Reimagining the Four Pillars of Employee Well-being

Employers have been actively supporting employee well-being for many years – for many, it’s a fundamental part of their mission. But the challenge created by the COVID-19 pandemic is that employee needs are shifting and we need to shift our well-being programs along with them. Blurred lines between work and life are raising stress levels; the need for social distancing leaves many feeling isolated and lonely; the disruption of routines makes it hard to find the time and space to care for one’s well-being. And the uncertain length and destination of this journey will only compound these issues.

Confronted with statistics like the 34% increase in anti-anxiety prescriptions from mid-February to mid-March, employers are starting to think about new ways to bolster employee well-being in these challenging circumstances and safeguard employee engagement and productivity. While the four pillars of employee well-being haven’t changed, they need to be reimagined: 

  • Physical well-being. A Mercer survey found that 76% of employers see telemedicine as having a larger role in their future health program. And expanding or incentivizing virtual care, telemedicine, and remote digital care is the number one health program change being considered for 2021.
  • Emotional well-being. Employers are focusing on helping mangers identify employees who are struggling – a special challenge when they are working remotely. Two-thirds (67%) say they have seen increased use of behavioral health programs and, in a prior survey, 30% said they had introduced new programs to support behavioral health since the onset of the pandemic. About a fifth are providing some type of additional support for bereavement, with 5% adding bereavement counseling programs.
  • Financial well-being. How to support employees in this new economic environment is top of mind. Nearly half of respondents (49%) have taken steps to address financial well-being during the pandemic, primarily with additional communications and financial coaching; 13% say they are reviewing retirement benefit design.
  • Social connectivity. Social well-being takes on a whole new meaning given the new shape of work. Providing ongoing opportunities for virtual socializing will be critical for employees who may be feeling more isolated and lonely. Employers are also stepping up to help employees solve for care-giving: 53% allow flexible work hours and 65% will allow employees to work remotely until childcare issues are resolved. Some are providing enhanced child and elder care support, with or without subsidy.

As some businesses return their employees to the physical worksite and turn their efforts to reinventing their business for success in a post-pandemic world, it may be easy to lose focus on employee well-being. Business leaders will want to guard against this. Now’s a great time to revisit your well-being strategy to ensure that you have solutions that support all segments of your workforce and your business. You might start with an inventory of current programs and then solicit feedback from your employees. Reviewing this qualitative data with quantitative data (e.g., health claims, engagement or risk data) will help you identify the unique needs of your workforce. From there you can develop a consumer-centric well-being strategy – but be sure to include a feedback loop with your employees to achieve the intended results and stay current.

Not only is taking care of your employees’ well-being the right thing to do, it also positively affects your bottom line. This Forbes article discusses a study that showed a link between high scores on the HERO Employee Health Management Best Practices Scorecard in Collaboration with Mercer and stock performance, as well as other studies linking employee well-being with improved financial performance. According to the author, “The robust investment in workforce health and well-being appears to be one of the practices pursued by high-performing, well-managed companies. The positive financial results for a company support the need for continuing to cultivate a well-being culture, and strategy that is embedded into the ethos of the organization.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Kristin Parker, PhD
by Kristin Parker, PhD

Total Health Management Specialty Practice Leader, Mercer

Dr. Kristin Parker leads the national Total Health Management (THM) Specialty Practice. She serves as a national resource and specializes in strategy, behavior change sciences, member advocacy and navigation, vendor selection, implementation, and measurement and evaluation, including ROI analyses and methodology.

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