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Meeting the needs of tomorrow’s workforce

At the time of writing, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to directly and indirectly impact the lives of billions – from illness, mortality rates, grief, lockdowns and job losses to the roll-out of vaccines, adoption of digital platforms and engagement in conversations about health to changing mindsets about well-being and new business models. Two years of disruption and change may seem like a lot, but its impact is likely to remain with us for many more years to come.

Businesses had to adapt quickly and completely. Many didn’t survive. How will the impact on people in turn shape the world of work in the future? Our recent survey shows that the pandemic hit young workers hard — resulting in an increased need and demand for more mental and physical support from employers than other age groups.

This article tackles the following questions to help organisations meet the needs of tomorrow’s workforce:

  • How will the experience of today’s under-18s shape their view of the workplace as they enter the workforce? 
  • Importantly, how can employers meet the demands of tomorrow’s employees?
  • How can well-being benefits be used to help attract and retain talent, as well as fulfil their duty of care to a workforce that has acknowledged its own mental and physical fragility?

Through his work, Aetna’s Joe Hawayek, Head of vHealth (Middle East and Africa) has seen the direct impact of the pandemic on health care through the lens of health insurance and benefits provision. Here he helps to answer these important questions and offer advice and guidance for organisations around the world.

What can employers do to meet the needs of tomorrow’s workforce?

Well-being culture

Investment in corporate wellness and workplace well-being is increasing as organisations see the value in delivering comprehensive benefits, but, as Joe explains, funding is only one part of the solution.

“The trend is to definitely progress from simply providing benefits, towards a culture of well-being. In the 1990s organisations raised awareness of health issues such as smoking, but as we move further into the new millennium businesses are investing in services that directly support employees.”

Our survey found that younger workers are indeed motivated by positive work culture. It’s well understood that Millennials and Gen Z and Gen X workers are searching for personal fulfilment, CSR, and meaningful work engagements, rather than just a job, and that they respond well to socially engaging experiences.

By driving awareness and offering direct support, companies are now building a culture of well-being which not only helps to attract and retain talent but actively keep employees healthy and productive.

Gap analysis and tailoring of benefits

“You might expect me to say that companies should buy more health insurance to address the need of younger workers’,” says Joe. “But simply spending more money can become a vicious cycle that doesn’t address the underlying issues and doesn’t always deliver more actual value. The key is targeting. Listen to your workforce, understand what they need, and provide the cover and benefits that delivers meaningful support to your population. What they need will vary depending on a range of factors from demographics to the nature of the work they do.”

Younger generations are often better at recognising what they need to be healthier — both mentally and physically. They’re also often better at asking for what they need. Their answers are insights which can help guide the provision of mental and physical health care cover and benefits, as well as specifics such as remote access and digital tools.

Many people have enjoyed working from home and may seek to continue some level of home-working, so organisations must provide appropriate support for remote working. Remote — often digital — mental health support became a focus for many organisations as stress and anxiety rose amongst a now isolated workforce. Into the future, businesses should offer access to a range of tools and services that offer personalised, participative experiences that support whole-person health and well-being. This includes preventative tools as well as those that address existing conditions and issues. These benefits may also be utilised by the whole family, as concern for family is a key stressor for many employees.

Changing demand for remote working opportunities

Demands for work policies that enable flexible remote-working opportunities have been on the rise for many years. And few can deny the global pandemic has helped organisations rethink their long-term digital work strategies and or to start developing new business models. It may have been serendipity for many that the pandemic increased home- and remote-working. Many companies had to weigh up whether to close, to furlough staff or to enable their employees to work from home as well as from more remote geographic locations. Anecdotes abound of reluctant, ‘old-fashioned’ bosses finally allowing people to work from home, and many people are keen to continue some level of remote working after the pandemic. A study revealed that 78% of business leaders think hybrid and homeworking negatively impacts productivity.

Our recent survey Tackling Polarised perceptions of corporate health and wellness found that almost two-thirds of all employers agree that:

  • ‘COVID-19 has increased employee expectations around the range and scale’ of health and wellness benefits
  • ‘COVID-19 has forced my company to re-think its flexible and remote working policies’
  • There is now greater expectation for employers to take more responsibility for an employee’s health beyond the workplace’.

But remote working is only a part of the picture.

“The pandemic has been with us for more than a year, and many businesses have already implemented initiatives to support mental and physical health and well-being in the office and at home,” says Joe. “Many of these will continue to be relevant and valuable in years to come, as the principles of helping people to keep well and manage their health remain the same: take a holistic view of the individual (mental, emotional and physical health); provide access to a range of self-help and professional services and tools that support meaningful health outcomes; and take a preventative — as well as curative — approach.

“So, what does that look like on the ground? Well, organisations around the world have invested in digital tools that allow remote access to support, as part of their suite of benefits. That includes things like mental well-being app Wysa which allows employees to get confidential and anonymous mental health support whenever suits them. Businesses are also providing physical health and fitness support for those with limited access to gyms and outdoor spaces in the form of yoga apps, guided exercise apps and even pain management apps such as Kaia. Some businesses provide online or telephone therapy and mindfulness training to help those in need.     

“As well as tools, businesses have launched initiatives to keep people connected and supported, and to ensure isolated people stay in touch with team members. We have seen a wide range of initiatives become more commonplace, including organisations leading with empathy and flexibility, improving internal communications and simplifying access to employee support, HR check-ins to buddy systems and organised video chats.

