Image by Katarzyna Bialasiewicz
Over one year into the pandemic, nearly everything about the workforce has changed — from when and where we work to how employees interact with each other and clients. How employers have adapted their benefits design and their employee well-being and support strategies have also been affected. It has become increasingly clear that this crisis has accelerated significant shifts in many dimensions of our life and work.
The pandemic has also underscored the many complexities of navigating and accessing quality healthcare and how every aspect of their well-being impacts an employee’s work performance — not just physical health. As a result, many employers are placing health benefits at the center of their overall workforce strategy. As I’ve seen first-hand in my role as Chief People Officer at Castlight, this mindset change has created a shift in the roles of HR and benefits leaders. Specifically, C-suite leaders have become more actively involved in their employees’ benefits experience.
For the workplace of the future and the employees of today, this change is essential. Nearly half of Americans receive health insurance through their company. And a recent trust survey showed that most Americans trust their company leadership more than governmental media. That means employers are in a unique position to impact their employees’ health journeys positively.
Top Priorities for Employers in 2021
The pandemic has given employers an inside look into employees’ daily lives. Now, many organizations have an opportunity to transform how they decide to support their workforce. When it comes to supporting employee health in 2021 (and beyond), employers must pay attention to what employees consider their top priorities. These include navigating the COVID-19 vaccination process and engaging employees in a whole-person approach to their health.
Supporting Employee Well-being Through the Pandemic and Beyond
As vaccine eligibility opens up for more of the population, employers can leverage their position as a trusted resource to improve vaccine literacy. They can also help facilitate more seamless distribution among their workforce.
Employees have many questions about the vaccine, and there’s a great deal of misinformation circulating. Almost a third of the public is still hesitant about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine — many are worried about side effects. Others are concerned the vaccine is too new or that it could give them the virus. Employers must step up and provide their workforce with comprehensive vaccine education materials backed by science, yet easy to understand.
Additionally, by providing ongoing targeted communications, HR leaders can ensure that all employees get the specific care and information they need. For example — essential employees need to know about on-the-job safety protocols and whether or not they’re eligible to receive a vaccine within their state. In contrast, non-essential employees may want to know when they’ll be eligible, where they can get a vaccine, and how to make an appointment.
A Whole-Person Approach to Sustained Employee Well-being
COVID-19 has emphasized just how foundational an employee’s health and sustained well-being is to their happiness, engagement, productivity, and success. So beyond vaccine distribution, employers need to be thinking about keeping their employees engaged in their healthcare long after the pandemic ends. Many leadership teams have started reimagining how they think about benefits as a whole.
After all, remote work has offered a glimpse into everything their employees are juggling each day. Now, it is clear that employees routinely deal with issues all on top of a full-time job. These real-world demands include childcare and homeschooling, taking care of a loved one, and more. This perspective has helped employers learn more about what their teams are dealing with outside of the office. And they’re finally starting to understand the importance of flexibility.
On top of that, COVID-19 highlighted other aspects of well-being, such as mental health. For example, from before the pandemic to January 2021 symptoms of anxiety or depression among U.S. adults jumped from 11% to 41%. Now, employers must look holistically at their employee populations. They must consider all facets of health — physical, mental, emotional, social, and financial. Then they must develop a personalized, equitable benefits design that meets the health goals and needs of every employee.
The Role of the C-suite: Leading Through Complex Times
Moving forward, critical benefits conversations are no longer the priority of just the benefits manager. Members of the C-suite must become intimately involved in employee well-being as well. CHROs, in particular, need to understand their employee segments more deeply. Ensuring a healthier, productive workforce starts with understanding who you have. Then catering to their specific needs by offering benefits in a personalized way.
Employers can (and should) play a vital role in employee well-being in 2021 — and beyond.
Specifically, given their unique and significant reach into the workforce, mid-size and large employers can be critical leaders in health advocacy. Compassion, communication, courage, and a strong community focus will continue to be imperative leadership traits throughout these difficult times. The way employers care for their employees — and the health and holistic well-being of the employees’ families — will determine their employer brand for years to come.