Employment considerations of the H1N1 pandemic

A survey conducted by sanofi-aventis reveals what employees find important about their employer-sponsored benefits plans, and what role wellness programs have in the workplace.

sanofi-aventis Health Care Survey 2009

Plan members rely on their group benefits programs, especially during difficult economic times.

The annual sanofi-aventis Health Care Survey takes the pulse of over 2,000 randomly selected Canadian plan members. It captures their attitudes and preferences about their employer-sponsored health benefits plans, as well as their thoughts on the Canadian health care system in general. The perceptions of plan members provide valuable information to plan sponsors when assessing their current health benefits plans, and when making future decisions about those plans. And they’re particularly valuable during difficult economic times when some plan sponsors might be looking for ways to cut costs.

Areas of concern for plan members

Plan member feedback pinpoints issues plan sponsors may want to focus on when they review the health benefits plans they offer employees. Areas that were highlighted by plan members in the 2009 survey include the following:

  • the impact that stress has on employees and their productivity;
  • the importance of access to health care and to employee health promotion programs;
  • the overall high value plan members place on their health benefits plans.

Linking stress with productivity

Almost half (47%) of plan members surveyed indicated that they consider their health to be excellent or very good. Many admitted, however, that stress levels, particularly during a time of economic uncertainty, are of particular concern with 28 per cent of respondents admitting that their productivity is compromised when under stress.

Almost 31 per cent of plan members indicated that stress in their personal lives made them physically ill, and nearly 38 per cent indicated the same with regards to stress in the workplace.

Economic stress was identified as a key concern for many employees, with employees in Alberta and Ontario most likely to feel its effects (33 per cent and 32 per cent respectively). The stress and anxiety of job insecurity is also higher in Ontario than the rest of the country (20 per cent in Ontario versus 15 per cent in the rest of the country).

Accessing health care

In addition to feeling the effects of stress, accessing health care was also identified as a priority for plan members. Those in good health (27 per cent), very good health (19 per cent) and excellent health (16 per cent) are more likely to find health care accessible. The results of the survey reiterate that, especially now, plan sponsors need to maintain their commitment to health promotion and health benefits plans, and ensure their employees have the tools to educate themselves on health risks.

The price tag placed on group benefits plans

As in previous years, plan members confirmed the importance they place on their health benefits plans when the majority chose their plans (52 per cent) over a $15,000 pay out. Almost half (45 per cent) of plan members would maintain their plan even if the amount of money was increased to the not insignificant sum of $20,000. The majority of plan members (64 per cent) also confirmed that what they value most in their plan is the day-to-day coverage available to themselves and their families, with almost 60 per cent of plan members acknowledging that they have a role to play in helping their employer control plan costs.

Return on the wellness investment

This year’s survey confirmed that plan sponsors who offer health promotion and wellness programs have more satisfied employees (82 per cent versus 77 per cent). They also have their health benefits plans rated as excellent or very good (65 per cent), and a much greater percentage of employees (66 per cent versus 57 per cent) who feel a sense of responsibility to help their employer control plan costs.

It is interesting to note that only 35 per cent of plan members with access to wellness programs at their workplace actually use them. Plan sponsors would benefit by focusing on ways to engage their employees, perhaps by expanding the options they offer and seeking direct input from plan members on the types of wellness services offered by the program.

Finding the right wellness mix

Survey respondents indicated they would increase their wellness program participation if their plans offered the following:

  • Subsidized gym memberships (62%)
  • Small financial incentives/gifts (61%)
  • Healthy food choices at work (56%)
  • More flexible work hours (55%)
  • More time for fitness breaks (51%)
  • Health/wellness information and education at work (48%)

Staying the course

“People are at the heart of an organization’s success,” says survey advisory board member Chris Bonnett. “A weak economy doesn’t change this. Even if some companies must cut staff to survive, they must also look after those who remain. Employees need peace of mind and the survey demonstrates health benefits plans provide an important level of security.”

While difficult economic times are challenging for both employers and their employees, survey results indicate it’s not a time when plan sponsors should compromise health benefit plans at the expense of their plan members. The 2009 sanofi-aventis survey has reaffirmed the importance plan members place on their plans, and has also identified the implications of stress, and the importance plan members place on health care access and health and wellness programs in the workplace. As the report says, “The more employees understand and control their health risks, the more likely it is that employers will have lower long-term costs and create greater employee loyalty.” This underlines the value plan members place on their plans, and the plan’s ability to build greater employee engagement, loyalty, and ultimately productivity in the workplace.

For more information on this year’s findings, you can read the sanofi-aventis Health Care Survey 2009 at http://www.sanofi-aventis.ca

Source: sanofi-aventis Health Care Survey 2009