Each month, Mercer brings together in-house experts, employee advocates and external thought leaders for an online discussion of the most pressing issues. The program is called #MercerChats and takes place entirely on Twitter, where individuals around the world engage with Mercer’s intellectual capital and other leading thought leadership to share insights and discuss the best solutions to help organizations thrive. Below is a summary of our April 2021 tweet chat, highlighting some of the key themes discussed and insights shared..
If you asked some in 1999, “What will healthcare look like in 2021?”, you’d almost certainly hear about miracle technology: nano-robots fighting viruses inside cell walls, lab-grown organs for those in need of a transplant, and other treatments that’d be more at home in a sci-fi novel than a medical journal. But ask that same question today, and you might hear answers that are just as foreign to the traditional healthcare space: mental health counseling, community wellness programs, and diversity-focused care. After a year in lockdown during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, we’ve clearly begun to rethink “healthcare.”
For employers, the question on the future of healthcare is not theoretical. Around the world, HR and business leaders are confronting an age-old problem: “how can I keep my people healthy and engaged at work?” Even as new solutions like telemedicine fill unique and pressing needs, the breadth and scale of employers challenge has evolved. Where they were once expected to provide access to care, employers are now competing to be leaders in preventative and holistic wellness, mental health support, and inclusive benefits that reflect their whole talent pool.
So as if enduring a world-disrupting public health crisis wasn’t enough, top employers are now reinventing health and wellbeing on the fly. The rewards for doing this well are immense, with top talent increasingly looking for more than a health plan, and there is no shortage of new and innovative strategies cropping up across the globe. That’s why we asked some of the industry’s most prominent thought leaders to share their perspective on how to create a future of health and wellbeing in a post-COVID-19 world. Below are some of the highlights from our conversation.
The first step in adapting for the future of healthcare is recognizing its unique differences from the past. The global pandemic should have made that abundantly clear, but in many ways we’re still picking up the pieces and coming to grips with what worked and what did not. But while it may be too early to really tell, Tyler Cohen Wood was probably right to share that many of today’s emerging trends will likely outlast the pandemic.
One clear trend from the past year was the rise of telemedicine. The ease and speed with which providers were able to assess and triage concerns via remote consultations was remarkable, and Donna Lenki shared how this ability to access care from anywhere should prompt organizations to rethink their own workforce health strategies. Dr. Salim Saiyed built on this, noting that there’s real potential to bring digital offerings to broader wellness programs like nutrition and fitness.
The other major revelation of the pandemic was the heightened awareness of mental health. The added stress and uncertainty of COVID-19 brought home the importance of mental health support, as Lisa Lint noted, but it also helped us realize that “wellness” extends beyond medical records or examinations. Shawn Murphy hit on this when he observed that financial and social wellness are just as instrumental to our overall wellbeing, and if we ignore the complete person, they will not thrive.
Top health trends accelerated by the pandemic include telehealth, mental health, physical health, wellbeing, and adjusting to a WFH environment. These trends will continue to be important for employers even post pandemic has ended.
Tyler Cohen Wood
Virtual care is another big trend here. The ability to access care anywhere has never been more prevalent than it is now and it’s here to stay. Organizations are weaving into their workforce health strategies.
Donna K Lenki
How can employers assist in the new norm?
Dr. Salim Saiyed
Wellbeing is not only health and mental wellbeing. It’s also financial, community and career. Every element of wellbeing has been impacted by COVID. Build your program with all in mind.
So if wellbeing is top of mind for employees, it’s time for employers to follow suit. Doing so allows them to craft a more competitive and attractive employment package (give the people what they want and care about), but it also helps businesses achieve their own goals. Nick McClelland shared how unwell employees pose a cost risk, create more room for errors and represent a reputational threat for employers, especially in a time when we’re so interconnected and public attention is hyper focused on health, and Geeta Nayyar noted how employees who have meaningful benefits are more likely to be healthy and productive.
Change starts somewhere, and often times it begins on paper. Forward-thinking HR and people managers have already begun to rethink wellbeing strategies in terms of the four pillars that Jen Merrick referenced during our chat – physical, mental, social and financial – and are committing to supporting their people’s holistic wellbeing across these areas with the digital tools and expanded programs that Christopher Kunney spoke to. It sounds complicated, but in practice it can be as simple as mindful management. As Diego Ramirez shared, employers need to go beyond checking the box on HR initiatives and begin offering people-shaped, human-centered policy decisions
There are a few major risks for employers to consider. Unwell employees either aren’t at work which equals cost risk. Are at work which creates error risk. However given the global focus on health and the workplace, reputation risk must be a factor as well.
Meaningful health benefits are necessary to keep employees healthy and productive. Research shows an increase in the awareness and value of these benefits over the past year, as many people are placing a renewed importance on their own and their family’s health.
At a time of stretched resources and social distancing, digital tools present the best opportunity for employers to expand scope of services across key phases of mental health support: prevention, detection, support and treatment, and management or recovery.
Use a human-centered design approach to developing well-being programs rather than a checklist of initiatives.
If you were surprised to hear the word “culture” during a conversation about health and wellbeing, maybe you haven’t been paying attention. That’s because company culture and leaders’ attitude about wellness is absolutely fundamental to building a healthy and productive workforce for the future of work. Amy Laverock shared as much during our conversation, pointing out that a culture of health can permeate all aspects of a work environment.
So if culture is the challenge in front of employers, the good news is that it’s one HR professionals have been confronting for years. As always, the first step is to better understand what employees need, and, as Matt Weiberg pointed out, that doesn’t just mean executives. What’s key is to build a wellbeing plan for an entire workforce, then make sure leaders buy-in and (more importantly) demonstrate their commitment. Multiple contributors hit on this during our chat, including Stela Lupushor calling for more role models in organizations to champion mental wellbeing and Tamara McCleary emphasizing the importance of encouraging time away from work.
Employers must provide a combination of meaningful health/well-being supports PLUS a leadership-driven culture of #health that permeates all aspects of the work environment.
Employers should put themselves in their employees shoes. Not just executives, but the people all throughout the organization. Start from the ground up to insure each employee has the benefits they need.
Role model: It is critical to stress the importance of senior leaders to understand how they are creating a culture that fosters mental health. Being vulnerable, communicating about own issues, and disconnecting to recharge - all count.
One of the greatest elements to creating a more productive workforce is that employers can encourage their workforce take time off, work more "normal" hours and not be constantly on call 24/7.