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The Importance of Employee-Wellness Programs: The View from Latin America

Today’s post comes to us from The Workforce Institute advisory board member Ivonne Vargas. As we kick off the new year and wellness at work is top of mind, Ivonne provides a look at the importance of employee-wellness programs, specifically in Latin America.

The relationship between employee wellbeing and productivity is more directly related than previously thought, which has highlighted the importance of those programs and employers offering comprehensive wellbeing plans that cover all areas their workers’ lives.

This conclusion was reached by Aon’s Global Wellbeing Survey, conducted among 1,640 companies in 41 countries, and in which 87% of companies acknowledge that they have at least one wellness initiative in place, although only 55% have a defined strategy to implement it.

On the other hand, in the “Redefining Work and Rewards 2021 Survey” by Willis Towers Watson, 59% of companies state that compensation teams are evolving to align with wellbeing, new ways of working, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) in three main areas: remuneration, benefits, and careers, with the aim of promoting the resilience of the organization, dignity in the workplace, and the sustainability of human capital.

This trend has been especially present in the past year, and will continue, as revealed by the global report “Health Trends” by Mercer Marsh Benefits, which surveyed 210 insurers from 59 countries to uncover the main trends that will shape the future of healthcare offered by employers.

The report shows that the benefits offered by employers are primarily focused on mental health, prevention, and promotion of self-care. This is the beginning, however. It is necessary to remember that today, when talking about wellbeing, it requires an approach that is as holistic as possible. There are several, equally important pillars of employee wellness — it is just as important to have a line of emotional support as it is to receive guidance on managing personal finances.

Lessons We Can Learn from Latin America

There are a few lessons to be learned from Latin America about employee wellness. The first is to review priorities in terms of wellbeing according to the characteristics of the collaborators. A representative case of this is what Latin American women currently value, as it relates to wellness programs.

For example, 41% of women in Latin America — including 47% from Mexico and 45% from Chile — believe that having complimentary health and dental insurance would significantly increase their general wellbeing, according to a report on the most important wellness trends for women, organized by the first social unicorn in Latin America, a health and wellness platform for employees that transforms healthy habits into social donations. This high valuation on the part of Latin American women of the eventual benefit of complimentary insurance is clear from the fact that the majority of the inhabitants only have access to the public health system.

According to the same report, women also want to increase activities associated with wellness. On average, 3 out of 10 women indicate they would do more activities (e.g., sports, mindfulness). Women in Mexico stand out in this trend: 44% would like to take specialized courses or workshops and 43% would like to study languages.

The second lesson is: If the path is open, we must find ways to encourage greater wellbeing among employees. In conversations with compensation experts, for example, it becomes clear that integrating self-care products into company benefits plans is a critical strategy employers should consider. There are actions that are really simple, but that require resources such as time and active listening, such as identifying the collaborator’s motivators and transforming this into a healthy habit.

Aon’s Mexico Compensation Survey reflects that wellness plans and compensation strategies are still a challenge for companies nationwide. The ranking of benefits focuses primarily on compensation based on salary or focused on life insurance or medical expenses: more than 90% of the companies surveyed cover life insurance and major medical expenses.

The value of providing dynamic life insurance to employees can increase based on employees’ healthy habits, and at no cost to the company. This can be done by linking to technology, such as a wellness app, through which the person builds healthier lifestyle habits, in addition to having insurance that helps increase their financial protection.

The challenge, according to the Aon report, is that strategies focused on wellness or health often lag behind. Betting on technologies that allow them to accelerate the incorporation of health measures is key, through actions as practical as organizations becoming agents of change by providing health and wellbeing benefits. With these tools, it is possible to measure wellbeing and promote a self-learning environment, which also helps to comply with regulations (such as NOM-035 and NOM-037).

According to the “Workplace Wellness Programs Study” report from Randstad, wellness programs (or corporate wellbeing) have a substantial impact on reducing healthcare costs, increasing productivity, and retaining talent. An additional study by Harvard University found that, on average, for every dollar spent on employee wellness, medical costs are reduced by $3.27, and absenteeism is reduced by $2.73. That is an ROI of 6 to 1.2.

It is not just the ROI that comes from keeping employees healthy and happy. Organizations that fail to do so also risk losing talent to high turnover rates, which come with their own sets of costs. When it comes to ways of attracting and keeping high-performing people at your organization, employee wellness programs are a great place to start.

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