Reset priorities to manage employee health & safety risks: 5 ideas to get started 

July 13, 2022

The world continues to move from one crisis to another. As organizations face supply chain disruption, rising inflation, environmental disasters and workforce exhaustion, they must be more resilient than ever. Responding quickly and with agility requires having an integrated and consistent approach to risk management, one that has an eye towards employee protection. All of this is putting additional pressure on organizations to reset for relevance — to focus not only on profits, but also on people and purpose in order to create truly sustainable business models.

People risks are the business risks related to your workforce. They are generated by how you attract, manage, equip, motivate and retain this most critical type of asset. Starting with the premise that the health and resilience of your people mirrors the health and resilience of your business, Mercer’s People Risk 2022 survey covered five types of people risk that are having the greatest impact on businesses across the globe.

When we asked HR and risk professionals in 25 countries to identify the people risks that pose a serious threat to their businesses, 87% indicated that risks to the health and safety of employees are a serious threat, more than any other type of people risk. The top health and safety risks identified were:

  • Pandemics and other communicable health conditions. Spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19.
  • Employee health and well-being. Unmanaged workforce health risks including physical inactivity, alcohol/drug/tobacco use, poor sleep quality, poor diet, lack of preventive care. Unmanaged chronic disease (such as diabetes and lung disease). A workplace culture that contributes to poor employee health and well-being.
  • Mental health. Workforce mental health issues (e.g., anxiety, stress, depression and addiction). Insufficient workplace support for employees suffering from mental health conditions. A workplace culture that contributes to poor mental health.
  • Workforce exhaustion. Employee burnout. Overtiredness stemming from work-life balance issues, including the need to manage caregiving duties. Change fatigue and too many priorities and distractions. Growing workloads following restructuring or reorganization.
  • Work-related illness or injury. Work-related accidents, injuries, unsafe exposures, and security incidents. Aggravation of pre-existing conditions in a work environment (including on-site, remote working).

Just two in five businesses (41%) report having effective policies, practices, environments and communication in place to support a culture of health and well-being. This means that significant opportunities exist to reduce the way in which work can have a negative impact on health. Here are five ideas to get you started:

  1. Review workplace and job risk factors alongside employee health data to understand where the greatest health risks lie.
  2. Take stock of current access to employee support programs and compare it with data on workforce needs to identify any gaps in provision.
  3. Engage business leaders in discussions about how work impacts employee health. Then define strategies to mitigate risks.
  4. Create strategic well-being programs by getting buy-in and funding for multi-year health strategies that target specific risks.
  5. Set minimum standards for basic, high-value medical coverage. This should include preventive, mental health and cancer care.

Anticipating risks and working collaboratively to mitigate them allows your business and workforce to thrive and preserve the trust you have generated through your actions in this challenging, fast-paced world. In our full report, we expand beyond these ideas for getting started and offer up ideas to pull ahead in all five areas of people risk.

About the People Risk survey: In March 2022, Mercer asked 2,594 HR and risk professionals in 25 countries about their attitudes towards the greatest people risks facing organizations, including the challenges they face mitigating these risks.