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Wellbeing to retirement and beyond

Employee wellbeing initiatives are a welcomed addition to the workplace says Zurich’s Rose Leonard, but a key component must be the inclusion of financial health programmes for staff

Employee wellbeing programmes are rapidly becoming the norm in Irish organisations of all sizes. The increased focus on mental health – an area so many people find difficult to talk about – is especially welcome. Many employers have now put in place a range of supports to assist their employees in this area. These include employee assistance programmes which often include free access to mental health seminars, counselling services and other supports.

Zurich’s Tackle Your Feelings programme is one such initiative. Tackle Your Feelings is also part of Zurich’s community investment initiative, a three-year national campaign run in partnership with Rugby Players Ireland (formerly IRUPA). It aims to reduce the stigma around mental health and provide people with the tools and resources to be more proactive in looking after their emotional wellbeing.

With some of Ireland’s sporting heroes leading the way, Zurich hopes to inspire Irish people to be more proactive in looking after their mental wellbeing, so that issues are tackled at an early stage .

A key component of the initiative is an app, which is replete with personal resources to help people improve their mental health. These resources include guides and training aids in areas such as self-confidence, relaxation, and mindfulness.

According to Rose Leonard, head of distribution and customer relationship management at Zurich, initiatives like Tackle Your Feelings are needed. "A comprehensive programme should include a focus on mental health in addition to a focus on physical health, community and financial wellbeing," she says.

We all know the importance of physical health and many employers have good workplace programmes to address this. However, Leonard says that the topic of financial wellbeing is often overlooked. “Financial wellbeing should be at the heart of all wellbeing programmes.”

Leonard cites numerous examples of studies conducted around the world, and closer to home, research undertaken by the ESRI that provides overwhelming evidence indicating that there is a strong link between financial security and longevity and overall wellbeing.

“The affluence of the area in which you were born, the social class to which you belong and your educational attainment all positively impact on your life expectancy. A deeper dive into socio-economic factors tells us that people living in owner-occupied dwellings live longer than people in private rented accommodation and people who live in private rented accommodation in turn live longer that those living in rented accommodation provided by local authorities or voluntary bodies,” Leonard explains.

Money does matter and financial security is a key contributor to our wellbeing. While financial security in the short-to-medium-term can be provided by a good salary and benefits package, in the longer term the best way to achieve it is through a pension.

“At a high level, I see my goal in Zurich, and indeed the goal of the life and pensions industry, is to get more people saving privately for their own futures and to help people realise that their futures can only be financially secure if they accept responsibility themselves for savings. The most efficient ways for employees to save for the long term is through their employer pension schemes.”

Circumstances have changed greatly for employers and employees over the last number of years. Many people are no longer interested in a job for life. Employees want more variety; they are prepared to take risks, to move around between employers, to take time out to travel, mind children or try out new challenges.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that social responsibility is still an important factor for employers today. And that becomes apparent when we look at how much they are prepared to invest into their wellbeing programmes. “Oddly enough, however, pension schemes are not used by employers to any great extent to attract and retain staff. That is probably because employers understand that when employees are faced with a choice between extra money today or setting aside funds to address a need in 30 or 40 years’ time, the short-term gain nearly always trumps the future reward.”

Leonard argues that employers should do more to highlight pension schemes as an aspect of their wellbeing programmes. “The link between the pension scheme and the overall health and wellbeing of employees needs to be spelled out in the clearest possible terms. The pension scheme should be seen as a fundamental and integral part of the employer’s wellbeing programme.”

Leonard admits that given the inertia around pensions, educating and engaging employees is a challenge. That need for support on decisions regarding a person’s pension pot is going to become more common as our population ages, and indeed, as more people retire from defined contribution schemes.

“There were over a half a million people in Ireland over the age of 65 in 2011, and the CSO expect that figure to triple by 2046. Employers need to think about who will manage the retirement pot for their scheme members after they retire and help them ensure that the pension fund doesn’t burn-out?”

According to Leonard, although pensions might seem complicated, they don’t have to be and initiating the advice of a financial advisor for employees as they approach retirement should help.

In addition, if employers can find a way to engage better with employers then pensions as a topic might not seem so daunting. The first step in this process, Leonard says in ensuring an all-encompassing employee programme is in place – one that includes mental health, physical health, community and financial wellbeing.

“All four pillars should be driven by a sense of social responsibility felt by the employer to look after their employees and their families – the core of society,” she says.

It’s important to think about the future. The choices you make now could impact your future and this is especially the case when thinking about pensions. Starting a pension is a smart decision, one that could ensure a bright future. At Zurich we are here to help you every step of the way.
Zurich Life Assurance plc is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland.