Faced with rising health care costs and a growing concern over the health of their employees, a vast majority of multinational organisations plan to place a higher priority on workforce health initiatives and the overall well-being of their workers over the next few years, says a new survey by Towers Watson, a global professional services company.
The Towers Watson survey found that three out of four companies said workforce health and promoting health and well-being will be more of a priority this year and next, while 87% said it will be a higher priority over the next two to four years. However, Asia-Pacific multinationals run the risk of falling behind: only 23% of multinationals headquartered in Asia-Pacific currently have a global health strategy, compared to 32% globally. Also, only 62% of Asia-Pacific respondents include wellness or health promotion programs, such as preventive care, health screenings or education, as part of their global health strategy, compared with 75% globally.
"Preventive care is still emerging in Asia-Pacific. Historically, Asian companies have adopted a relatively piecemeal approach to workforce wellness, for instance implementing a health risk assessment program but not following up with a longer-term assessment strategy. Not surprisingly, these efforts have met with sporadic success," said Andrew Heard, managing director, Asia Pacific Benefits, Towers Watson. "As the business landscape continues to attract top multinationals globally, and as local businesses grow and compete in the global arena, many countries in Asia are experiencing a sharp increase in demand for labor," said Heard. "In this context, health programs are a good differentiator for employers and it is unsurprising that Asia-based corporations view their health programs as a way to attract and retain top talent."
Rising costs in Asia are not just a problem for Asia-headquartered multinationals; when asked about which countries are of the most concern from a cost perspective outside of the United States, three of the top four countries named by all respondents were Asian: China, Singapore and India. By and large, Asia-based multinationals struggle to make the business case to build a global health strategy — 67% of Asia-Pacific respondents said that global health was not a business priority currently. Like other regions, Asia-Pacific multinationals also struggle with lack of resources, including budget and staffing. The survey noted that 44% of Asia-Pacific multinationals — the highest percentage of all regions —said that their global health strategy is not communicated at all or only communicated to a slight extent to regional or local leaders.
Other findings from the survey include:
• Companies that have a health strategy are not sharing it broadly with employees. Only 13% of respondents say they have explained their strategy to their entire global workforce.
• In the next three years, multinationals will rely increasingly on more global governance of their health care benefit programs. Data management, third-party vendor support and offering of prevention and wellness programs are the areas most likely to come under some type of global governance at respondent organisations.