Using health and well-being to energize the experience

building a better employee experience

It was very exciting, and timely, to see the emphasis on health and well-being in this year’s Global Talent Trends Study. It is making me look forward to future results. As an optimist in today’s environment, I’m clinging to a single COVID-19 silver lining: Society needs to better manage population health, and employers will step up to the plate.

Health and well-being is at the top of the agenda for many company executives.

Globally, prior to COVID-19, workers had a less positive view than their employers did on the extent to which their employer cares about their health and well-being. The graph below is from our Health on Demand research released in February, which looks at several workforce health issues, including what excites and frightens workers about the future of health.

A key message from this year’s Global Talent Trends Study that resonated with me: “Energize the experience – inspire and invigorate people by redesigning their work experience.”

Employees who feel energized want four things from their work:

Modernized health and benefit plans can play a key role in energizing the employee experience. Seventy-six percent of employers believe an investment in digital health and well-being solutions will have a positive impact on staff energy levels.

Below I summarize my personal predictions around how health and benefit plans will change over the coming year, both in response to COVID-19 and to the broader trends highlighted by Mercer’s Global Talent Trends research. Never have employer-sponsored health and risk protection benefits, as well as cultures of health and safety, been more relevant. Never have they been more in need of modernization. And never have I had a stronger belief that emerging markets will leapfrog.

Prediction 1: Growth markets will lead the way

I have been making the rounds across Mercer Marsh Benefits’ 70+ geographies to assess how our local teams are helping clients navigate the COVID-19 landscape. I am proud of all the work we’re doing to help bind coverage, enhance health education, respond to new workforce needs and improve safety. However, facing thousands of notions of a new normal, the task ahead to modernize how benefit plans are designed, delivered and financed has made me feel beleaguered at times. Then I got on a Zoom call with one of our talented physicians in India who said, “We can help with adaptive working, Amy. Less than a month ago, we started a daily virtual program for employees of our clients. We get about 10,000 workers joining our sessions every day. We are transforming how well-being is provided.” I then regrouped with our team in China who told me, “Yes, Amy, we stood up a virtual care offering in a matter of days.”

Increased strength of emerging market economies is the top socio-economic concern expressed by executives in this year’s Global Talent Trends Study. Having lived some of the best years of my life in Asia, I have long held the view that growth economies can leapfrog, but we are now clearly seeing this with digital health adoption. Our Health on Demand research has highlighted how growth markets are characterized by workers who are more youthful, energetic and tech-savvy; more positive and proactive about the state of their health; and more receptive to digital health solutions. This graphic shows people’s willingness to try different digital health solutions prior to the COVID-19 outbreak:

Employees in growth markets also report greater confidence in the digital and well-being solution offered, if promoted by their employer, over mature market respondents. We can expect employer-sponsored innovations to be particularly prized in growth markets.

Prediction 2: Employers will be forced to recognize caregivers

Our Global Talent Trends Study discusses how society, as an agent of change, needs a more expansive view about an organization’s responsibilities. The current view of an organization’s purpose is under scrutiny and is being pushed beyond shareholder return. Organizations are being asked to place individual and societal well-being at the core of their values. In addition to the need for better pandemic planning, COVID-19 has highlighted three significant gaps in organizational responsibility:

  • Inequities in health driven by social determinants like education, social status, physical environment and racism
  • Pervasive unmet mental health needs
  • Lack of support for caregivers

While there is lots to be done, empathetic employers can make a big difference in people’s lives by taking steps to address these gaps.

Caregiving is another area where growth economies will likely lead the way. With extended-family cultures, longer working hours and commutes, as well as significant caregiving and sandwich-generation needs, several growth markets have been more progressive in taking a holistic approach to the whole person.

The reality is that return-to-work planning will inevitably involve employers needing to consider whether a person’s household includes an individual who is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 (above a certain age or living with a relevant health condition). While it will feel intrusive at times, the opportunity to better understand people’s at-home realities and to create meaningful programs that support the entire person will enhance the value of health and benefit plans in the long-run.

Prediction 3: Benefit teams will reskill

Another key theme in this year’s Global Talent Trends Study is the “race to reskill.” We’re already seeing benefit teams looking for guidance on:

  • Adjusting health and benefit schemes and cultures of health to be more relevant to remote workers
  • Introducing digital health and well-being best practices
  • Supporting supervisors to address more pronounced issues like mental health
  • Creating stronger alignment with the risk management function, a practice critical for managing emerging occupational health risks
  • Read about Managing People Risks Through Employee Benefit Plans

While many of these opportunities have been talked about for years, the pace of change over the coming months will be truly unprecedented. Demand for and utilization of EAP and telehealth solutions, along with global virtual well-being training and pandemic planning guides, have increased significantly over the past six weeks.

Prediction 4: Employers will support their employees in the moments that matter

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, people around the world have turned to their employer for solutions, support and guidance. The employers that are there for the employees during the moments that matter, especially in the many turbulent moments of today, will stand out. As I have discussed, there are many ways to provide support for a global workforce, but one of the simplest ones is to lead with empathy and understanding. Enrichment, efficiency and economics will all follow. Stay safe and be kind. 

Amy Laverock
by Amy Laverock

Global Advice and Solution Leader, Mercer Marsh Benefits