Economic inactivity due to long-term sickness is at a record high in the UK and the NHS waiting list for treatment has reached over 7million, the longest since records began.

Meanwhile, there’s a recruitment crisis as companies struggle with workforce trends like the great resignation and quiet quitting. Employers need to bolster their packages – beyond the salary – to stay competitive and attract the best talent. Recent data found that in the UK, 89% of Generation Z members of staff would resign if their employer did not focus on employee wellbeing.

The pandemic has certainly had an impact on people’s priorities, and behaviour towards health is one of them. A survey we conducted found that three quarters (75 per cent) of Brits are now more aware of their health since the pandemic and eight in 10 say they’ve made significant adjustments to their behaviour to improve their wellbeing.

These changing attitudes to health have led to employees expecting more from their employers; long gone are the days where the pay packet was the be all and end all.

Employers need to embrace the new, positive attitude that their employees have towards their wellbeing. In fact, there’s a far greater emphasis on workplaces to support the wellbeing of their staff as a result of the pandemic. Yet, almost a quarter (24 per cent) of those in our survey said they felt their employer wasn’t fully supporting their wellbeing.

So how can businesses practically support the wellbeing of its people in a way that will actually make a difference, without inflicting significant financial costs as a recession looms?

Prevention over cure

In the first instance, businesses can ensure their employees are aware of the health benefits available to them. Companies can also offer low cost options like subsidised gym membership or free subscriptions to wellness apps. However unless there is consistent uptake and use of these schemes, there is little evidence they offer significant health improvements.

At the other end, private health insurance can ensure employees are seen quickly when they are ill.  But such insurance cover can be extremely expensive if applied to all staff.  It is mostly also a “reactive” alternative to the NHS for those who are already ill rather than prevention that enables employees to change their behaviour themselves or seek medical help before a condition becomes serious.

Alternatively, think about how to motivate staff to take annual health checks where these are on offer. Preventative healthcare, such as diagnostic screenings, can support a healthy workforce, boost productivity and also ease pressure on the NHS.

Where these kinds of preventative annual health tests can sometimes be offered by private medical groups, typically take up can be extremely low – as low as 1 in 5 according to one recent study. Companies can therefore end up investing significant sums without deriving the healthier – and motivated – workforce they crave.

An option businesses are increasingly considering is using annual or six-monthly diagnostic testing. On the back of COVID testing, there is a much greater acceptance of the role of diagnostic tests in providing vital information about a wide range of conditions, from skin cancer to heart health.

Shifting to preventative healthcare is something there’s appetite for. In our survey over 70% of employees said they are willing to take diagnostic tests to support their health and wellbeing, and 46% of those aged 24-44 would like their workplace to provide regular screenings to help them keep on top of their health.

Health providers can bring screening services directly to the workplace with mobile clinics. Evidence suggests that take up of this kind of testing option is far higher than traditional screening as well as producing results that enabled people to then take action on any health concerns.

Helping employees diagnose their future health

When considering the testing to invest in for your workforce, tests for heart conditions (46%) and those examining diet and nutrition (41%) are the most popular, according to our report.

Over 7.6 million people in the UK are living with heart and circulatory diseases (CVD) and every 3 minutes someone dies from a heart and circulatory disease, while every 5 minutes someone is admitted to hospital due to a stroke. These statistics highlight the very real cost of CVDs.

There are many heart conditions and diseases that present with minor symptoms or no symptoms at all and heart disease can often be undetectable until it’s too late. Heart health is also directly linked with energy and performance.

Introducing regular opportunities for your employees to have their heart health tested can put their minds at ease or empower them to take a proactive approach to their health. The best way to reduce risk is to eat a healthy, balanced diet and conduct regular physical exercise.

Stress test your organisation

Consider testing the general health and wellbeing of the organisation too, to help employees understand their risk of fatigue, low energy levels, stress and their immunity.

These health assessments can provide employees with valuable, personalised insights and our health advisors offer lifestyle advice based on results. For example, a lack of Vitamin D could be the cause of fatigue or lower Ferritin levels may explain headaches and dizziness.

Tailor healthcare to your business

Considering which tests are going to be of most value to your employees is key when building out a wellbeing package. Working collaboratively with a screening provider can help build an offering that will drive the most value for the employee and the business.

For example, if working outside for long periods of time is a key part of the job, staff may appreciate regular on-site screenings to monitor for skin cancer. By comparison, those who have office-based jobs and are less active, sitting at their desks for long periods, may value monitoring of cholesterol levels.

Early-stage health screening and diagnostics can ensure that Britain’s workforce is healthy, reducing long-term absences from work and boosting the economy. Given this, early-stage diagnostics and preventive strategies should form the backbone of employers’ health and wellbeing offering to mitigate future risks and backlogs to our NHS.

It has long been a truism that a healthy business begins with healthy employees. But the pandemic has demonstrated the critical importance of finding ways to create that healthier workforce. Those businesses that can achieve that goal will inevitably steal a competitive march on their rivals – and have a more contented, and motivated workforce.

Denis Kinane
Denis Kinane
Scientist at Cignpost Diagnostics | + posts

Denis Kinane is a Professor at the University of Bern, CMO and co-founder of CIGNPOST DIAGNOSTIC, Director of two health companies, and CEO of a pharma start-up focused on inflammatory, infective and cancer formulations.