefits generally, nor is there a lack of focus on specific support; however, overall, wellbeing activity all too often lacks strategic focus.

“In light of COVID-19, it is encouraging to see that a third of respondents said they expected to make a greater investment in employee health in 2021. Research shows, however, that investment in services and benefits alone will not generate required outcomes. Our Rising Resilient study showed that resilience triples when employers adopt a well-rounded health and wellbeing programme supporting physical, social, emotional, financial and career needs. It’s therefore encouraging to see that 33% of respondents intended to have a formalised health and wellbeing strategy in place in the next 12-18 months.”

The survey also showed that only 9% of employers are actively measuring the return on investment from their wellbeing programmes, despite it being a crucial way to assess and tailor them to their employees’ needs. According to Aon, this can make it harder to justify investment and secure maximum value, and may explain why 70% of employers do not have a designated budget for health and wellness.

Of the employers that have a well-rounded strategy, 55% are using employee engagement surveys to drive their health and wellbeing programmes. These have overtaken more traditional markers such as Employee Assistance Programme utilisation and absence data as the main metric for informing employers’ strategies.

Wellbeing has also moved up the corporate agenda, with more than half of employers (56%) already having or planning to have Board-level sponsorship for their wellbeing initiative. According to Aon, this shows the level of importance placed on wellbeing and what it can offer organisations in terms of improved health, engagement and productivity.

Looking ahead, employers plan to focus their 2021 healthcare spend on education and prevention, with 78% of respondents looking to focus on this area. There has, however, been a notable shift in the number of employers looking to provide access to treatment, which ranked least important 12 months ago but is now second in importance, with 39% of employers planning to focus on this offering.

The survey also illustrated the wellbeing pillars employers see as priorities.

  • Most employers (76%) now have emotional/mental wellbeing strategies in place, which is up 8 percentage points from 2020 (68%). Nearly two thirds (59%) of employers have a specific strategy in place for mental health.
  • When it comes to financial wellbeing, 41% of employers have a strategy in place, despite 61% of employers agreeing that they are responsible for influencing employee financial wellbeing. The number of employers with ‘no plans’ to implement financial wellbeing solutions has increased from 30% in 2020 to 39% in 2021.
  • Career and Social wellbeing also stayed lower on the agenda, with only 32% and 30% of employers, respectively, having defined strategies in place. These have changed in the last year: Career wellbeing has lowered as an employer priority – 36% of employers had a defined strategy last year – yet Social wellbeing has risen by 2 percentage points, up from 28% in 2020.
  • Sixty-one percent of employers have a defined strategy in place for employee physical health, a marginal decrease from 65% in 2020.

Witte added:

“Having a robust wellbeing strategy in place will contribute to employee resilience, which we can all agree is a valuable asset to have now. But as our survey highlights, it is important for employers to ensure that their strategy is inclusive of all five pillars of wellbeing; Emotional and Mental, Physical, Financial, Career and Social. There is a danger that the impact of the pandemic means employers focus the majority of their efforts on emotional and mental initiatives, and whilst this is vitally important, we urge employers to ensure the other pillars of wellbeing are not forgotten.

“The events of the past 12 months have elevated the importance of employee health as a business-critical issue. This year will undoubtedly see continued focus on wellbeing activity with a greater demand for data and insight to help not just strategy design, but also better measure value and return on investment.”

Find out more about the Aon UK Benefits and Trend Survey 2021 and download a copy of the report here.

By Lisa Baker, Senior Editor

Senior Editor Lisa Baker is the owner of Need to See it Publishing Group, providing contract news for business and news sites across the UK. Lisa is an experienced HR writer and commentator, editing HR publications for more than 5 years.