Is healthcare in the office the next big thing for employee wellbeing?
Our workplaces are undergoing a quiet revolution, and at the heart of this transformation is employee wellbeing.
Bosses in many countries already have a legal responsibility to provide welfare facilities and a healthy working environment – standards that, in the UK, are policed by the Government’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
But, at the heart of the new workplace movement, are employers who want to go beyond those legal obligations and do much more with the workplace. The competitive advantages from doing so are potentially game changing, ranging from attracting and retaining the best people to boosting productivity.
How do they do that?
One of the ways that employers in many countries are achieving these business benefits is by delivering healthcare at work.
Onsite primary care clinics are a phenomenon that has been gathering momentum in the US over the past ten years with a growing number of big companies, from Facebook to Amazon, providing full-service primary care facilities on site, allowing staff to see a doctor or nurse, and to access other medical services, such as tests and vaccinations, without having to leave the workplace.
Will this be a growing trend in the UK?
Private healthcare is certainly well established in the UK, as is the concept of employers providing health-related benefits and facilities under the occupational health banner.
Thanks to the NHS, British people do not need health insurance, unlike their counterparts in the US whose employers cover the premiums, but plenty of Brits still have health insurance, often paid for by their employers and a much-valued perk.
Many UK employers already hire occupational health companies to provide services to their employees, often as part of a package with the company’s healthcare insurance provider. It would not be a huge step beyond to adopt US-like in-house medical facilities. Big UK-based companies could certainly afford it.
These facilities would also sit comfortably alongside other changes that are well underway in UK workplaces. The wellness agenda, the rise of flexible working, new technologies and Covid have all played a part in stimulating change. Breakout areas, soft seating and hot desking are rapidly replacing the traditional one-person, one-desk layout, for example.
Wellbeing is the watchword for contemporary workplaces, manifesting itself in several ways including wellbeing rooms, where staff can take time out away from the stresses of the office, and baby care rooms for new mothers.
Meanwhile, the NHS is evolving too. The Covid experience has accelerated changes towards a more distributed, technology-driven primary care model. An in-person visit to the GP is no longer the automatic first port of call for every ailment. Pressure on the NHS post-Covid, that has resulted in long waiting lists, might also make private health insurance appear more attractive, particularly if your employer is willing to pay for it.
All of this suggests that delivering primary healthcare in workplace-based clinics could gain a foothold in the UK.
But what will persuade British employers to consider the idea?
Why invest in employee health?
One in three UK employees report having a long-term health condition, and more than 40 per cent of those with a physical or mental health ailment feel that it affects their work to some extent or a great deal.
Health in the workplace is important because of the huge influence that work has on people. Three quarters of British adults are in employment spending on average a third of their waking hours in the workplace. A government report suggests that a bad working environment may contribute to poor health.
Workplace health, as defined and promoted by the UK Government, is about managing the health and wellbeing of staff. That includes dealing with sickness absence and presenteeism (a person physically at work, but unproductive). Workplace health interventions include activities in the workplace to address these issues.
The HSE sets out the benefits of occupational health which it defines as
- how work and the work environment can affect an employee’s health
- how an employee’s health can affect their ability to do the job
“Investing in improved and more proactive occupational health arrangements can deliver efficiency savings in a relatively short timescale,” says an HSE report. “A proactive occupational health service and a healthy and supportive working environment play an important part in preventing both work-related ill health and in proactively managing common health problems in order to help employees remain in work,”
UK employers are familiar with that idea, so why not consider going a step further with dedicated primary healthcare facilities onsite?
Big ticket item
In the US, employee’s health is a big-ticket item for large corporations who typically foot the bill for their staff’s private health insurance. For UK companies who provide their employees with private health insurance, could primary healthcare facilities onsite be an opportunity to reduce premiums, particularly if the emphasis was on preventive care that would reduce claims?
Health and wellbeing rooms in the workplace
Of course, there are already health and wellbeing rooms to be found in UK workplaces, from the traditional first aid and occupational health facilities to more contemporary ideas such as wellness rooms for stressed staff.
First aid rooms
St. John’s Ambulance recommends fitting out a first aid room with equipment and supplies tailored to the workplace’s specific hazards. Facilities typically include a sink with hot and cold running water, portable first aid kits and an examination couch.
An article in the US magazine Work Design describes wellness spaces as “a comfortable, holistic environment that increases morale and inspires a positive culture” that should mimic the cleanability and durability of healthcare environments (both key qualities that you will find in our modular healthcare structures).
It also emphasizes calming, relaxing colour palettes and fixtures that can improve mental and physical health
You will find all these features and more in modular healthcare and office solutions from Architectural Wallsz
Gyms and active spaces
Organisations such as Westfield Health provide on-site workouts and training equipment for employees. This can be in a small unused area of the workplace or in a dedicated in-house gym.
Mother and baby
Under US law, employers are required to provide a suitable private space for breastfeeding mothers, and many companies are going further with relaxed, agreeable and easy-to-clean spaces. Other facilities could include sinks, refrigerators and cubicles.
