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Employee wellbeing and resilience

Preparing for a post-pandemic world

Talent|Total Rewards|Wellbeing
COVID 19 Coronavirus

By John M. Bremen and Amol Mhatre | March 2, 2021

Organizations have a clear opportunity to employ key learnings as they emerge from the pandemic to become even stronger in the post-COVID-19 era.

Applying wellbeing and equity lenses to Total Rewards

The pandemic highlighted fundamental correlations between physical, emotional, social and financial wellbeing with employees’ engagement and commitment to their work as well as with business performance. It also has highlighted how purpose-driven work and targeted Total Rewards programs can become the key enablers of building employee wellbeing and resilience. In fact, global heads of Total Rewards and benefits cite how traditional health and wealth benefits (such as private health insurance, life, disability and retirement benefits) have become an advantage in differentiating their organization as an employer of choice when integrated with curated wellbeing programs (such as stress management, emotional counselling, wearable technologies for physical fitness and debt-management assistance).

Employee wellbeing has become much broader than just wellbeing programs; it represents a mindset that is woven through culture and Total Rewards programs. For example, organizations increasingly are recognizing the importance of fair pay in employee wellbeing. Similarly, inclusive health and retirement benefits and career programs are essential for employees’ sense of wellbeing. Organizations already are beginning to integrate wellbeing and DEI considerations into the design and delivery of Total Rewards, a trend that continues to accelerate.

Committing to a culture of DEI is also critical for the overall wellbeing of employees. The year 2020 brought greater awareness of social justice around the world following protests of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other people of color in the U.S. These events also made leaders acutely aware that employees today seek recognition from their employers that equity matters. As such, going forward it will be vital for organizations to emphasize their commitment to equity in terms of how they recruit, develop and reward their employees — as well as how underrepresented employees experience the organization — to remain attractive to their internal and external labor markets.

Flexibility and personalization to meet employees where they are

The increasingly diverse workforce with different lifestyles demands a broader definition of benefits, greater personalization and a keen focus on inclusive programs. In that sense, employers’ definition of benefits is converging with what employees view as the broad benefit of working for their employer — also known as the employee value proposition. This is another long-evolving trend that started prior to the pandemic, which accelerated in 2020. For example, many organizations increasingly are exploring and establishing global standards for minimum benefits and flexible leave policies (such as leave for caregiving or skills development) to signal their commitment to an employee-focused organizational culture of DEI to both internal and external labor markets.

Expanding the definition of benefits and the need for greater personalization to suit diverse needs is blurring the traditional delineation of responsibilities of designing work policies, compensation programs, benefit programs, skill development, career enablement and wellbeing programs. Success will depend on organizations’ ability to achieve greater strategic and operational collaboration and governance across businesses, multiple stakeholders and various HR functions.

Prioritizing program delivery

Employers see technology playing an increasingly critical role in delivering a more personalized employee experience. The pandemic highlighted not only the importance of benefits provided by organizations but also the opportunity to rethink communications and delivery of such programs. We expect to see the transformation of technology from serving primarily as an administration platform to serving as an employee experience portal that enables dissemination of personalized information and education, decision-making support for selecting relevant programs, tools for navigating provider networks effectively and access to programs as and when needed.

The “S” in ESG

With increased focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals, organizations are realizing that responsibility for human capital resilience and sustainability must extend beyond HR teams. Leaders are looking to engage their managers at all levels to take greater responsibility for their team members’ wellbeing and provide them with the necessary tools and training to do so.

Equally, investors, customers and labor markets are expecting greater accountability from leaders in matters of sustainable human capital value. As such, boards are rethinking how they measure and monitor actions related to building human capital resilience and sustainability, including (but not limited to) how executive compensation programs align with human capital objectives. This often also means measuring employee health and safety, engagement, equity, and factors associated with wellbeing and resilience. It also means determining how traditional and ESG factors connect with public disclosures and reporting, especially given the enhanced emphasis on the social (“S”) aspects of ESG among key stakeholders.

Actions organizations should consider

COVID-19 vaccination
  • Examine benefit programs to ensure there are no obstacles to employees and their families obtaining the vaccine when it is available, allowing for prioritization; connect vaccine strategy to employee wellbeing strategy, DEI efforts and ESG commitments.
  • Develop a communication strategy to encourage vaccination, emphasizing that vaccination can prevent continued loss of freedom and using powerful narrative and influencers.
  • Cautiously assess whether the organization can or should mandate vaccination and/or provide incentives for vaccination at some future point when vaccines are fully approved and widely available. Be aware that premature incentives could signal risk, and premature mandates could reinforce the anti-vaccine resolve of some who would be much easier to persuade to be vaccinated later in 2021 when they have seen the safety and effectiveness in their own communities.
  • Develop return to workplace and work travel strategies, including vaccination strategies, tracking, commitments and variation by geography.
  • Review levels of health care and risk coverage for those who have been vaccinated versus those who have not, and launch an information/education campaign integrated with wellbeing offerings.
  • Evaluate access to vaccines across the global employee population and consider potential to provide vaccines for workers in countries where there is no or much-delayed availability.

