Free healthcare benefits: Are they worth it?

Lee Biggins looks into the matter of whether employers should be offering free vaccinations for their staff.

With millions of working days lost each year due to the flu, and employees across the country struck by the illness each winter, the UK’s businesses have a new question to contend with: should employers invest in free flu jabs for their staff? At a time when employee perks and incentives are more important than ever, many of the nation’s businesses have been upping the ante, and offering their employees a host of perks and benefits. But should employers be offering free vaccinations? Will businesses who do choose to go down this route see a return on their investment, or is it all a waste of time?

At CV-Library, our latest survey of over 15,000 candidates revealed that only 15.9 per cent receive free flu jabs from their employer, suggesting that many businesses across the UK are ignoring the implications of this seasonal illness, and leaving their workforces exposed. Research suggests that employee sickness and absence costs the nation’s organisations in the region of £29 billion each year, so the question remains: should employers do more to protect their employees’ health?

There’s no denying the fact that sustained employee absenteeism has an overwhelmingly negative impact on productivity levels and at times, morale within the workplace; in addition to the gap it often leaves in the workforce, many of a business’s healthy employees will then be at risk. Losing a chunk of the workforce to the flu, means that not only will there be a higher risk of contamination and the possibility that the infection has spread through the office, but workers who then have to take on extra work and responsibilities to compensate for their sick colleagues will often find themselves under additional strain.

As today’s workers are contending with longer hours and increased workloads, stress levels among employees appear to be an all-time high. While dealing with the consequences of absenteeism isn’t necessarily the top reason for this, it will certainly have an effect. If employers are able to put initiatives in place, or provide preventative measures to ensure that staff are able to stay healthy and happy, then it’s more than likely that this investment will be worth it. Furthermore, workers who are subjected to pressure and stress at work are actually twice as likely to fall ill; stress often impacts the immune system, making it easier to catch the flu or a cold. So if staff are constantly battling infections, and coughing up a storm, it could be that stress is an underlying factor; addressing the cause is far more effective than simply treating the symptoms.

At my company, employee health is extremely important, and there are a number of measures in place to ensure that staff have the option and encouragement to be fit and healthy. Just last year, we began offering all members of staff who wished to be vaccinated a free flu jab, enabling them some extra protection throughout the winter months. As mentioned, employee stress is at an all-time high; a recent study of ours suggested that over a quarter (25.5 per cent) of staff have taken time off work to deal with stress. It’s no secret that exercise is one of the most effective ways of overcoming stress and the pressures of work; here, all employees are offered a discounted gym membership, offering staff the chance to remain fit and healthy, but in a more affordable way.

Companies in a position to offer this as a health benefit should seriously consider doing so; not only will staff be happier, but research suggests that employees who exercise regularly see the benefits in their work too, such as increased productivity, more energy and an overall improvement in health. If a company is not in the position to offer this type of benefit, there are still other ways to encourage employee health and fitness, such as internal pedometer challenges, or by supporting events such as ‘Stoptober’ and ‘Dryathlon’. While employers can’t force staff to get involved, it’s essential to remember when offering health benefits such as free vaccinations, promoting initiatives that support employee health can have a positive effect.

Of course, employers do have to weigh up the costs involved in providing free healthcare benefits; a small business may not be able to offer subsidised gym memberships or free vaccinations. However, this doesn’t mean that all is lost. Back and neck problems were recently ranked as the number one reason for staff calling in sick, so even offering something as simple as a desk assessment to ensure employees are sitting correctly at their desks could help to tackle absenteeism. Additionally, providing products such as hand sanitiser in the workplace will often help to fight infection; if your business isn’t able to provide vaccinations or treatments, preventative measures such as this can be just as helpful.

Unfortunately, there’s no right or wrong way for employers to encourage a healthy lifestyle among their workforce. But ultimately it will be worth the investment for businesses in the long run. In providing employees with the tools to deal with stress and by promoting an overall healthy lifestyle, either through internal events or through the support of external events, employers have the opportunity to ensure their workforce is as fit and healthy as can be. By offering preventative measures, whether through vaccinations or internal initiatives, businesses should begin to notice the benefits. As staff make use of these opportunities, employers should notice a reduction in the number of sick and absent workers, essentially leading to increased output and productivity, and a happy, healthy workforce.

Further reading on employee benefits

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