Employee wellness: A business priority not just people’s imperative


India’s employee health benefit programmes include dependents, which makes them stand apart from other countries’ benefits in the Asia Pacific region

Healthcare benefits are an integral part of Indian payrolls today, as employers have realised that a healthy workforce is more productive.

Anuradha Sriram, director – benefits, Towers Watson India, says, “Though cost pressure on health benefits is rising for Indian employers, it is encouraging to see that they are taking a more holistic approach towards it instead of scaling back health programmes.”

Towers Watson, which does the Benefits Trends Survey, reveals that health benefits such as medical inpatient and outpatient are among the most valued by Indian employees, and can play a vital role in sustaining employee engagement.

The two most popular health benefit programmes in the country are, occupational health and safety benefits offered by 56 per cent of employers, and biometric screening offered by 51 per cent of employers.

However, what differentiates India’s employee health benefit programme from other countries’ in the Asia Pacific region is inclusion of dependents in the health benefit programme. For instance, while less than a quarter (21 per cent) of the employers in Asia Pacific cover dependent parents, among Indian employers, the figure is more than double of the Asia Pacific average, that is, 44 per cent.

Though, this practice has to do with the Indian culture, where people still live in big joint families or take responsibilities of parents’ well-being, it is one of the reasons for increasing health benefit expenses for the employers.

However, what Indian companies need to improve on is adding more benefits to the employee health programmes, especially the ones valued by the employees. For instance, while health risk assessments are the most valued by employees, currently less than half (46 per cent) of Indian employers offer them. The positive trend is that 22 per cent of the Indian employers plan to include the same in the employee health benefit programme in the coming year.

The other scope of improvement is in the addition of ‘chronic diseases’, which is a significant and growing health concern in the region. However, it still has not gained traction with Indian employers, as only 13 per cent currently cover these.

Employers also need to include stress-management programmes, as stress is considered to be a top lifestyle risk faced by Indian employees today. Only 36 per cent of Indian employers currently offer this programme, while an additional 30 per cent are planning to offer such programmes in the future.

“Workplace stress continues to pose a serious problem to employers, adversely impacting employee engagement and productivity,” said Sriram.

“Well planned health and wellness programmes, that improve employer–employee connect and engagement, are the first step to increasing health and productivity in an organisation. While it is a long and challenging proposition in the context of prevailing cost pressures, employers can take a step in the right direction by looking at relevant data, understanding employee risk profiles and devising a creative approach, that is targeted, and takes into account employees’ motives,” added Sriram.

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