“The key has been to work with a health care benefits provider who can help make of these initiatives more impactful. For instance, helping organisations make the most their existing health and well-being strategy, as well as filling the gaps to ensure the offering meets the specific needs of their employees.”

Demand for access to meaningful health benefits and support

The pandemic has made people more health aware. The ‘it’ll never happen to me’ attitude and subsequent health inertia has been eroded. People are now more aware, more educated and more motivated to get and stay healthy – mentally and physically.

Our own survey shows that:

  • 33% of workers are concerned about mental health issues such as depression or anxiety
  • 88% of 18-24-year-olds saying their mental health has affected their work performance since COVID-19
  • 75% of 18-34-year-olds say they have been stressed due to being locked down with family, friends or housemates.

Demands on employers have included increased or expanded benefits. Our 2019 survey found that 75% of employees said they would not join a company that failed to provide good support for treating physical health concerns and 67%, mental health concerns.

Through his work on vHealth, Joe has seen the direct impact of the pandemic on health care through the lens of health insurance: “We have seen lots of younger people accessing services through vHealth [Aetna’s telemedicine primary care service]. In the last year we’ve seen a 63% increase in general practitioner or family doctor consultations related to mental health.”

Our recent survey found that:

  • 63% of employees said physical health provision was more important to them now (November 2020)
    • 67% of those aged 25-34 compared to only 41% of those 55-64
  • 63% also said their employer should be spending more on health benefits
    • 70% of those aged 25-34 compared to only 43% of those 55-64.

Younger workers are driving demand the most. Younger workers also believe that mental health support will make employers attractive, from which we might deduce their own needs and demands.

To drive talent attraction and retention, employers have been responding to these demands with increased investment in programmes such as corporate health benefits and employee assistance programmes (EAP). And there’s a lot to play for, as 89% of respondents to our 2019 survey said that good workplace provision for dealing with stress and other mental health issues would increase their commitment to their employer and make them stay with the firm for longer.

Increasing digital health support for the whole family

Celebrated psychologist Gabor Maté suggests that trauma plays a significant role in driving our personalities. Joe suggests that even for young adults, the pandemic year (so far) will have profoundly affected their views, needs and behaviours.

“Younger people are always those who adopt and use technology more readily, but for the new generation of workers it will play a key role in their health — they will demand it,” explains Joe. “These ‘Covidians’ have been learning from home and seeing the doctor online — communicating with work colleagues on the other side of the world as easily as those across a desk. This generation see less stigma associated with mental health — it is simply a continuum upon which we all exist. With increasing mental health demands we can see that this generation will push for more and better digital tools to support their mental health.”

Joe comments: “But it’s not just members, it’s the children of our members — specifically the under-18s. Our members using vHealth — including video — to book appointments for their children.”

Joe’s experience also mirrors the study’s findings: those going into the office are anxious about catching the virus, those at home are worried that they might lose their job, put on weight or suffer the impact from a more sedentary lockdown lifestyle — musculoskeletal (MSK) issues.

Our own study supports this: the productivity and mental health of younger workers — Millennials and Gen X — have been particularly affected by pressure personal relationships, lockdown conditions and anxiety around financial security. We also found that there is a marked difference in the health-related concerns of workers according to their work location — office or home.

Joe cites another, all important, facet of this that will affect those hiring from the younger talent pool. “Young people have been at home for a year. No school, no holidays, no in-person socialising. Their parents have also been at home all year, so the children have been seeing the world of work through their parents’ experience like never before. They have learned about employers and what it is to be an employee like never before, so the next generation of workers know what to expect, know what they need, know what to ask for. And organisations will need to be ready for this in the years to come.”

Further guidance for employers

Our article 9 steps to creating an effective health and wellness benefits strategy for 2021 and beyond describes the following ways in which organisations can ensure they provide health benefits that genuinely help to keep employees healthy, happy and productive.

  1. Listen
  2. Use data
  3. Take a holistic approach
  4. Focus on user experience
  5. Fully understand what you’re providing
  6. Personalise your marketing to market your benefits
  7. Build a culture of well-being
  8. Measurement
  9. Look beyond the workplace

Read more about these nine steps here.

More age-based findings

  • Workers aged 18-34 are the most likely to be concerned about stress when working from home
  • Workers aged 18-24 are most likely to rate support for stress at work as poor — in some cases more than double other age groups
  • Workers aged 25-35 are most likely to say mental health is more important now in the workplace context
  • Older workers tend to be less concerned with mental health, and more with physical health
  • Workers aged 25-35 are most likely to believe their employer should be spending more on benefits
  • Workers aged 18-24 site flexible working hours are most likely to influence whether they join or stay with an employer
  • Workers aged 25-35 are most likely to say ability to be geographically mobile is most likely to influence whether they join or stay with an employer
  • Workers aged 18-24 are most likely to say a clear policy on supporting those with mental health issues has the biggest impact on staying with an employer
  • Workers aged 18-24 are most likely to say COVID-19 has had an impact on their mental health (and the figures generally decline as age rises)
  • Workers aged 25-35 say stress has impacted their productivity the most.

If you’re an employer who would like to see how Aetna International can support your employees in region or while they’re on international assignment, get in touch with one of our specialists today. Click here to find a sales consultant in your region.

If you’re self-funding your international private medical insurance and you think Aetna International could help you, why not speak to one of our experts today to see how we might support you in your life abroad and your health goals.

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