At a premium: the rising value of health cover as a benefit

Not only households and tradespeople are worried about their heating costs this winter. An article published by the British Medical Journal in August shows the NHS trusts are braced for “staggering” energy bills which they expect will be two to three times what they will be in 2021.

Understandably, people are increasingly concerned about how quickly they can get free healthcare with an underfunded NHS now facing serious inflationary pressures, having already endured austerity, Brexit and Covid.

It’s little wonder, then, that private health insurance is becoming a high-demand element of employer benefit packages, observes Claire Harvey, MD at recruitment giant Reed.

“As a result of the pandemic, most people have realized that the NHS may not be able to treat them as quickly and effectively as they would like,” she says. “Access to private health care gives them security.”

With the UK labor market as tight as it has been for at least 15 years, employers must offer particularly attractive bonus packages to hire the workers they need, according to the Office for National Statistics.

“There has been a massive shortage of qualified candidates over the last 12 months,” says Harvey, adding that potential recruits will generally stay “unless the employer can offer a significant increase in their overall benefits.”

A healthy differentiator

She reports that candidates now see private health insurance alongside a generous company pension as perks that could persuade them to change employers.

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“Those are probably the two big hot topics that are closely related,” says Harvey. “The candidates are now thinking about their physical and mental well-being and also their financial well-being in the future. People are living longer, so they need a bigger pension pot to get through their retirement.”

Her views are shared by Susie Morris, Director of Trust Sales at Healix Health Services, which offers a flexible alternative to traditional private health insurance through an HMRC-approved funding model known as the Corporate Healthcare Trust.

She says: “Health benefits are at the top of what employees want. I think they’re more attracted to companies that offer these kinds of benefits and also good pensions because they feel that they’re taken care of.”

Access to private health care gives employees security

Aside from allowing many employees to work flexibly to great effect, the pandemic appears to have increased interest in a range of health-related perks, according to Harvey.

“Cycling to work and showering are popular, especially as many employers no longer offer free parking. It’s also important to offer flexibility for people’s lifestyles,” she says, adding that some employees may want the freedom to, for example, visit the gym, pick up their kids from school, or after at different times of the workday to see an elderly relative.

With many companies embracing hybrid working models, Reed has begun advising clients to make their space “a great place to work so that people are actually encouraged to come out of their bedrooms and into them,” reports Harvey. She notes that employers are becoming more attuned to the impact of the office environment on the well-being of their residents. This encourages them to “create environments with a little more space and fresh air”.

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How Farfetch Approaches Health Benefits

Luxury fashion retailer Farfetch has taken a scientific approach to its delivery of wellness benefits. The Anglo-Portuguese company worked with the University of Minho in Braga to conduct an anonymous employee survey. It measured well-being (general and financial), psychological safety, parental conflict, work-life balance, burnout, anxiety and depression in the workforce.

Ana Sousa, a former university lecturer in developmental psychology, is Vice President of People Strategy at Farfetch. She explains: “The research has given us a lot of great insights. When we were asked to design a wellbeing framework, we knew we should focus on the emotional side because our employees said they needed more of that.”

The company selected a provider called Plumm Health to offer personalized mental health services to its employees. “Around 36% of our population are registered with Plumm and receive therapy or coaching. Of these, 61% use chat therapy,” says Sousa.

Because waiting lists are so long, some people have taken the self-pay route for private treatment

While many people go through their entire employment with a company without requiring such services, employees still have peace of mind knowing that the support they need is there should they ever need it.

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Morris notes the NHS’ treatment backlog has reached crisis levels. “Because the waiting lists are so long, some people are going the self-pay route for private treatment,” she says. “But if the cost of living keeps going up, will that still be a priority for them? If they don’t have healthcare, will they just wait? And if they wait, will things get worse, cost more, and cause more pain?”

When employers consider planned health benefits, they shouldn’t overlook the makeup of their workforce, Morris says. For example, people in different age groups have different priorities when it comes to personal well-being, so the ability to tailor healthcare packages can be valuable.

“As a 20-year-old employee, I might want things like a musculoskeletal drape. That should give me access to physical therapy or surgery to fix my shoulder or knee because I exercise a lot,” she explains. “But when I’m a certain age, I could say, ‘I’m a little worried about things like cancer. I’m happy to pay a little more to cover those risks because they’re more relevant to me.’”

Morris emphasizes that it is important for companies to “listen to their employees about what is most helpful to them. If healthcare costs are covered, you have employees who are much more focused because they don’t care about such things.”

It seems that one of the best ways to take care of a company is to take care of its employees.