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VIGO Health: Health & Wellbeing benefits in the Irish Start-Up & SME Community

By Business & Finance
19 April 2022

VIGO Health looks at its unique perspective on employee health and wellbeing in an ongoing pandemic environment

Throughout the months of October and November, VIGO Health surveyed 72 Start-Ups and SME companies across a broad variety of industry sectors, to look specifically at their leader’s views and attitudes towards health cover, employee health and wellbeing and digital health. The survey examined behaviours and attitudes toward health and wellbeing benefits for employees as well as the impact of COVID-19 on the working lives of their employees. The survey also looked at the opinions of the Start-up and SME community, specifically on the role of a digital health service in keeping their employees healthy and well.

On completion, just under a third of responses (29.17%) were from the digital, software and technology sectors.   Other sectors included commercial and professional services (12.5%) media and entertainment (11.1%), and a cross section of other industries. Over 70% of those companies surveyed had less than 50 employees (25% had 5 or under) while 25% had over 100 employees.

80% of respondents of this survey were managers or leaders and 43% were the founders or Managing Director of their organisation.

Health cover is often out of reach for SMEs and Start-Ups

Unsurprisingly, a benefit such as fully paid health insurance is out of reach from a financial perspective for smaller companies and Start-Ups, with 60% admittedly not in a position to offer company-funded health insurance to employees as a standard benefit. Only a fifth (18%) of employers are in a position to offer a fully subsidised hospital health insurance plan, with the remaining offering a partial subsidy for their employees.

SMEs and Start-Ups in Ireland are seen as the lifeblood of the Irish economy, which according to IBEC account for over 70% of total employment. The majority of these employers cannot afford to offer hospital health insurance as an employee benefit. This starkly highlights the need for a health solution that is more broadly accessible and affordable than the traditional employer health model currently available. Over the past 18 months, it is also the section of the Irish economy that has been hardest hit by the pandemic and generally more susceptible to cyclical events.

Cost is determined as biggest barrier to employee health cover

When asked why they didn’t provide health insurance to their employees, most companies disclosed that cost is the sole contributing factor. With average health cover plans costing €1,400, this is a significant cost for a single employee benefit and one which many smaller businesses cannot afford due to their smaller size.

Despite this, almost all surveyed (96%) agreed that it’s crucially important to look after the health and wellbeing of employees. With so much focus on mental health, both inside and outside of the workplace, and the societal impact, exacerbated by the pandemic, it’s hugely positive to see that Irish business leaders still feel a level of responsibility towards their employee’s health and wellbeing. One respondent, who oversees company benefits for employees across Ireland and the UK, noted that Irish companies are far more cognisant of employee welfare than their UK counterparts.

Employers continue to face challenges, with less available resources and budget restrictions, 79% admitted it is difficult to provide the supports needed for their employee’s health and wellbeing. Despite the challenges, employers view this as an essential component of working life, highlighting the need for companies to deliver innovative health solutions that are affordable, relevant and can demonstrate value.

Role of Digital Health Services

82% of those surveyed believe that the introduction of digital health services such as an available online doctor and nurse would have a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of employees in SMEs. There has been a huge increase in online health services, with five times as many people using telemedicine since the start of the pandemic¹. Furthermore, e-health services have been hugely adopted by young adults, with 79% using two or more digital services since the onset of the pandemic.

When asked about moving towards a digital health solution for their employee’s healthcare, 89% of respondents said they would be more likely to explore a digital health service to address the issues of affordability and accessibility to their staff. In a consumer research study conducted by VIGO Health earlier this year, cost was identified as being the main barrier for individuals looking to access the appropriate healthcare. Affordable digital health solutions are likely to play a key role in removing these barriers and improving access for both individuals and workplaces.

Where to from here?

The survey revealed some interesting but unsurprising views from both Start-Up and SME companies. Arranging health and wellbeing solutions for employees is challenging for many companies, especially for those with no dedicated HR or employee rewards manager on the team.

One individual relayed the challenge smaller companies face, as it’s the MD who regularly plays many roles within the organisation.

“It is not as simple for me as an MD to engage with health providers and get a cost-effective offering in place, as it’s simply just another task on a long list”.

Ease of access and a quick and efficient onboarding process for any new digital health platform would be imperative, as many CEO’s or company founders find it difficult to find time when assuming many roles within their business.

With the ever-increasing demand to transition to a hybrid working model, wellbeing platforms and apps are now more relevant and sought after than ever before. With fewer people on-site, employers will need to adopt different approaches to engage with their employees for wellness-related activities and events and bring a new approach to building and maintaining relationships with their staff.

Commenting on the survey, VIGO Health CEO Ruth Bailey says “It’s clear from the results that Irish SMEs and Start-ups are invested in the health and wellbeing of their employees. However, they are finding it challenging to find cost-effective solutions for their employees’ healthcare needs. With that being said, many seem very keen to explore a health service which is accessible and most importantly answers the needs of their employees for health and wellbeing.  

VIGO Health’s proposition is a good value digitally-led solution that plugs this gap and helps balance the needs of employers, while also offering a benefit that is valued by employees.”

For more information on digital-led health and wellbeing cover for employees, visit