2021 presented the world of work with unforeseen and unprecedented challenges for employee wellbeing. With the health pandemic still very much in our lives, here is what’s up ahead in the year to come.
A focus on men’s health
Until now there’s been little attention given to men’s health. Worse still, a culture of blame has been created. It is widely, wrongly accepted and assumed that men don’t care about their health and fail to look after themselves properly. But help is very much needed. An astonishing 1 in 5 of your male colleagues will die before they’re old enough to retire.
Lee McNamara, Group Head of Internal Communications and Culture at DFS says “Men get the thin end of the wedge when it comes to serious health problems”. Lee says the broader wellbeing market is not gender neutral and this causes problems. “It tends to be skewed more towards women. This means men get left behind”.
The fact is that men are interested in their health. It’s just that the current healthcare system hasn’t been designed for their needs. “Some health campaigns don’t speak to men so they can’t relate to them,” says Helen Lake, Director of men’s health services at digital health app Peppy.
Peppy is bucking the trend by offering targeted health support for men. We’re offering expert guidance and support for men’s lifestyle and fitness support. Additionally , mental health and common health issues, including prostate health and identifying red flags. DFS is just one of a growing number of organisations partnering with Peppy to offer its predominantly male staff discreet expert support, which is designed specifically with men in mind.
Great strides have been made for women’s health. Many companies are now providing menopause support for their female staff through fertility, pregnancy, miscarriage and menopause issues.
In the same way as men require their own specialist support for specifically male health issues, plus fertility and early parenthood, these previously under-served areas of women’s health require personalised, expert support.
We know that general health policies are often ignored. “Women and men need to know that if they’re talking about personal issues, there is the facility for them to do that in an anonymous way, like with Peppy,” says Kathy Abernethy, Director of menopause services at Peppy and former Chair of the British Menopause Society.
“Where companies have overlooked the need for specific support, it’s time to recognise this mistake,” says Kathy. Often the first step is to find out how many women are in the workforce and how likely they are to be going through the menopause or a fertility journey while working.
“We need to recognise the statistics when it comes to menopausal women struggling through difficult symptoms without appropriate help and understanding,” says Kathy. Equally, the statistics for men enduring issues like low testosterone levels and prostate problems need to be taken into account.
But, Kathy warns that gender-specific support must be inclusive too. “If you don’t identify as either gender, where do you fit in? If you are outwardly a man but have a cervix, it’s important that you should still be included in screening programmes. Gender-specific benefits need to be drawn up carefully”, and services must offer support that extends to the LGBTQ+ community.
Inclusivity around healthcare
Employers need to offer health benefits that include everyone. Not just the top-tier of workers or those who work traditional jobs and hours. The days of health insurance that only applies to the most senior portion of the workforce are on their way out. Health benefits need to be extended to all demographic groups and levels of seniority.
We need to make sure that certain groups are not ignored. We know, for example, that one in seven LGBTQ+ people avoid seeking healthcare for fear of discrimination. Yet over half of LGBTQ+ people experience depression. Similarly, we know that Black women are five times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth than White women. “These groups must be included,” says Kathy, “and yet they are often the groups that are left out by health services targeting the general population, rather than the individual, and even by comms which they feel less able to identify with.”
When tackling health inequalities with workplace health benefits in a diverse workforce, programmes need to be designed with diversity and inclusion as the primary goal for the offering, as well as workforce wellbeing.
It’s also vital that stigmas and taboos be addressed in the workplace. Miscarriage, menopause, fertility, domestic abuse, neurodiversity… These are within the experience of your workforce, and yet many feel they must keep their struggles hidden at work, adding extra pressure at a difficult time in their lives. Companies that fail to address and accommodate these issues are not only putting their productivity at risk, but also their appeal as an employer.
A shift away from company policy
Many companies are noting a shift away from a policy-only attitude towards healthcare. While some employers have policies for menopause, fertility and miscarriage already in place, or at least in the works, a notable proportion are firmly anti-policy.
Some believe that policies just make the issues banal and standardised, relegating them to the background. Having a policy can mean avoiding a problem by ticking a box. As Kathy says, “a policy is only a start. But, if it doesn’t actually carry through with any action, it’s meaningless”.
At a national level, though, health policies will still be high on the agenda. Says Kathy Abernethy: “There is going to be a progression of policy, particularly when it comes to women’s health. The Government is going to start legislating on policy, thanks to The Department of Health Women’s Taskforce. It’s likely that women’s health policies will become mandatory. And if there are women’s policies, the same will soon follow for men”.
The rise of virtual healthcare
Virtual healthcare is here to stay . In part, because of the pandemic and the need for virtual support necessitated by the way the world of work has changed.
Says Kathy “the emphasis on work-life balance is going to continue beyond Covid. I think we’ve hopefully had a mindset change now. People have realised that they don’t need to be as driven by work as they were pre-Covid. A lot of people don’t want to go back to what they were. We’re going to see more and more hybrid working and a shift in emphasis away from salary-only and towards holistic wellbeing”.
Working from home and hybrid working have become normalised. Being able to access health and wellbeing support when you aren’t physically present in the workplace will continue to be valued and appreciated by your workforce.
Virtual healthcare really does work, and in the changing world of work, it will become essential.
The Peppy app connects users to expert health practitioners via one-on-one video appointments and anonymous chat, as well as virtual events and on-demand explainer videos. It also provides targeted mental health support.
In a trial of Peppy virtual support by a leading retail bank, 90% of participants felt more positive about the company. No wonder companies like Santander, MarshMcLennan and Novartis are now offering their workforce Peppy virtual healthcare support.
- A policy is not enough – it’s action that really matters when it comes to workplace support.
- Policies need to be gender-specific, but inclusive.
- Virtual health support will be essential in the future world of work.