Female Employees Place Higher Priority on Health Than Male Counterparts

08.02.2014
HR & Safety

Study shows marked differences in perspectives and behaviors

As employers look for new ways to improve the health and well-being of their workforce, a survey from Aon Hewitt, the National Business Group on Health, and The Futures Company reveals that female employees are more concerned about their health and place a higher priority on staying healthy than their male counterparts. However, they are also more likely to view personal stress, affordability and lack of employer support as obstacles to improving their personal health.

The 2014 Consumer Health Mindset survey, which analyzed responses from more than 2,700 U.S. employees and their dependents covered by employer-sponsored health plans, shows marked differences in the perspectives, behaviors, and attitudes that male and female employees display toward their health and well-being.

The survey found that

  • 65% of female employees feel they have control over their health compared to 50% of males.
  • 73% of females feel managing their emotional health and their stress levels are important to their overall health, compared to 54% and 57% of males, respectively.
  • 67% of females believe getting routine medical screenings is an important factor in maintaining their health, compared to only 52% of males.
  • 58% of female employees say they experience high stress, compared to 44% of males.
  • 44% of female employees are more likely to cite affordability

    as an obstacle in achieving good health, compared to 37% of males.

“While women are generally more actively engaged in their health care and understand what they need to do to get and stay healthy, employers need to ensure both men and women are making good health a priority,” said Joann Hall Swenson, health engagement leader at Aon Hewitt. “To effectively encourage healthier behaviors across the entire employee population, companies need to implement a holistic health and wellness strategy that considers different segments of the workforce, targets decision makers, and encourages active employee participation in health decisions.”

Obstacles to Staying Healthy

While female employees are more aware of the activities that are important to their health and wellness, the survey shows they are also more likely than their male counterparts to feel there are barriers to getting and staying healthy.

Stress: Fifty-eight percent of female employees say they experience high stress, compared to 44% of males. In addition, 39% of females are more likely to say their stress has increased over the past 12 months, compared to only 26% of male employees.

Recent industry research shows that highly stressed people are 30% less likely to eat healthily, 25 percent less likely to exercise and 200 percent more likely to fail to achieve their goals in weight loss programs. These employees also get half as much sleep as people reporting low levels of stress.

Affordability: Female employees are more likely to cite affordability as an obstacle in achieving good health (44%) compared to males (37%). For example, female employees who are enrolled in a consumer-driven health plan are more likely to say they sacrifice care (29% versus 18%), seek lower-cost options (27% versus 17%), or postpone care (27% versus 13%).

Employer Support: According to the survey, female employees are also less likely to feel they get appropriate support from their employer. Only 35% of females say their employer is extremely/very supportive in helping them get and stay healthy, compared to 45% of males.

Female employees are also more likely to want tools and solutions from their employer to help them better manage their health.

  • 60% of females would like their employer to offer free health tools and programs (versus 52% of males).
  • 56% of females would like to be rewarded for health achievements (versus 50% of males).
  • 48% of females would like a personalized online view of how they use health care and other health information (versus 43% of males).

Aon Hewitt’s 2014 Health Care Survey reveals that employers are taking steps to assist individuals in making health care more accessible and affordable. According to the survey, 21% of employers offer on-site primary and/or preventive care services, and 23% are considering adding these services in the next three years. Seventy-two percent of employers currently offer on-site health improvement programs surrounding fitness, weight loss, and nutrition education, and 23% are considering adding these programs in the next three years.

Reaching Genders More Effectively

For employers to more effectively reach their entire workforce about their personal health, Aon Hewitt experts suggest the following steps:

Segment the workforce. Leveraging workforce data, employers need to segment their employee population and covered dependents demographically and attitudinally (i.e., what they value) and then design programs, incentives, and marketing materials that best appeal to the unique needs of their workforce. Once organizations assess the overall profile of male and female employees, they can tailor specific marketing and communication campaigns with better precision.

Target decision makers. Employers should intentionally communicate with individuals who are making the health decisions in a family. For example, companies may want to consider sending targeted communication that appeal uniquely to each gender on how to manage health services and expenses. Companies can also offer opt-in gender-specific health texts with language and tips more suited to each gender.

Encourage active participation in health decisions. Although women are more likely to make health care decisions for their families, employers should also encourage males to more actively participate in health decisions and activities. In general, male workers tend to look online for their health information and recommendations, so companies should target their health communication by offering credible sources for health and medical advice.

Make dealing with stress a priority. Employers should identify the top issues driving stress within their population (looking at both work-related and personal drivers) and develop a strategy to address these issues. To appeal to women, companies should make these offerings easy and convenient to work around their family lives. Since male workers are more likely to cope with stress in sedentary ways, employers should also try to encourage exercise as a top motivator for managing stress. Additionally, to help employees respond in a healthy way to life stressors, companies should consider implementing programs targeted at building resilience.

“Employers need to shift their communications mindset to focus on engaging all employees and their families rather than communicating to the ‘benefit plan participant,'” said Brian Marcotte, CEO of the National Business Group on Health. “To do so, companies need to understand that one size does not fit all and develop communications that are unique and targeted to meet the broad needs and interests of their entire employee population.”

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