BY DR. TYLER AMELL
Chief Health & Strategy Officer, MediKeeper
One of the most important stories in health and wellness programming and solutions, and the employee benefit plans they are part of continues to be the COVID-19 pandemic and its far-reaching impacts. As our collective COVID-19 experience passes the two-year mark, it has driven substantial changes in how and where we work, as well as introduced new stressors and health risks, which has impacted our overall health in many ways.
It is hard to predict what will happen in the next phases of the pandemic, as it is very much related to our collective drive to move forward with vaccinations and other health measures that are evidence-based and very effective. It is however a little easier to predict what is happening now and will continue to happen in 2022 from an employee health and wellness trend perspective.
Understanding these trends can help organizations better plan for 2022 and beyond and help best support their people. Understanding the currently available resources that help target the trends enables brokers and their clients to improve health outcomes, support engagement and help employees and the organizations they are part of thrive in a positive culture of health.
SUSTAINABLE RETURN TO PLACES OF WORK — LIVING WITH COVID-19 RISK
As we move into the next phases of the pandemic, with looming next waves and case surges like we are seeing at time of writing with the Omicron Variant, as well as vaccine mandates on the horizon, one thing is certain, workplace health programming looks a lot different in a pandemic that outside of one! Employers have digital tools at their disposal to help them to safely return people and customers to offices and business locations while minimizing risk. Digital vaccination and near real-time testing status tracking solutions are cost-effective, easy to deploy and necessary both under the OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard, and as a best practice. These solutions are essential tools for employers that are needed from the start of 2022 on wards.
The flipside is living with COVID-19 risk, which will not be going away anytime soon as the virus continues to mutate. Since we have very strong evidence that people with chronic health conditions are at increased risk for severe outcomes, such as prolonged work absences, hospitalization and death, it makes sense to arm your people with additional support, beyond vaccination and testing, by helping them become engaged in improving their health status. Wellness technologies and portal solutions are crucial to this endeavor and not only help people achieve their best self, they help organizations with costs.
PERSONALIZED TECHNOLOGY SUPPORT IS CRUCIAL
Given the hybrid work environment, with many people continuing to work from home for a portion or all of their work time, having the ability to reach people where they are at, and support their health journey with leading technologies is a trend that will continue through 2022. Having employer sponsored programming that is personalized to their journey will pay off significant dividends.
BRAIN HEALTH & PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY — Mental Health Challenges Mount
As I wrote in California Broker in May 2021, rust-out and burn-out levels are at an all-time high in people, with no end in sight. It is impacting their ability to work and live. The need for brain health related solutions for people will continue to rise in 2022. Stress, anxiety and depression are showing up in people, as are the effects of negative coping strategies such as increases in alcohol and substance use and abuse.
The increase in brain health issues that started prior to the pandemic has accelerated during, and shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, prescriptions for anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) and antidepressant medications hit an all-time high in 2020, hit another all-time high in 2021, and is being set up for even more growth in 2022.
Compounding the issue is the climate crisis, which is fueling additional stress and anxiety above and beyond the pandemic as people struggle to cope with a changing world, their place in it, and what it means for their children and future generations.
Health and wellness solutions that focus on mindfulness, resiliency, exercise and diet, along with positive coping mechanisms will need to be a pillar of any benefit strategy in 2022 to help people enhance engagement and support positive culture all while improving society and social justice.
DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION (DEI) — DOES YOUR EMPLOYEE WELLNESS PROGRAM STACK UP?
Employers will continue to be focused on improving diversity, equity and inclusion for their people and their organizations. The trend of employers being supportive of people, in a tight labor market where health benefits, culture and total compensation will be a driving force in 2022. Racism, ageism, ableism and gender equality are key issues for employers to address, with the help of their brokers, from a variety of perspectives, including health. The stress, anxiety and depression experienced by people who have been historically marginalized in the workplace and society manifests itself in health-related issues, and must be part of a holistic wellbeing solution.
Organizations should strive to include DEI in their health strategy. For example, MediKeeper is a California-based technology company that powers industry leading health and wellness programs. We are not like many other tech firms. Our highly engaged team is split 50-50% on gender, including our senior management team. We are very proud of the fact that our VPs of Engineering, Product and Finance are all strong women! Additionally, the chair of our Board of Directors is a strong female leader as well.
FINANCIAL HEALTH — LITERACY IS NOT ENOUGH
A key driver of stress for employees is related to making ends meet as nearly 55% of U.S. citizens live paycheck-to-paycheck. The lower the income bracket, the higher the proportion of people struggling to pay their bills. The events of the past couple of years have driven the need for improved financial health and wellbeing and support for workers. This will continue to be a need as the economy looks to rebound later in 2022.
Employers must understand that financial literacy is only part of the problem, and that actual budgeting and savings are crucial for their people to be engaged. The ‘Great Resignation’ is what we are seeing now as a record number of people quit their jobs, as millions look for other opportunities. Savings have improved recently due to a few factors, but fundamental, sustainable behavior change when it comes to personal and family finance is critical for many people, including those in the most precarious positions.
Financial wellbeing is a pillar of any well designed and holistic health and wellness program. The rising cost of everything, from food, to shelter to services are underpinning the need for enhanced financial health. Inflation is here and will impact life for your people dramatically in 2022.
DATA DRIVEN DECISION MAKING — DRIVING ENGAGEMENT AND HEALTH OUTCOMES
A key trend for health and wellness programming for 2022 will be the increasing use of data and evidence to support program design, program evaluation and outcomes. Technology that has strong data reporting, or even elements of artificial intelligence and machine learning in the form of automation and algorithms has had profound impacts in other areas of society such as transportation, hospitality, medicine, media and social connection. The timing will be right in 2022 for health and wellness programming that is supportive of employees on their journey to improved health and higher engagement.
These trends were discussed in late 2021 in a webcast and whitepaper, which can be found here: https://medikeeper.com/resources/content-library/employee-wellness-trends-for-2022/
DR. TYLER AMELL is an internationally recognized thought leader on the topic of workplace health and productivity and Chief Health & Strategy Officer at MediKeeper. He also serves on the executive board of directors of the National Wellness Institute and the Work Wellness Institute. In the past, he served on the executive board of directors of the Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI) and the Canadian Association for Research on Work and Health. He was a past partner and VP at a global HR consulting and technology company, CEO of a HR technology company and VP of Canada’s largest independent health care, occupational rehabilitation, and return-to-work company. Dr. Amell holds an adjunct faculty position at Pacific Coast University for Workplace Health Sciences. He has given seminars and presentations at more than 250 events globally.