Taking care of employees’ physical and emotional well-being is more important than ever. Although already fundamental prior to the health crisis, the spread of COVID-19 has placed the healthcare and well-being of the workforce at the top of the list of priorities of any organisation. This applies in particular to organisations with employees working in other countries. Currently, if we really want to ensure the overall health of the labour force, it is necessary to launch a well-structured and executed wellness plan in line with workers’ actual needs and the particular situation of each business location, with a clear strategy integrating attractive initiatives that capture the attention of the teams. All of this must be carried out without anyone feeling excluded or losing connection with the other members of the company spread throughout the world.
In these times, the growing importance of personal well-being has led employees to demand greater dedication from their companies. According to the latest Cigna study, ‘COVID-19 Global Impact’1, in October 2020, 49% of the global population said they expected their company to provide them with some type of service or support to stay healthy and physically active. In addition, 54% of respondents stated that more mental health support was needed from the organisation where they worked. This data clearly shows the vital role of organisations, both large and small, national or international, as one of the main actors in healthcare and well-being, checking in with their employees and offering them the tools necessary to keep healthy in all senses.
At the same time, we cannot forget that, following on from COVID-19, the work setting and working methods have changed radically. This has led to the creation of a new outlook on health in the work environment, where aspects such as reconciliation, flexibility, communication, empathy, the security of staying healthy and psychological well-being are more important than ever - even more so at a time of managing teams distributed across the world.
As a consequence, the implementation of wellness programmes tackling health in a holistic manner, integrating physical, emotional, social and family well-being is becoming a key factor for building a stronger internal culture and gaining a competitive edge. Here are some reasons why Cigna believes the team's healthcare and well-being must become the main focus of the human resources management strategy in every international SME:
- An investment yielding a high return. Investing in the well-being of employees generates an important return on investment to a greater or lesser extent. Understanding the needs of workers and the organisational risk factors and designing a suitable support plan either via generic programmes or particular interventions for employees with a more specific risk profile or located in a specific market can reduce the rates of absenteeism owing to sickness, increase team productivity, improve reconciliation, reduce occupational illnesses and lower the turnover rate. This translates into financial benefits meaning that any action in this respect must be considered an investment and never an expense.
- The financial outlay for its launch can be very affordable. It is not necessary to be a large company and have vast economic resources to launch an effective health plan at local or international level. In fact, according to Cigna’s latest study, ‘Health and wellness in workplaces: what works? ROI analysis of health and wellness interventions’2, plans with low investment levels, if well designed, can achieve returns four times higher than more costly health programmes. Therefore, small or medium-sized enterprises can also provide employees with wellness programmes and obtain excellent results both financial and in terms of impact on their health.
- More than satisfied employees, they help to achieve committed staff. We talk about job satisfaction when a worker is happy, enjoys their job and values the benefits offered by their company. However, in order for them to be actually motivated to help their organisation be successful, exceeding what is expected of them, workers need to be committed. With a health and wellness programme, the achievement of this commitment will be much easier, as workers will see a support pillar in their organisation that is concerned for their well-being in and out of the office, with which they feel a close bond and, most importantly, with which they can identify in terms of values and objectives. These are very important aspects in small and medium-sized enterprises that are in the process of international expansion and require employees who are fully engaged in order to help achieve the strategic targets set.
- Loyal employees, loyal customers. A poor performance from the workforce may have a negative impact on customer service and the offer of products and services they receive. In the short, medium and long term, this may translate into a certain dissatisfaction among the company's customers, which may lead to the cancellation of contracts that are strategic for the continuation of the organisation in foreign markets and, by extension, a considerable reduction in business income. Therefore, promoting wellness care in the workforce will be the cornerstone for achieving satisfied, loyal customers, an intangible asset that is as important for an SME as its volume of sales.
