Before mutterings of the Novel Coronavirus had reached Aussie shores, Canberra-born-and-bred entrepreneur Patrick Aouad had observed a troubling trend in the health and wellbeing of the nation’s workforce.
“It had become clear, busy working professionals who spend most of their waking hours at work often neglect their own wellbeing,” he says.
“We had this concept for a platform that would enable us to translate community-based healthcare to the digital world, so we could improve access to excellent services across Australia, no matter where people are located.
“We also thought businesses might want to invest in their people by providing this service to them.”
In March last year CU Health launched as the first virtual health and wellbeing practice for businesses to support its employees.
“Since then we’ve sought to understand the pain points for businesses that want to help their employees address their mental and physical health priorities on their own terms, but guided by experts on the platform,” Patrick says.
Chris Miller of Vantage Strata, a CU Health client, says one of those pain points is helping employees circumnavigate the impracticalities employees face when needing to prioritise their health.
“Securing appointments, driving to the other side of town, spending 45 minutes in the waiting room, picking up scripts – it’s an inefficient way of delivering healthcare,” he says.
“Especially when we live in an age where many healthcare services may be delivered digitally.”
Patrick says unlike an Employee Assistance Program, traditionally a reactive psychological wellbeing service, CU Health is a proactive multidisciplinary service allowing health practitioners including doctors, psychologists, dietitians, performance coaches and nurses to collaborate, treat and prevent mental and physical health concerns.
An employer first enters into a partnership with CU Health, then its employees register as members and create their individual dashboards.
This provides confidential access to CU Health’s partner companies to help them identify their health and wellbeing goals. It puts them on a pathway to achieving them in a way that’s realistic for busy individuals, at no extra expense to the employee.
Uptake has been fast since CU Health’s launch, which Patrick says is unsurprising.
“Unmet health and wellbeing concerns cost Australian businesses upwards of $50 billion a year and most of that cost is seen across areas such as absenteeism, sick days and reduced engagement and productivity due to ongoing mental and physical health concerns,” he says.
“Workers’ compensation claims in stress and mental health are increasing.
“Approximately 50 per cent of Australians have at least one chronic illness. About 45 per cent of those are mental, the rest are physical. And those employees are having to carry those into work each day.”
Recent Reward Gateway research shows more than 50 per cent of employees expect their employers to invest more in their wellbeing, and many value it above the lure of high wages alone.
But Chris says successful employee health and wellbeing programs are more than a good business decision – they’re a corporate and social responsibility goal.
“It’s true, we’re finding employees are looking at more than just salary when considering where they want to work,” he says.
“But employee health and wellbeing programs really have to be about the wellbeing of your team. They need to be driven, supported and invested in by the business.”
Chris says the rising cost of healthcare is also becoming a problem for some people.
“While government and the healthcare industry have to come to the table to help solve that, I think the business community also has an important role in bridging that gap for their valued employees if they can,” he says.
Vantage Strata launched CU Health shortly after moving into a plush new office space full of natural light in a precinct with “the highest amenity” right on a light rail stop.
Here, it has deliberately beefed up communal and collaborative areas and under-allocated desks.
“Post-COVID people are looking for flexibility and we know most of our staff prefer to spend a couple of days working from home,” he says.
“We’ve leaned into that, offering more space for people to share ideas and thoughts, and highlighting our flexibility.
“We want this to be a place they’re happy to come to.”