12 August 2020

Behavioural changes in how employees access health and wellbeing benefits due to the pandemic will bring long-term advantages for employers and employees

With employees needing to engage with healthcare differently during the pandemic, it has enlightened many about the variety of wellbeing services that are available remotely and digitally. This is likely to create long-term behavioural change amongst employees, with a number of positive benefits, and employers have an opportunity to capitalise on this, says Towergate Health & Protection.

Brett Hill, Distribution Director at Towergate Health & Protection says: “Many health and wellbeing benefits had a digital element prior to the pandemic, such as the ability to access doctors virtually; and others have been enhanced as a result of the crisis, such as virtual physiotherapy appointments. A significant change, however, is that there is now greater awareness of remote and digital wellbeing benefits, as staff have engaged with healthcare in this way to a far greater extent – either out of necessity or increased awareness - as a result of the pandemic. The ramifications of which, on the healthcare industry and employees, are set to be felt long term as preferences, expectations and delivery methods have shifted.”

Lasting change in engaging with healthcare

The crisis has fundamentally altered the attitude of many employees towards healthcare – as they now fully understand the extent to which it can be engaged with remotely. In fact, a survey of physicians found that remote patient consultations had increased up to six-fold in Europe,1 representing a game-changer in how employees access healthcare services. Medical professionals have increasingly been providing consultations virtually, advising on appropriate self-care or if further investigation into a concern is required.

Although borne out of necessity for some, accessing services virtually may well become a preference for others – as it saves time travelling and continues to help decrease the risk of the virus spreading. Many employers are now exploring health and wellbeing options that include access to digital healthcare such as virtual GPs, not as a fall-back option but as a go-to. It can save time, is more convenient and many just prefer this approach.

Alternatives in accessing support for mental health

Accessing support remotely has been reflected in how people access support not just for physical health but for mental health too. Employee assistance programme (EAP) providers report that, immediately post lockdown, their traditional face-to-face counselling appointments took place by telephone instead, but gradually online video counselling sessions became more popular as users became more familiar and comfortable with the technology.

Mental health apps have also seen a surge in engagement during lockdown. This may reflect the increased need for emotional support during a period of heightened anxiety for many, but some employees also have more time and inclination to explore such services.  

Many people now feel comfortable accessing support for mental wellbeing via technology, and it may well continue to be a preference for many in the future, with increased ability to actively manage mental health regularly using an app, making use of online hubs and increased access to digital information. Specialist, personalised and in-depth content can provide a lot of information and help, and if people need to talk to someone then phone and video-link can be easier than leaving the house and having to travel to attend an appointment, while still providing that human interaction that can be so important at times.

Working out new fitness regimes

The pandemic has also triggered employees to engage with benefits that support fitness in a way they never had before. The concept of exercising at home is new for some, but as gyms closed, healthcare benefits adapted, offering discounted or free access to online workouts instead. This shift in habit will have created long-term change with how many staff maintain their health.

With a new tranche of employees becoming engaged with fitness during lockdown, there is an opportunity for businesses to capitalise on this momentum, encourage enthusiasm for keeping fit, make benefits available that facilitate this, and communicate benefits that are offered. Now is a good time to remind all staff about benefits available that encourage fitness, such as discounts on trackers, and schemes that offer rewards for workouts: earning points that can be redeemed elsewhere – on cinema tickets, for example.

Brett Hill, Distribution Director at Towergate Health & Protection says: “There are some silver linings to be gleaned from the Covid-19 crisis and one is increased awareness around the effectiveness of remote and virtual healthcare solutions. Whilst face-to-face medical consultations remain important, the pandemic has encouraged employees to experience remote wellbeing services first-hand. This has fundamentally changed how staff access support for health and wellbeing and is likely to lead to lasting behaviour change in healthcare management. Remote services can make healthcare more efficient and effective, for employee and employer alike; this has been realised during the pandemic and is set to continue.”


1. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare-systems-and-services/our-insights/understanding-and-managing-the-hidden-health-crisis-of-covid-19-in-europe