The way we live and work has been completely transformed since this time last year. Social restrictions have forced people to quickly adapt to unprecedented ways of living and working. As a result, many of us have faced a host of new, unique mental and physical health pressures.
As we pass the one-year mark since the beginning of the first lockdown, businesses have become more aware of how intertwined employee health is with how and where they work and live. The pandemic has been a pivotal moment for reassessing corporate culture and working practices, and many employers are now taking more responsibility for their employees’ well-being.
In fact, the recent results of Aetna International’s annual global survey revealed that three in five (63%) UK HR Directors believe employers now have more responsibility for their employees’ mental and physical health beyond the workplace.
However, the results also show that employers continue to over-estimate the quality and impact of the health benefits they offer proving that there is still a long way to go to close the gap between employer and employee perceptions of workplace health support. Businesses are now faced with a critical opportunity to reconsider their approach to employee health and well-being benefits, now and in the long-term, so they can fully understand what employees need and deliver it in an accessible way.
Our recent global survey found that the majority of employees said the pandemic has heightened the importance of mental health (84%), physical health (89%) and access to quality care (87%), yet only 31% said they are happy with the health benefits and resources their employers provide.
Despite this, the provision of mental health benefits and support is one of the key areas in which organisations have made advances. We found that almost two thirds (63%) of global workers say working for an employer that provides mental health support is now more important to them than it was a year ago and over half (54%) of HR Directors claim their company has improved the provision of mental health support and benefits that support employee well-being.
Businesses are clearly starting to change their approach to employee benefits, but there is still significant work to do. In fact, around a fifth (22%) of UK employees working remotely actually think the support for stress provided by their company is ‘poor’ – although this has improved significantly when compared to before the pandemic, when 41% moreworkers rated their company’s support for stress as poor.
Additionally, despite the optimism of vaccine roll-outs and lockdown restrictions lifting, employees are unlikely to want to return to working life as it was pre-pandemic. Businesses have no choice but to address this by adapting their health provisions for employees, to account for this shift in the way they work.
As we move beyond Covid-19, organisations should ensure they have health and wellbeing strategies in place to help workers take care of themselves mentally, emotionally and physically. Those should include access to everything from mental health services to nutritional guidance and support digitally. This can help employees combat the unique mental and physical health challenges the pandemic has created, such as increased sedentary time and feelings of isolation due to home working.
In addition, setting up regular opportunities for communication is crucial for managers to understand the actual challenges faced by employees – particularly those working from home. Listening to employees will be essential for businesses over the coming months. For many people, health and lifestyle pressures have intensified and this is something that businesses cannot afford to ignore.
More than ever, employees are asking their employers exactly what they’re doing to support them. Therefore, choosing the right benefits partner and services that are tailored to the diverse needs of a particular employee population will drive the best, most meaningful outcomes in the future. To better support workers, organisations should: Listen – hold regular listening sessions to understand the needs of their population; Plan – use what they’ve learnt to evaluate and build a strategy and seek out the right solutions to fit the strategy; and finally, Act – businesses must develop guidance that is connected and brings it all together in an accessible way.
If they haven’t already, business leaders and HR must act and respond to the changing needs of their employees, or risk alienating a workforce that is already under strain.