Culture of wellbeing, diversity, equity and inclusion
  • Think broadly about where wellbeing appears in organization culture and how it manifests — embedded in mindset alongside organizational values, engrained in and championed by leadership and manager behaviors, enabled through programs/practices/policies and in the way employees experience the organization every day.
  • Assess levels of wellbeing and inclusivity in the organizational culture and whether the current environment — onsite and virtual — allows employees to feel safe to speak up and bring their full selves to work; collaborate; manage work/life balance and feel supported; and experience a sense of connection, authenticity and belonging.
  • Identify opportunities for greater equity across the organization, through pay, health and wealth benefits, careers, and the way employees experience the organization (and their peers) each day.
  • Enhance the employee value proposition to reflect healthy organization culture driven by wellbeing and DEI to further support employee attraction, retention and engagement across all cohorts.

Leader and manager development
  • Define and implement manager listening strategies across the business, including regular pulse check-ins and targeted surveys to solicit manager perspectives on culture, ways of working, wellbeing and DEI.
  • Provide managers and leaders with tools to support listening actively and with empathy.
  • Support leaders and managers in developing their own resilience and agility by clarifying what is expected of them and what support they have to lead the business and maintain drive in changing times; provide clarity on what they need to do differently to cope with change, stay connected and enable new ways of working.
  • Give leaders space (and upskill where required) to make time for one-on-one conversations with employees to explore how they are feeling, how they are managing through changing times and what support maybe required.
  • Work with employee assistance programs (EAPs) and other providers to help develop required new skills in managers (e.g., mental health first-aid training). Ensure managers are well-versed and kept up to date on the programs and support structures offered by the employer (e.g., new flexible working arrangements, key benefits and wellbeing programs).
  • Encourage leaders and managers to share personal experiences and lead by example (e.g., share difficult experiences and how they overcome them; participate openly in wellbeing initiatives).

Alignment of wellbeing and benefit program
  • Gather insights on the efficacy of existing wellbeing and benefit programs from data, including employee and manager feedback, program utilization, outcomes, benchmarking and details by different cohorts of employees, such as race/ethnicity, income, generation, gender and employee groups.
  • Bring stakeholders across the organization together to align on prioritization and wellbeing vision and offerings that embrace a culture of wellbeing, including leadership, safety, DEI, pay, health and wealth benefits, and careers.
  • Develop a multidimensional approach to providing and promoting a wellbeing culture and programs that put employees and their dependents at the center to support their needs across multiple entry points and modalities.
  • Conduct analysis of existing and potentially new health and wealth benefit programs and vendors to understand possible gaps/overlaps with wellbeing programs and how these fit within wellbeing strategy, such as:
    • How do health care plans integrate with EAPs and other emotional wellbeing programs?
    • How do retirement and saving plans support financial resiliency and retirement preparation?
    • How are benefit programs presented from an overall wellbeing perspective?
    • What role can (current and new) vendors play in offering innovative, value-added, virtual and technology-based services?
  • Define a set of core benefits or minimum standards (e.g., level of health care coverage, life cover, retirement contributions, time off) that would provide a minimum level of security/protection — to be appropriate for the current workforce as well as meet future needs (e.g., telehealth/digital). Consider using employee listening techniques to maximize value (e.g., TRO and TRP).

Program delivery
  • Design a delivery strategy to ensure employees’ awareness, enrollment and in-time access for all programs available to them.
  • Review existing and newly available delivery mechanisms of Total Rewards programs covering communications, decision-making support, navigation tools for using provider networks, claim adjudication support, administration technology and employee experience.
  • Review available data on access, participation, utilization and claims.
  • Identify gaps in current state against the optimal delivery of programs.
  • Evaluate existing and new vendors for capabilities (e.g., virtual delivery).
  • Focus on employee experience, communication and greater engagement with the available benefits and programs. Ensure core benefit and wellbeing programs allow sufficient flexibility (e.g., via voluntary or flexible options) to meet everyone’s needs.
  • Develop a road map for configuring processes, resources, vendors and technology to deliver a consumer-grade employee experience.

Sustainable human capital measurement and governance
  • Confirm and update governance and process around human capital measurement and disclosures among board, management and other key stakeholders; proactively consider disclosing key people-related targets (e.g., employee health and safety, employee wellbeing, DEI, representation goals).
  • Seek input and engagement from relevant stakeholders on a measurement framework for sustainable human capital.
    • Include metrics and performance standards that are appropriate for key jurisdictions, markets and industry sectors; address materiality where relevant.
    • Ensure a broad mix of human capital factors that are relevant for operations, financials, and value accretion as well ESG-related considerations where applicable (e.g., employee health and safety, employee wellbeing, employee experience, operational excellence, return on human capital investments, DEI).
  • Include measures in executive and broad-based short- and long-term incentive plans where appropriate. Ensure human capital and benefit programs (including pay, health and wealth benefits, careers and wellbeing) support human capital management goals.

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