Designing an effective employee wellness campaign – [Interview]

Design an effective employee wellness campaignRobin Wells, the Head of Global Corporate at Medstar Insurance Brokers, was one of the speakers at the recent Compensation & Benefits Forum organised by informa in Dubai.

He made a very interesting presentation on Employee Wellness campaigns in the workplace.

I asked him to share the most salient points from his presentation. Listen to our 12-minute conversation, and discover :

  • The different types of insurance brokers
  • Medstar’s recent research on medical claims in the UAE
  • The 4 most common medical conditions that the research uncovered (hint : we can actively manage these conditions to minimise their occurrence and their impact on our employees’ lives and on company productivity)
  • The advantages and limitations of traditional wellness campaigns at companies, such as wellness talks and subsidised gym memberships
  • The different types of people and their motivation with regards to wellness
  • Health e-ME, Medstar’s application for education, engagement and rewards for an effective employee wellness campaign

You can listen to the interview here (email readers may have to click to access the audio)

Or if you prefer, you can read the transcript of our interview below.

Please do write to me or leave a comment to let me know if you like the audio format. Who knows, I might even start a podcast if this is a success 😉 !


TRANSCRIPT (slightly edited for clarity and comprehension) :

Sandrine Bardot : Robin, who are you and what do you do?

Robin Wells : My name is Robin Wells. I’ve been in Dubai for nearly 20 years. I am the Head of Global Corporate for Medstar Insurance Brokers. We are a medical insurance broker. We focus on large medical insurance groups. We’ve got a lot of lovely clients.

Different types of insurance brokers

Sandrine: What’s the role of a broker?

Robin: Let’s start with the most basic. The role of a broker is to identify what is the most appropriate insurance for the risk or need of the client. We’re kind of like a marriage partner in partnering up the client with the insurance company. That’s the most basic.

At one end of the scale, you have the brokers who will try and find the cheapest.

At the other end of the scale, you’ll have the more full service type broker who will not only identify the most appropriate risk but help with implementation, help with support and the ongoing management. That’s where we work largely because we work with clients in the more premium, the multinational end of the spectrum. That’s the sort of service that they want so that’s what we deliver.

Medstar’s research on medical claims in the UAE

Sandrine: Medstar recently conducted extensive research on medical claims in the UAE. Can you please tell us what you did and what were the results?

Robin: We did a piece of research in 2016, looking at what are the most common medical conditions or the most popular or common reasons that people are going to see doctors.

What we’ve discovered was that the top four reasons to go and see a doctor are, respectively: coughs and colds, hypertension, diabetes, and muscular, skeletal, typically back pains.

That’s the information but the interpretation or the takeaway from this is that these are all lifestyle diseases or lifestyle conditions, things that can be, if not avoided, they can be minimised by a few changes in education, awareness and behaviour.

Sandrine: The scope of this research was across how many companies?

Robin: What we did, we looked back at the last five years and took all the medical insurance claims data that we received across all of the groups that we managed. So when we added it up it came to about 100,000 claims.

Sandrine: So statistically very relevant.

Robin: Yes.

The limitations of traditional employee wellness interventions

Sandrine: What are the advantages and the risks or the limitations of some of the common prevention measures that are implemented by companies such as putting in place gym membership or health talks, etcetera?

Robin: We’ve been on the employee wellness journey or helping our customers on the wellness journey since about 2010. What we’ve learned is that something is better than nothing.

The traditional approach has been, “let’s do wellness talks”. Yeah, okay, so this is a good start. It’s better than nothing.

But there are limitations with doing two or three wellness talks. The first limitation is that they have a limited appeal, not going to reach everybody, not everybody’s going to be available to give the time, come out of their workplace. And after a while you get a pretty poor turnout, unfortunately. So there’s a limitation with the employee wellness talks.

The next evolution is the idea of, “okay, let’s do gym memberships for all of our staff”. And there are limitations with that, too. I would argue that gym memberships only really appeal to the converted by which I mean the people who are already interested in going to the gym, who perhaps want to make the time. And it’s not necessarily going to reach the people who need to but are turned off by the idea of going to a gym. So we tend to see quite high dropout rates with gym memberships and after a while it becomes counterproductive.

Also, interestingly, I would argue that health in the wider sense, it doesn’t mean going to the gym. And arguably as soon as lots of people will start going to the gym without having gone before you could see a spike or an increase in your medical claims because of physiotherapy or back problems.

So traditional measures have their uses but they also have their limitations.

I think the wider insurance world is trying to find, and no one’s got the silver bullet, no one’s got the complete answer. But we’re all struggling to find what is the ideal platform or the ideal way or combination of ways to engage with employees and improve employee health.

