Protecting employees by taking a holistic and digital approach

Employee health and wellbeing programmes need to be proactive, holistic and leverage digital services if businesses are to meet the challenges of an evolving workplace, says Helene Westerlind, chief executive officer of LiveWell by Zurich*.

The world of work is undergoing its biggest change in a generation. Technology, societal and demographic shifts are resulting in fundamental changes in the way we work and live. Digitalisation is creating new opportunities in the way we work, enabling more flexible and remote working, and fuelling the gig economy. At the same time, the workforce is becoming more diverse, with a wide range of health and wellbeing needs and expectations.

The Covid-19 pandemic has turbocharged many of these existing trends, bringing flexible and home working to a new level. Almost half (48%) of employees will likely work remotely, at least part of the time, after Covid-19, versus 30% before the pandemic, according to Gartner. The increase in home working poses a major challenge for employers, who will need to increase their support for employees’ physical and mental health at a time of potentially reduced engagement.

Covid-19 has also had a huge impact on employee mental health and wellbeing. Stress and anxiety levels were rising even before the pandemic, but lockdowns and home working arrangements have added to those pressures, while managers are struggling to engage with employees remotely and pick up on early warning signs. Since the start of the pandemic, 42% of employees globally have reported a decline in mental health, according to a recent global study by Mind Share Partners.

New work/life balance
As we learn to live with Covid-19, it is time to view the work/life balance equation differently and instead focus on work/life integration. One striking change in recent years has been the blurring of work and home life, whether the result of home and gig working, or technology advancements. For many workers, the pandemic has seen work encroach on home life like never before, while employers have had the opportunity to step up and provide more support to their employees, such as flexible work hours, enhanced sick leave and help with childcare provisions.

Across the generations, expectations of employers from employees are increasing. Employees today are far more likely to expect their employers to care and to support them both at work and in their lives more generally. While the shift towards hybrid and flexible working has further expanded the role employers are expected to play in their employees’ financial, physical and mental wellbeing, employees are likely to need much more support as they return to the workplace, and many will no doubt look to their employers to provide a trusted place for help.

Return on investment
Investing in employee health and wellbeing is a win-win situation for employees and employers. A study by Deloitte Canada shows that for every dollar spent on mental health support, employers saw an average $2.18 return on their investment over three years. According to the study, healthier employees are not only more productive – they are increasingly drawn to organisations that share their values and that look after their workforce.

While good business sense, investments in employee health and wellbeing may soon become essential. With an ageing population, more people are living with chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer and dementia, while poor diet and inactivity are driving an obesity epidemic. Worryingly, many people have deferred preventative screenings or visits to doctors during the pandemic. This means the opportunity to detect conditions early may have been missed, increasing the risk of complications and severity. In addition, due to Covid-19, a backlog of referrals and treatment has built up in many healthcare systems, which continue to experience capacity constraints.

Protecting assets
With the shift towards intangible assets, the role of risk managers has been expanding and increasingly extends to protecting an organisation’s human capital as well as its physical assets. This can be seen in the growing number of risk managers that are working alongside their colleagues in human resources to bring employee benefits into their captives and integrate them with P&C solutions.

A paper released by Mercer and Marsh Benefits shows growing interest from risk managers in health and wellbeing solutions, as organisations look to mitigate people risks. The health and wellbeing of employees is increasingly recognised as an important driver for property and liability claims. Fatigue, stress and burnout, as well as alcohol consumption, are often contributing factors to workplace accidents, mistakes and misconduct issues.

New approach
With more flexible working, a more diverse workforce and changing employee needs and expectations, businesses may need to adopt a different approach to health and wellbeing. If companies are to meet the challenges of the modern workplace, employee health and wellbeing programmes should become more proactive, holistic and make greater use of digital services.

The physical, mental, social and financial health of employees are inextricably linked. Industry studies show a complex relationship between financial stress, interpersonal stress, and mental and physical health. For example, financial difficulties may lead to stress or anxiety and impact on a person’s social and work life. By taking a ‘whole person’ approach, one is able to recognise that all areas are interconnected and interdependent, and that balance is key.

Meeting today’s workplace challenges will also require a more proactive approach, and one that is aligned with a company’s culture and values. Senior leadership and management can lead by example, setting a positive tone that encourages healthy lifestyles. Raising standards of health and wellbeing will also require behavioural change. Providing gym membership and a wellness app alone may not be sufficient. Companies will need to be creative, finding ways to engage with their employees and incentivise or reward them for healthy behaviour.

Digital solutions
Hybrid and flexible working are here to stay, so employers will need to find innovative ways to engage and communicate with their employees, in a diverse multigenerational workforce that has varying needs and expectations. However, technology is creating exciting opportunities for companies to provide effective health and wellbeing programmes at scale, like never before.

For example, LiveWell by Zurich is a holistic digital solution that encourages employees to take ownership of their health by taking preventative actions, with health and wellbeing services delivered in an easy and engaging manner. LiveWell enables employees to set health goals and manage and track health and wellbeing activities in areas like exercise, activity, sleep and mindfulness. The app also offers tips on healthy living, as well as daily mindfulness podcasts, stress and mood trackers, articles and toolkits that span physical, mental, financial and social health.

Solutions like LiveWell can deliver ambitious health and wellbeing strategies and programmes under one digital platform that integrates employee benefits, social activities, physical and mindfulness challenges. These platforms can also provide anonymised and aggregated data and insights into employee health and wellbeing, as well as provide feedback on employee engagement with health and wellbeing services. Most importantly, providers of such digital services must commit to the highest data privacy principles at the forefront to ensure safe and secure handling of health data.

We believe digital solutions will be transformative for the provision of employee health and wellbeing programmes, and that more and more wellbeing services will come online as the technology evolves, giving companies the tools to provide imaginative and tailor-made health and wellbeing services to employees. Digital solutions can help build employee engagement and support employees at a time when workforces are becoming more diverse, less connected and more dependent on their employers.

*LiveWell by Zurich is owned by Zurich LiveWell Services and Solutions, a company incorporated in Switzerland.

Contributed by Helene Westerlind, chief executive officer of LiveWell by Zurich

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