August 12, 2020
Employee wellbeing was already an important concern for employers even before the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic happened. Now it’s essential. According to Aon’s Rising Resilient report, derived from responses in the early weeks of the pandemic, 80 percent of employers surveyed in Europe believe health and wellbeing are important for their organizations in the long run, and 55 percent are likely to increase their investment in health and wellbeing in the future.
As a global health and economic crisis, COVID-19 has been the source of a wide variety of stresses on organizations and their employees. As they look to manage successfully through the pandemic and beyond, businesses will need to recognize the impact the pandemic has had on their employees’ physical, emotional and financial wellbeing.
Data show that employees expect it: 52 percent of employees surveyed said they think their employer needs to do more to promote health and wellbeing at work, according to the Rising Resilient report. Some employers are already adding to or adjusting wellbeing offerings to meet the stresses caused by COVID-19. For employers that get wellbeing right, the effort can help their teams perform more effectively and productively, and foster resilience — bringing adaptability to change, sense of belonging and ability to reach one’s full potential. It can make a crucial difference when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. Companies that provide wellbeing programs can also see themselves rewarded by investors and consumers increasingly focusing on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues.
“While wellbeing might have previously been considered a strong talent attraction and retention tool, it’s now a foundational part of an organization’s overall recovery,” says Stephanie Pronk, senior vice president and leader of the health transformation team at Aon.
The focus on wellbeing shouldn’t be limited to reacting to a crisis. Instead it should remain a point of emphasis for employers as they emerge from the pandemic. This focus on employees’ happiness, health and wellbeing will yield dividends in employee attraction, productivity, retention and loyalty.
“As we delve deeper into the pandemic, the nature of triggers that affect our mental health are reflective of our diminishing span of control,” says Dr. Amitabh Deka, head of wellbeing solutions, South Asia and Aon Care. “It began as a health concern for self: high control. It moved into worries about others’ health behaviors that impact us — low control — and eventually to worries related to job security and economy: no control.”
For many employees, beyond the stress of COVID-19 itself, there are stresses over suddenly working from home, sick family members, helping children with online education and social injustice. “It’s hard to be a human right now,” says Jim Winkler, chief innovation officer, Global Health Solutions at Aon. “Together these things are putting massive pressure on our mental health.”
A New Focus On Resilience
In the face of such a complex crisis, a goal for employers is to help employees develop resilience. “Employers recognize that employees are critical to their efforts to operate through this crisis,” says Winkler. “So they’re looking for ways to help their employees be more resilient and help them navigate the turbulent times we’re experiencing.”
In its Health 2020 policy framework, the World Health Organization says resilience “is shaped by the availability of supportive environments, which are essential for people to increase control over the determinants of their health.”
The components of those “supportive environments” won’t — and shouldn’t — look the same for every workforce. There’s been a growing recognition that the best wellbeing programs are holistic in nature, focusing not just on physical health but mental/emotional health, social, work-life and financial wellbeing as well. If any doubt remains, COVID-19’s impacts across physical (virus risk), financial (struggling economy) and mental health (sheltering in place, working while leading children’s remote learning) highlight the need for a holistic approach, according to Winkler.
Evolving Wellbeing Program Trends
Organizations will be at different stages of their employee wellbeing journeys and thus their approaches will differ as they progress on the path of improved employee resilience, notes Dr. Avneet Kaur, principal consultant, Health Solutions EMEA at Aon. Some may take a more piecemeal approach, while others might already be taking a strategic view to wellbeing.
“Those in the early stages can start by ensuring that the wellbeing benefits they are offering really meet employees’ needs,” Kaur says.
Communication plays a key role here. Aon’s Rising Resilient report found that employers typically offer twice as many initiatives than employees feel are available to them. “One of the biggest challenges can come not from the benefits themselves, but the communication around them,” says Kaur. “Businesses fall short in part because there is a communications gap between what is offered to employees and what they are aware of and engaging with.”
The pandemic may be sparking change here, with greater communications activity. “Employers have increased frequency of digital communications, especially around response to the pandemic, which includes new wellbeing initiatives,” says Violetta Ostafin, CEO of Health Solutions, Aon Latin America. “And a notable change is the active participation of top leadership in these communications, showing sponsorship and commitment for the strategy and an interest in increasing their employees’ engagement and adherence with these programs.”
Employers are focused on increased promotion around existing programs, especially those that can be accessed remotely, such as telemedicine and employee assistance programs (EAPs), says Amanda Mercep, head of wellbeing solutions, North Asia, Aon.
“We’ve also seen employers introducing these programs in locations where there were gaps in coverage,” says Mercep. “And when it comes to mental health, many companies want to ensure that managers have the tools and resources needed to spot mental health issues, support their teams and sustain performance.”
When it comes to social wellbeing — maintaining relationships with family, friends and colleagues — employers are using learning and development opportunities such as virtual health talks and trainings to engage employees and help them feel connected to the organizations and one another, Mercep says. Topics covered in such sessions might include strengthening resilience, cultivating kindness, gratitude and optimism, healthy coping strategies, self-care and mindfulness.
Well before the pandemic, some employers were already concerned about a range of financial wellbeing issues and needs in their workforce, such as levels of savings, personal debt and financial know-how. Pandemic-related financial challenges have brought these issues into sharper focus. Organizations are revisiting their financial wellbeing offers and support, including offering guidance on how to get back on track if the pandemic has knocked employees off course.
For employers that are already looking at wellbeing strategically, COVID-19 has created a need to examine their offerings to see how they can help employees build greater resilience.
Resilient Employees, Resilient Business
Recognizing the pandemic’s various impacts on employees and helping address them should be part of any overall strategy for guiding a business through the crisis.
“Look at how COVID-19 might have affected your employees, in their different personal circumstances and what you are doing or could do for their health and wellbeing,” says Kaur. “Think about it from a resilience perspective because workforce resilience is an important element of your business’ success, especially in these challenging times.
“As you address the other business challenges of managing operations, whether it be remote working or returning to the workplace, making sure employees feel supported, secure and cared for should be a core element of your people strategy and your organization’s culture.”
“When employees see their organization as a collaborator that is committed to keeping them and their families safe,” adds Deka, “there is no better way to bond and generate loyalty.”
To hear more from Aon thought leaders on employee resilience, wellbeing and managing people risk, explore the virtual 2020 Aon Insights Series.
This document has been provided as an informational resource for Aon clients and business partners. It is intended to provide general guidance on potential exposures and is not intended to provide medical advice or address medical concerns or specific risk circumstances. Information given in this document is of a general nature, and Aon cannot be held liable for the guidance provided. We strongly encourage readers to seek additional safety, medical and epidemiological information from credible sources such as the World Health Organization. As regards insurance coverage questions, whether coverage applies or a policy will respond to any risk or circumstance is subject to the specific terms and conditions of the insurance policies and contracts at issue and the relevant underwriter determinations.
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