- Supportive and stimulating environment. These types of interventions convey enormously positive values of achievement and promote synergy, communication and camaraderie. And, in addition to seeking to improve the health of workers, wellness programmes also develop a stimulating and comfortable environment for working with other colleagues and managers. Likewise, it provides the positive energy needed to face any challenge, which is a particularly important requirement in these uncertain times.
- Improvement of company image and reputation. All this positive energy from the organisation will mean that the employees are the main ambassadors of the company, on the one hand, and that the public will perceive the company as one that looks after and is committed to its staff, on the other. This will result in an improved reputation and a greater capacity to attract the best international talent, which is key for the growth of a small or medium-sized enterprise in other markets where it has a budding presence.
- Wide range of initiatives for development that can be adapted to remote working. Within a context where a proportion of the population is working from home and, in these types of organisations, with employees spread throughout the world, there are many options to develop a remote health and wellness programme. New technologies offer thousands of ideas, opportunities and approaches to explore. Here are a few examples: digital guides for steering teams in their mental and physical healthcare, telemedicine services, digital games to improve concentration, health and well-being applications, virtual chats, psychological sessions or online meditation and yoga workshops, remote coaching and wellness platforms, etc. In addition, being digital, it is possible to obtain impact data in real time, monitor its development, manage the different plan initiatives and campaigns easily, effectively and simultaneously and divide the results according to types of employees, business locations or markets, etc.
Which types of health and wellness plans exist for an international SME?
There is a wide variety of health plans to be developed. Their type and implementation will depend on the health risk factors detected in the workforce and the different locations of the organisation, their nature and whether they are designed for the general public or more specific targets. In general terms, wellness programmes are grouped as follows:
- Case management. Programmes aimed at managing and coordinating the healthcare process for one employee in particular. For example, support in access to treatment for a worker with cancer.
- Illness management. Plans focused on specific pathologies such as diabetes or hypertension aimed at supporting employees already suffering from these health problems and needing lifestyle guidance or individual action plans.
- Lifestyle management. Interventions promoting positive changes in lifestyle and behaviour: healthy eating, quitting smoking, rest, weight control, playing a sport, etc.
- Prevention. Programmes aimed at preventing the occurrence of an illness. This would be the case of plans focused on flu vaccination, promoting and encouraging hygienic practices in the workplace or stress prevention.
- Health risk assessment. Programmes that help to identify and understand the possible risks to well-being and to monitor the health of employees over the long term. These include risk assessment questionnaires and medical examinations.
Designing and implementing any of these health and wellness plans requires the resources, know-how and necessary advice to achieve maximum effectiveness in an international SME. Therefore, being able to rely on a specialist partner for guidance during the process is fundamental, particularly in the case of small and medium-sized enterprises with expatriate employees, which generally do not have a specialist team to implement them and adapt them to the realities of each market.
Likewise, the great need for these health programmes to be accompanied by the provision of health insurance cannot be overlooked. Although the initiatives above aimed at ensuring the well-being of employees are very important, offering some kind of health cover continues to be one of the most requested company benefits, particularly in the case of internationally mobile employees. As shown by Cigna's study ‘COVID-19 Global Impact’1, 63% of the global population asked their companies for health insurance with better cover in October. And no wonder, in the actual case of those expatriate workers, it is vital for companies to guarantee them the same healthcare conditions as they have in their country of origin, offering them insurance with comprehensive health cover so that they are able to access all the services they need, centralised in a single healthcare contact.
This is where companies such as Cigna offer services to guide companies wishing to make healthcare the hallmark of their corporation. Namely, apart from providing organisations of all types and sizes with a wide range of health covers and benefits, they also offer continuous assistance, support and monitoring during the process of implementation of a wellness programme, regardless of type.
To find out everything that Cigna can do to help you provide comprehensive care for your international staff, click this link for information on its solutions for SMEs with expatriate employees. To get a quote, please click here.
1 Cigna. ‘COVID-19 Global Impact’. Date of publication: December 2020. Link.
2 Cigna. ‘Health and wellness in workplaces: what works? ROI analysis of health and wellness interventions. Date of publication: December 2020. Link.