By Alex Boucher, Principal and National Practice Leader, Mercer Total Health Management, Canada
The International HERO Scorecard is intended for use in any country and benchmark data are provided for any country from which at least 20 responses have been collected. This blog is based on benchmark data from Canada and insights shared in an interview with Alex Boucher, who serves as Practice Leader for Mercer’s Total Health Management practice in Canada.
Alex Boucher is a principal with Mercer and the National Leader of the Total Health Management practice for Canada. Alex has been active in the Disability, Health and Wellness fields for over 19 years. His career history includes leadership in Health and Disability Management, Benefits and Wellness for group and individual insurers, small business, large employers, governments and crown corporations at the provincial and federal levels. A recognized and sought after expert in wellness, mental health, disability management, workplace attendance and accommodation, Alex continues to dedicate his career to improving the productivity, health and well-being of clients, colleagues and the public at large, through collaborative practice with measurable, repeatable results that enhance organizations, their retention, and success.
Rising business costs associated with poor health is one of the reasons that employers in Canada are interested in supporting the health and well-being of their employees. Employers are seeking effective solutions that improve absence, disability, and on-the-job productivity outcomes for the organization and reduce costs for them and for their employees. They are also increasingly providing health and well-being services in order to attract and retain top talent.
In Canada, the majority of employers rely on employee assistance professionals to support employee wellness, which may include health coaching, and/or advice on wellness and child care. Employee assistance services may also provide legal, financial, and digital health resources. The HERO Scorecard results for the 19 employers based in Canada show typical company offerings with 89% of respondents saying they offer employee assistance services and 91% offering telephone-based coaching. The emergence of digital health solutions has become more robust over the years and contributed to a growing understanding about drivers of behavior change. This is reflected in the HERO Scorecard results for Canadian employers showing web-based interventions are offered by 73% of respondents and email or mobile interventions are offered by 64%. These results suggest a preference for personalization of solutions versus broad one-size-fits-all approaches.
One of the largest opportunities for employers to improve their health and well-being offerings is to align their efforts with organizational objectives. In Canada, wellness programs are often offered based on the connection between health and productivity outcomes but are not aligned to broader organizational goals. The HERO Scorecard results show that 37% of Canadian organizations say employee health and well-being is included in organizational goals and value statements and the same percentage report senior leaders consistently articulate the value and importance of health.
The majority of respondents (58%) say they have no written strategic plan for health and well-being in their organization and of those that do, most focus on participation rates as a measure of success. The HERO Scorecard can be a valuable tool for organizations that understand the importance of a strategic plan for employee well-being and can help them identify measures predictive of success that also align with organizational values. Companies intent on implementing evidence-based programs and initiatives can use data collected via the Scorecard to build a dashboard indicating where they are succeeding and where they are falling short, relative to their goals.
Well over half of the Scorecard respondents in Canada (63%) do not believe their health and well-being initiatives are effective at promoting a healthier workforce. One of the biggest challenges that may be contributing to this perception is engaging people to take ownership of their health. Canadian employees have the benefit of a socialized health care system, which means there is no direct visible cost to them to manage their health issues. Human beings generally believe bad things won’t happen to them and tend to have a bias toward enjoyment in the present over the future. Therefore, engaging employees in programs that can help them enjoy life more is key. Incentives can be an effective tool to encourage people to take advantage of the resources available to them but 68% of respondents in Canada say they use no extrinsic rewards or token gifts to encourage participation. They are more likely to use communications strategies to promote awareness of resources; in fact, 58% of respondents report using year-round communications. Opportunities to improve communications include greater use of multiple communication channels (only 37% do so) and leveraging management interactions or communications with employees to promote health and well-being programs (only 11% do so).
Most Canadian organizations completing the HERO Scorecard indicate their evaluation activities are not very effective contributors to the success of their health and well-being initiatives. A more effective approach is to develop a strategy that aligns health and well-being with organizational objectives and then measure success against those outcomes. Linking health and well-being initiatives to employee engagement is one suggested strategy for gaining leadership support. More than half of respondents (56%) capture and use employee morale and engagement data to evaluate the health and well-being initiative, but most (79%) do not regularly share performance data with stakeholders (senior leaders, managers and supervisors, or employees). The HERO Scorecard has the potential to be an effective tool to help employers understand the need for a more strategic and aligned approach to employee well-being that is supported by organizational leaders and regularly evaluated to identify opportunities for improvement.