By Art Cozad
Developing in-work wellness programmes is becoming an essential part of an employer's duties to its workforce, writes Art Cozad, CEO, Cigna Insurance Middle East
The UAE embodies future-readiness like few nations in the world today. Anyone who has lived in the country for even less than a decade can attest to this fact.
It is a country where the future is envisioned by the leadership and, importantly, upheld and realised by its people. The founding father of the UAE, late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan strongly believed in this sentiment, and famously said: “The individual human forms the basis for any process of civilisation and the pivot of real progress.”
The results of the latest global Cigna 360 Well-Being Survey – Future Assured, which includes the UAE for the second consecutive year, speak volumes about the local population’s desire to secure a better future and take control of their health and well-being.
The survey, conducted in May 2018, includes over 500 respondents from the UAE in the 25-and-above age group. It covers three key areas of concern for the population – workplace wellness, ageing and access to healthcare – and features the 360 Well-Being Index, which captures well-being scores across physical, family, social, finance and work pillars.
Notably, the UAE ranks higher than the global average on the 360 Well-Being Index at 61.5 points, surpassing countries such as the UK, France and Singapore.
This score dipped marginally by 1.6 points compared to 2017, although the decline was primarily attributed to people having less personal time and growing concerns about meeting the needs of family members.
On the other hand, contrary to the 2017 results, more people in the UAE are confident about their current financial situation, maintaining their standard of living and having enough savings for retirement.
However, physical wellbeing diminished slightly since the 2017 survey, with the sharpest decline observed in the ability to exercise regularly. Only 23 percent of the survey respondents reported that they exercise on a regular basis compared to 29 percent in 2017, while 45 percent said they get sufficient sleep compared to 49 percent last year.
In other words, though the desire for a better future has positively impacted the financial health of the UAE’s population, this impact has still not reflected on physical and social well-being.
The UAE Government has already taken the lead in this respect through its innovative Happiness Agenda that is setting a benchmark for countries around the world
For employees in the UAE, workplace wellness programmes are an increasing priority as a crucial part of their benefits package. Significantly, 81 percent of the respondents believed that such initiatives are important in choosing between two potential employers. This finding peaks to 85 percent among millennials.
In contrast, the findings also hint at a lower incidence of employer support in the UAE, with three in five respondents saying that they do not have any formal workplace wellness programme in place, and half of them claiming they do not receive adequate support from employers in dealing with stress.
This mismatch between employee expectations and the ground reality within businesses signals a widening chasm that needs to be addressed for the long-term sustainability of organisations and the well-being of their biggest assets – their people.
It also represents a huge opportunity for employers to enrich their human capital and ensure their overall satisfaction. The UAE government has already taken the lead in this respect through its innovative Happiness Agenda that is setting a benchmark for countries around the world. Following this example, private sector companies can offer practical solutions such as flexi-hours or stress management support through insurance packages that include mental wellness.
When it comes to ageing, one in two respondents anticipate being financially independent in their old age, and three in five say they will continue to lead an active life both physically and socially.
However, with only 20 percent of respondents expecting to have health insurance coverage in their old age, the majority plan to dip into their savings to finance medical expenses. Most respondents (47 percent) believe they will be taken care of by their partner or spouse, while another 27 percent say they are more likely to look to their children for support rather than turning to professional caregivers.
Ideally, even with their financial independence intact, the ageing population would greatly benefit from being insured so that they have the financial freedom to find solutions to other challenges such as social isolation, which 29 percent of UAE respondents expect to face in old age (above the 28 percent global average), and staying at long-term care facilities, which only 31 percent of the local population say they are ready to come to terms with.
Encouragingly for all healthcare stakeholders, people in the UAE are highly open to sharing health data (76 percent) with third parties if it lowers healthcare costs, provides better access to healthcare and enables early detection of illness.
The results of the 360° Well-Being Survey 2018 also indicate a high preference for private healthcare in the UAE, rating it better than public healthcare on most counts. In contrast to most other markets covered by the study, private healthcare is not perceived to be that much costlier than the public system.
However, while the UAE is at the forefront of quality healthcare, there are clear gaps in accessibility to treatment, owing to factors such as the lack of employee benefits and poor health and well-being behaviour among residents. With greater awareness and early intervention, these issues can be mitigated, leading to a healthier and more productive population.