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Covid-19’s tragic death toll may reshape attitudes towards workplace health and wellbeing

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The Covid-19 pandemic has, tragically, caused thousands of deaths across the country. As well as leaving families grieving, it has forced even the young to think about their mortality. Employers will need to recognise this change in how they shape, plan and deliver their workplace health and wellbeing programmes, argues Debra Clark.

In the working world alone, Covid-19 has changed almost every aspect of our lives, from how we interact with others to what constitutes “the workplace”.

The pandemic has also changed our attitudes to death and bereavement and, sadly, forced even the young to realise their mortality. The latest mortality statistics from the Office for National Statistics (from January to November 2020) show that, tragically, 550,555 deaths occurred in England and Wales, a massive 68,378 more than during the same period in 2019.

Even though vaccines are now offering us a path – a hope – out of the pandemic, employers will need to be responding to these changes and adapting their employee benefits to meet these evolving needs and concerns during the coming year.

Covid-19 has given us a year of stark statistics, with infection and death rates reported daily. Employers have seen an impact on their workforce, with an increased awareness of mortality shaping the requirements of health and wellbeing programmes and influencing employee benefit decisions.

Offering health and wellbeing benefits therefore can no longer be a “tick box” exercise; it must be front and centre of corporate agendas.

Now is the time for employers to act to ensure their benefits are current, relevant and addressing the very real concerns of their employees. When looking at how best to support employees during 2021, employers must therefore focus on the following five things.

1) Prioritise prevention. Prevention is a major watchword in wellbeing at the moment and, in light of the tougher restrictions announced in January, this will be even more applicable.

Employees are, understandably, increasingly interested in benefits that will help them to stay fit and healthy. Employers therefore need to consider providing access to educational programmes including webinars and health tips.

On top of this, more tangible lifestyle and fitness support, such as exercise classes, will be valuable. Healthy eating plans and cycle-to-work schemes may also become more important, or literal preventative measures, such as flu vaccinations.

2) Extend benefits. In many businesses, employees are no longer working in quite the same way. Employers need to consider benefits for remote and part-time workers as staff diversify in terms of their work patterns and locations. Benefits need to match the flexibility of the roles now in place.

Forward-thinking employers are extending benefits to cover dependants, recognising that an employee’s wellbeing is affected by their home environment too. Supporting dependants lifts a burden for employees.

Whereas traditionally some benefits have been thought of as being for senior levels only, employers need to expand health and wellbeing benefits to the wider workforce. Offering healthcare to a larger number of employees will have a positive impact for the business and employees alike.

3) Personalise provision. Personalisation is key to engagement and utilisation of benefits. Solutions that are varied and flexible will provide the best fit for each individual.

Health and wellbeing benefits often come with added-value options that include personalised programmes such as hubs and apps, where individuals can enter data each day regarding how they feel physically and/or emotionally.

These can provide a nudge or prompt for self-support or for access to additional assistance. Similarly, fitness trackers can be updated with individual details to monitor progress and set goals.

4) Protect finances. Some employees will, naturally, be concerned over future finances. Reports in the media of ongoing furlough, reduced hours and redundancies will only fuel such worries. Consequently, there is increased interest in benefits that protect employees’ finances.

Group risk products will appeal, providing financial, emotional and practical support at times of ill-health, disability or in the event of death, all of which support employees and/or their families in difficult times.

5) Use wider communication methods. Engaging employees will be vital, not only regarding benefits, but also to keep in touch with staff to support their physical and mental health.

Regular contact with colleagues helps to maintain both morale and focus. Support for emotional wellbeing can be made available in the form of access to specialist mental health support, personalised hubs, or employee assistance programmes.

Online benefits platforms allow employers to administer and promote benefits in one place, they help gain maximum engagement and make educational and support services easily available.

In conclusion, Covid-19 has put health, wellbeing and protection right back at the top of the benefits agenda. Employees have had a valuable reminder of what is really important to them – their family and their health.

Employers too have had an awakening and, therefore, now is the time to take action to ensure that their main assets, their people, are protected.

Reference

Deaths registered by area in England and Wales, monthly provisional: November 2020, Office for National Statistics, https://www.ons.gov.uk/releases/deathsregisteredbyareainenglandandwalesmonthlyprovisionalnovember2020

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Written by HR Today

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