We’ve developed a program which I think is a really interesting step on that journey but it’s not the be all and end all. It’s a step and it’s a partnership but I think that it will evolve as we implement and as we go along.

Taking into account different attitudes of employees vs wellness campaigns

Sandrine: What are some of the different categories of people that you identified while you were developing that solution and how did you decide to target them? I remember you were talking about people who love sports, for example.

Robin: I think as any HR manager knows, in any organisation, people have different motivations.

So you’re going to have those people who love the sport who go to gym anyway. You’re going to have people who are naturally competitive and they’re going to want to compete whether it’s on pay grades or on gym performance, whatever. You’re going to have some people who are motivated by cash, others who love discounts, others who are team players and then will only do something if it’s part of a team, others who are individualists and that who will only do it if they can do it on their own.

So the challenge with any wellness-type initiative is to try and make something that appeals to everybody. And again, going back to the idea of gym memberships, the shortcoming, the downfall of the traditional gym equals health model is, it doesn’t appeal to everybody and arguably its risks turning off the very people perhaps with the chronic conditions who are impacting the medical insurance claims more than others.

How Medstar’s Health e-ME application supports effective employee wellness programs

Sandrine: All right, so tell us a little bit about your solution called Health-E-Me. It’s an app that you developed for your clients. What can you tell us about it?

Robin: Health-E-Me is relatively new in the region. It’s a new concept. It is an app or a smartphone-delivered program.

It does three things.

First of all, it educates people through proactive notifications, either weekly or fortnightly.

Then it encourages healthy lifestyle such as walking more, eating healthily, exercising and attending health events through awarding points.

Then with those points, it gives rewards and redemptions based around discounts that you can achieve of merchants across the UAE. It’s the rewards piece, particularly the discounting model lead to points where Health-E-Me is quite different from other insurance companies or even any other program that we’ve seen.

Sandrine: And how so?

Robin: How? All the rewards are linked to health-related themes.

Sandrine: This is very good because it means that no matter what, the employees remain in this environment of the wellness and health-related—

Robin: Yeah, it would be counterproductive if we started giving rewards that are unhealthy or damaging to the person.

Sandrine: But what about people who love chocolate cake like me?

Robin: No chocolate.

Sandrine: No chocolate, okay. When does the app launch? The app has launched, right?

Robin: Yes, the app has launched. We did the beta trial last year amongst our own organisation. So we know internally how it works, what things we needed to tweak. And we’re now launching it this year across three large corporates in the UAE. And the plan is by next year, we’ll then rollout across all of our corporates.

Sandrine: So those organisations are your clients as a broker. What does it cost them to implement the solution

Robin: We’re providing it free of charge to all of our clients.

Sandrine: Great. Nobody’s going to say no to something free and positive like this ! In terms of return for the employer or let’s say maybe information and respect of employee privacy, what did you consider?

Robin: The program developers are based in Singapore so their whole platform complies with Singapore Data Privacy Act which is the PDPA, Personal Data Privacy Act of Singapore, which is on a level equivalent with European standards. So that gives a lot of reassurance.

And then secondly, at the point of logging in for the app for the first time, there is the Terms of Use agreement that each person will need to tick before they go on to the platform.

Sandrine: And as an employer, can I see some aggregate statistics or get some feedback?

Robin: Yes. What we’ve done is we designed the dashboard that provides aggregate, not personalised, but aggregate data that allows the HR or the team who’s managing this internally to see what’s working, what’s not working. And then they can treat the program accordingly.

They can also run ad hoc challenges. And this is quite a nice feature of it. Let’s say HR wants to do a million step challenge in one particular month, we can do a program on that. We can do a program on biggest weight loser or whatever you want. So it’s quite flexible in that regard.

Sandrine: And it’s really nice because it’s an additional benefit for employees so that’s really good.

Robin: Yeah, I think there are two angles to this. We’re coming at this from the angle of a medical insurance, helping customers control their medical insurance claims on the premise that over the longer term healthier behaviours will translate into fewer visits to the doctors and therefore fewer claims. That’s the angle we’re coming up from a medical cost control.

But there’s also the engagement side which is for any employer who’s providing this to their employees, they’re giving them a fantastic engagement, health events, and rewards and discounts. Who would say no?

Sandrine: Yes, who would say no? I wish I could be one of your clients. Obviously my company is too small 🙂 but this is a great solution.

Robin: Thank you.

Sandrine: Anything else you would like to add?

Robin: If you want the program, become a customer of Medstar  🙂

Sandrine: Where can people contact you?

Robin: They can reach me at

Sandrine: All right. Thank you very much, Robin.

Robin: My pleasure. Thank you.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Great Post Thank you

Speak Your Mind