Employee health is integral to the health of a business, so firms must step up and manage their people risks. This means building new strategies that protect the physical, social, mental and financial well-being of the workforce.

The well-being of your employees determines the health and resilience of your business, something that has been clearly demonstrated over the past 12 months.
 

Pre-pandemic, we were already facing multiple health crises, particularly relating to chronic conditions driven by lifestyle choices and an aging population.
 

The collateral health impact from the spread of the virus continues to have devastating consequences, both physically and mentally. The extended duration has exacerbated mental health concerns, with businesses and employees alike feeling the impact of anxiety and loneliness, the juggling of caregiving duties, financial stress and, sadly, grief. 
 

Employers that proactively mitigate health issues (including all aspects of well-being) through targeted interventions and culture drive positive business outcomes. 
 

The benefits of this approach include a more stable business, more productive and loyal employees, and better management of medical, disability and workers’ compensation claims. Workers report that the more varied health and well-being resources an employer offers, the more energized and supported they feel, and the less likely they are to leave.1
 

With the clear link between employee health and business continuity, the spread of infectious diseases, including future pandemics, is a critical threat that requires urgent consideration. In fact, it ranks as the highest-impact risk of the next decade in the Global Risk Report 2021.2
 

Occupational health is more important than ever. But companies must also consider other aspects of health, including the issues that arise when they fail to provide for their employees’ physical, social, mental and financial well-being. These issues include:
 

  • Deteriorating mental health: Workforce mental health issues (for example, anxiety, stress, depression and addiction) lead to suboptimal well-being, productivity and benefits spend and can weaken the employee value proposition or the brand.
     
  • Workforce exhaustion: Overtiredness, stemming from work-life balance issues, change fatigue and too many priorities and distractions, leads to errors, high employee turnover, reduced productivity and damaged reputation. Remote work, especially, is blurring the lines between work life and personal life.
     
  • Non-communicable health conditions: Unmanaged chronic illnesses, including diabetes, lung disease and cancer, impact business continuity, escalate operational costs, and affect overall individual and organizational performance.
     
  • Communicable health conditions: The spread of infectious diseases, including future pandemics, impacts business continuity, escalates operational costs and affects overall performance.
     
  • Work-related illness or injury: This includes accidents, unsafe exposure, security incidents or aggravation of preexisting conditions in a work environment (on-site, remote working). With increasing work from home, this can also include incidents in the “home office” environment.

What companies can do

The silver lining is that the pandemic has triggered a greater shift toward and adoption of digital healthcare. This is encouraging, as these innovations promise to make healthcare more affordable and easily accessible. For example, there are 400,000 health apps available on the market, and sometimes these can even be embedded in an insurer’s medical, workers’ compensation or disability/salary continuance plans.
 

Companies should also design their health and well-being strategies using a data-driven approach to identify their top health risks. Doing so will enable them to determine the targeted interventions necessary to mitigate risks.
 

Through data-driven methods, businesses can develop short-, medium- and long-term approaches to creating affordable and competitive benefits plans that meet business and workforce needs.
 

Good questions to ask

  • Has your C-suite’s interest in employee well-being risen during the pandemic?
  • Mental health-related issues are one of the fastest-growing areas of short-term disability claims. How are you as an employer managing these?
  • How are you equipping your managers and HR professionals to handle employee health and well-being issues?
  • Do you see opportunities for better integrating your occupational and non-occupational health strategies?
  • Do you manage mental health the same way you manage physical health? 

Conclusion

The future of work demands healthy and engaged employees. Now is the time for employers to consider proactively implementing plan-management measures. Fortunately, 95% of employers believe investment in health and well-being will be the same or a greater priority in the future.3
 

Even before the pandemic, the number-one reason provided by senior decision makers for investing in health and well-being was safety, followed by morale/engagement and improved productivity. So developing a comprehensive health and well-being strategy should be initiated by the C-suite and involve human resources, ESG, occupational health and safety, risk management, operations, and marketing/communications. 
 

In short, employers can’t afford not to act. Health must become a business imperative. Organizations need to plan for the design, delivery and financing of solutions that enhance access to quality healthcare, prevention and culture-of-health programs.

Speak with a Mercer Marsh Benefits consultant