Modular solutions from Architectural Wallsz give you the flexibility in design, both in the space itself and the visual aspect. Features such as these are easily incorporated within the space or attached to the walls.
On-site primary care clinics
Employer-sponsored clinics in the US typically have nurse practitioners or physician assistants on staff while others also have full-time or part-time doctors. Many of these facilities are combined with gyms. Around half have a pharmacy. Some also provide physical therapists and nutritionists. Facebook’s clinic at its California HQ has a chiropractor.
Growth of a new phenomenon
The global market for on-site preventive care is set to rocket, according to a report by Future Market Insights, which forecasts the industry’s market value will reach US$ 32 billion by 2027, double its 2017 level.
The report says the rise of chronic diseases among the working population has compelled employers across the globe to adopt wellness programmes. Covid put a big dent in that growth, but the market is expected to recover.
Onsite clinics are a growth phenomenon in the US. A third of big companies (5,000 employees-plus) already provide a general medical clinic to employees. They include Goldman Sachs, Capital One and Amazon.
Providers abound: Marathon Health operates 140 on-site clinics in 38 states, Premise Health has 500 on-site health clinics, pharmacies and fitness centres in 46 states, Healthstat operates 300 facilities in 32 states and QuadMed runs 100 clinics in 20 states.
Back in the UK
In the UK, organisations such as More Life provide on-site worker health assessments, testing parameters such as fitness, weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and stress levels. UK-based Health Management offers medicals, drug and alcohol screening, vaccinations and Covid testing.
In a survey of private providers of occupational health, two services stood out as the most commissioned: health surveillance and assessment of fitness for work, both of which suggest UK employers would welcome the benefits that their US counterparts are seeing from onsite clinics.
Nearly all providers in the survey interacted with the NHS, usually by referring employees to their GPs or specialist treatment, so the idea of corporate private health initiatives working alongside the public sector is not so alien to Britain as might be thought.
There is one obstacle that could stand in the way of more healthcare being delivered in UK workplaces. Many providers say the number of medical professionals with occupational health experience has declined in recent years.
Workplace clinics are not a new idea. They were common in large manufacturing companies with huge workforces, not least for treating the numerous injuries that workers sustained in a pre-health and safety world. As those kinds of companies shrank in size or disappeared, so too did the workplace clinic.
The comeback of the workplace clinic has been stimulated in the US by the high cost of providing private health insurance for employees, and more widely by a realisation that healthy workforces are more productive, which is the idea that underpins the new wellness at work movement.
Advantages of workplace primary care centres for employers
Three quarters of US employers with onsite clinics decided to set them up to reduce time lost by absenteeism and increase productivity while cutting medical and health benefit costs.
In another survey, employers were asked to score their clinic as successful against various measures: 87% said it improved employee satisfaction, 73 per cent were pleased with the rate their clinic was being used, 63% said it had reduced lost work days, 58% said it helped staff control chronic conditions and 54% saw a return on investment in medical cost savings.
According to CHS Medical, companies can more than recoup the cost of building and running a health facility within a few years through better productivity and less absenteeism.
At Architectural Wallsz, we would add that building costs and lead times would both be significantly reduced by employing modular construction techniques.
US provider Healthgram lists several benefits.
1. Convenience: Employees are more likely to get care before a condition deteriorates if healthcare is easy to access. That improves their long-term health and cuts the time they would spend away from work visiting the doctor or hospital.
2. Productivity: Two thirds of employers say their clinic has reduced absenteeism due to illness.
3. Recruitment and retention: Eight out of ten employees told researchers they would choose healthcare benefits over a pay rise.
Data from clinics can help to improve occupational health and safety. If a clinic reports lots of workers with back pain, the company might conduct an ergonomic review, for example of office chairs, to find out what is causing the issue and resolve the problem. United Airlines looks for trends in the types of injuries being seen in its clinics to improve health and safety training.
Art of Persuasion
Persuading employers that the benefits outweigh the costs will be crucial for anyone promoting the idea of workplace healthcare in the UK.
As nurse practitioner Dr Faye Anderson, who built an onsite clinic at the University of Alabama, points out: “Nurses promote prevention and having a health focus for employees, but to sell it, we have to look at the cost factor. It has been a weakness in our argument for years. We have to speak the language of finance to the decision makers.”
What’s in it for the employees?
In one company, employee visits to hospital emergency rooms fell by a quarter, and eight out of ten had better health on at least one measure such as blood pressure, cholesterol or body fat.
Staff reportedly love the convenience of accessing medical care where they work, and in countries without public health services, on-site clinics may provide the only regular healthcare that some workers have.
Some clinics also treat workers’ families.
Onsite healthcare clinics are a growth market worldwide, especially in the US. While the NHS makes Britain’s market for private healthcare different to the US, there are still good reasons why larger UK employers might consider adding onsite healthcare to their growing list of wellbeing facilities, such as gyms and wellness rooms, in the modern workplace.
As experts in modular construction for both the healthcare and office sectors, Architectural Wallsz can rapidly convert existing spaces for new uses with our durable and flexible solutions, enabling employers to repurpose areas and to adapt to the evolving workplace wellness agenda.