A survey conducted by Aetna International has revealed that three in five (63%) UK business leaders believe employers now have more responsibility for their employees' mental and physical health beyond the workplace.

The same number also recognise that expectations around employer-provided health support have changed notably since the beginning of the pandemic, particularly when it comes to mental health. 

The research, which examined the views of over 4,000 office workers (many of which were working remotely due to covid-19) and 1,000 businesses in four markets (the UK, USA, Singapore and UAE) is part of an ongoing investigation into the changing needs of the global workforce and the response of employers in multiple markets.

The findings suggest that businesses have a better understanding of employee health concerns than they did 18 months ago and have already taken action to alleviate some of these pressures.

One of the key areas where strides have been made over the last year is the provision of mental health benefits and support.

Globally, close to two thirds (63%) of workers say working for an employer that provides mental health support is now more important to them than it was a year ago and over half (54%) of businesses claim their company has improved the provision of mental health support and benefits that support employee well-being, such as flexible working.

However, employers still consistently over-estimate the quality and impact of the health benefits they offer. In the UK, four in ten businesses currently rate the support their company provides for stress as ‘good', but just under a quarter (23%) of employees who work from home and three in ten (32%) of those still working in an office say the same.

In fact, around a fifth (22%) of UK employees working remotely actually think the support for stress provided by their company is ‘poor' - although this has improved significantly when compared to before the pandemic, when 41% more workers rated their company's support for stress as poor.

Damian Lenihan, executive director for Europe at Aetna International said: "It's encouraging to see that employers have recognised the increasing importance of robust health and well-being support, particularly when it comes to benefits and interventions designed to support mental health and well-being. There's no doubt the pandemic has taken a toll on people's mental and emotional resilience; this year, businesses everywhere need to consider their role in addressing this burden."

Lenihan continued: "While it's positive to see that the perceptions of employers are now more aligned with the experiences of their employees, our research suggests there is still more do to ensure health benefits and HR strategies are not only fit for purpose today, but also for the future. The views of employers and their employees remain polarised when it comes to the steps businesses need to take to strengthen workplace well-being provisions."

While the views of businesses and office workers are now more aligned when it comes to the importance of mental health support, there is clear disagreement on how much additional investment companies should be making in health and well-being initiatives.

Over half (52%) of UK workers currently believe that their employer should be spending more on health benefits and resources to help them stay healthy, but only around a third (36%) of businesses agreed. Additionally, a fifth (21%) of UK employees stated that health support from their employer has not improved at all since the beginning of the pandemic, suggesting some businesses have struggled to invest enough in health and well-being during this challenging period.

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