BY DR. TYLER AMELL
A key differentiator among many employers these days is the benefit package they offer to their people. These benefits offer up a means of attracting talent, then engaging and retaining people on an ongoing basis to maximize the effectiveness of the two-way employment relationship. As the U.S. economy comes to life in the post COVID-19 pandemic world, as evidenced by a preliminary real gross domestic product (GDP) annual growth rate of 6.4% for Q1 2021, competition for people to help drive this growth is increasing.
To add fuel to the fire, people are emboldened with a new “work from anywhere” approach and are more likely to move to an employer with a benefit strategy offering that matches their current, near term and future needs. Many people have been holding on during the pandemic and are now looking to make a move to a different employer for a wide variety of reasons. These reasons include continuing to be able to work from home, work-life blending options, and more attractive benefit plans supportive of these needs. Brokers, as the trusted advisors that employers rely on for various solutions, should be focused on understanding these trends to best serve their clients.
One benefit strategy that is of particular interest to people when they consider whether to remain at their current employer or look at making a move elsewhere these days is the employer’s wellness program. Some employers do not offer such solutions at all, while other programs are just getting off the ground. Further, some others are well developed and comprehensive. As the wellbeing of people who are part of organizations became a focal point during the pandemic, suddenly health and wellness were top of mind for many human resources practitioners. These programs need to be implemented or refreshed in the near term to ensure they are meeting people’s needs and those of your clients.
Specific areas of focus for wellness programs that address people’s needs right now include mental health assessment and support. These include stress, anxiety and depression as well as resiliency and mindfulness solutions, behavioral health, access to life guides or employee assistance programming, and a digital, virtual user experience that drives engagement in all senses of the term.
Members of the millennial generation embrace mobile and digital solutions and expect them for all aspects of life, including the workplace.
Millennials, defined as those 25 to 40 years of age in 2021, now make up the largest proportion of the U.S. workforce. They are followed by Generation X, then baby boomers, who are decreasing as rapidly as millennials are increasing in proportion. Members of the millennial generation embrace mobile and digital solutions and expect them for all aspects of life, including the workplace.
There is a lack of interest in any wellness programming requiring in-person, physically present offerings, although as many people return to the office during the next quarter, that may change somewhat. The longer-term outlook for in-person solutions, given the baby boomers exiting the workforce, is not positive.
Wellness as a risk mitigation strategy
Aside from decreasing turnover as a risk mitigation strategy using wellness programming, which as described earlier should be top of mind for many employers these days, there are numerous other benefits of wellness programming as a risk strategy.
These include reducing absenteeism and presenteeism. Presenteeism is when people are at work, but not as productive due to health issues. The connection here is that people who are healthy are absent less often, and impacted by presenteeism less.
Other benefits include reduction in disability and leave durations, thereby improving productivity and engagement. Reductions in insurance premiums or self-funded costs are common, as well as the cost of pharmacy, medical and other health benefit related expenses. These improvements are all predicated on a healthier population of workers. This is where wellness programs are of most use, focused on prevention, chronic disease risk reduction, and healthy lifestyle improvements. This is particularly applicable to your clients’ workplaces right now as the health of members of the millennial generation is deteriorating at a faster rate than previous generations.
“The worsening physiological and mental health profiles among younger generations imply a challenging morbidity and mortality prospect for the United States.”
Research published this year in the American Journal of Epidemiology concluded that “the worsening physiological and mental health profiles among younger generations imply a challenging morbidity and mortality prospect for the United States.”
If you’d like to check out that academic research yourself, just search up the study title: Are Recent Cohorts Getting Worse? Trends in U.S. Adult Physiological Status, Mental Health, and Health Behaviors Across a Century of Birth Cohorts.
Are people ready to change?
Some of your clients may have questions about the return or value on investment in controlling risks to the health of their people. My advice is to ask a series of questions that will help focus the conversation. For example:
Do you believe that:
I like to define culture by imagining your client’s organization as a fish tank—the people are the fish, and the culture is the water the fish live in. It could be a clean, transparent and supportive environment, or it could be toxic.
Workplace culture as a risk
Perhaps most importantly for today’s employers is a culture, not just of wellness, but of an overall conducive workplace culture. Culture can not only make or break your client’s wellness program in terms of success, engagement and longevity, value on investment and return on investment, but also impact the organization’s overall success.
The benefits of a positive workplace culture include characteristics such as values, traditions, beliefs, behaviors and attitudes. This can be supported by policies and processes that nurture camaraderie, respect and organizational goals. I like to define culture by imagining your client’s organization as a fish tank—the people are the fish, and the culture is the water the fish live in. It could be a clean, transparent and supportive environment, or it could be toxic. A significant organizational pitfall is having a culture evolve organically, without direction or influence.
Strong positive cultures are linked to high engagement, as well as lower turnover. They impact happiness and satisfaction and ultimately work performance. When people feel that their employer cares about their wellness, they are more engaged at work and more likely to go above and beyond minimum requirements. This has implications for overall business success, customer experience and retention, and profitability — among many other positive attributes. To be successful, strong leadership is required.
Finally, your risk mitigation strategy that leverages wellness for your clients must have purpose and support. These do not need to be extensive investments, although a strong argument can be made that the health of your people is worth the investment.
DR. TYLER AMELL is chief health & strategy officer at MediKeeper. He is an internationally recognized thought leader on the topic of workplace health and productivity. Dr. Amell also serves on the executive board of directors of the Work Wellness Institute and the National 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 is 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 200 events globally.