For years HR professionals have known employee wellbeing should be prioritized but often didn’t have the budget to implement initiatives. The COVID-19 pandemic triggered senior leadership at many organizations to understand that it isn’t good for business to have employees struggle physically, emotionally, socially or financially. If the pandemic has any silver linings, it’s that organizations have elevated the importance of employee wellbeing. Many employers, in fact, are placing wellbeing at the center of Total Rewards strategies and programs.
For insight into the most convenient and cost-effective ways to prioritize employee wellbeing, we spoke with Willis Towers Watson’s experts Emma Tekstra and Cedric Luah.
In what ways has employee wellbeing become more of a priority amongst your clients since the COVID-19 pandemic?
Cedric Luah: Employers are thinking more broadly. In Asia Pacific, we tend to see wellbeing concepts in the corporate setting as more basic and largely revolving around physical wellbeing. That said, the pandemic heightened awareness around wellbeing as a whole and challenged more traditional perspectives. Apart from physical wellbeing, companies are starting to look at financial and especially emotional wellbeing. As more employees have been working from home where they tend to feel less connected and employers are also picking up on the need to assist with employees’ social wellbeing. The pandemic has brought all these aspects of wellbeing onto the center stage of our benefit discussions with employers.
How has technology enabled wellbeing in a work-from-home setting?
Cedric Luah: We used to tap a colleague on the shoulder and say, “Hey, can we catch up for five minutes?” Now, we need to arrange a meeting because we’re both working remotely. Technology has become a vital communication channel. Similarly, in the past we could gather people together in the office and share what the company is offering in terms of wellbeing benefits and even conduct a health checkup. Sometimes, a healthcare provider would even come to the office to take blood samples for lab test or on site biometric tests; but now that’s not happening. Technology has become a very important element of delivery. For example, telehealth was thrust to the forefront during the pandemic because people were worried about going to a clinic or a hospital. Pre-pandemic, telehealth was a limited concept that was underutilized. Now employees are more inclined to use it.
Emma Tekstra: Agreed. Prior to the pandemic, employees in some regions might also have been resistant to their employers getting involved in their personal wellbeing or their healthcare. In many countries, employees enrolled in group health insurance, but otherwise were on their own. When COVID-19 hit, however, employees were at a loss. It was a real shift when their employers were able to contract with telehealth providers and then say to employees, “Here you go!” Suddenly, any opposition to an employer stepping up and actively supporting their individual wellbeing was much less. Hopefully, that will continue.
Cedric Luah: Yes, and even traditional players like Employee Assistance providers, which used to deliver services over the phone, have broadened their scope of services since the pandemic.
So how does technology enable us to effectively engage employees about their wellbeing whilst managing pressure that HR might have on budget?
Emma Tekstra: What engages one employee is not necessarily going to engage them all. The beauty of technology is that it meets a multitude of those different needs and allows you to engage employees in different ways. For example, there is a huge selection of mental health apps, fitness apps and nutrition apps available. Frankly, it’s overwhelming. All of those options, however, can be tailored to a particular employee’s needs, especially when brought together in one place. Embark can be a great tool to enhance the employee experience, bringing benefits and wellbeing content into one place; a mobile app at the fingertips of your employees!
Cedric Luah: The Flex Benefit or Choice program is another area where an employer can easily include a wellbeing program as part of its overall holistic benefits. Expenditures on benefits can easily become inefficient if offered as fixed, one-size-fits-all programs. With a flexible benefit program, technology can help create and administer a much more personalized environment. These programs allow employees to make choices relevant to their life stage, lifestyle, personal circumstances, and what matters most to them at a given time. And that gives employees choice and often a willingness to pay for the benefits they select for themselves.
Now is the time for employers to reassess and make changes as needed. The needle on reducing cost impact and improving employee outcomes can be moved just by focusing initiatives to what matters most to employees.
Now is the time for employers to reassess and make changes as needed.”Cedric Luah | Head of Health and Benefits, Asia & Australasia
Given these points, how can employers ensure that they are addressing wellbeing sufficiently?
Cedric Luah: We always think that it's best to conduct a due diligence on the current programs in place and evaluate their cost. Employers need to decide whether these programs are relevant going forward. Most importantly, it's about whether employees are gaining value from them. Willis Towers Watson offers a Wellbeing Diagnostic for our clients that looks first from the Employer perspective and whether the behavior, culture and direction of the wellbeing program is aligned with objectives, and then the Employee perspective and how they are personally doing across the four dimensions of wellbeing. Bringing these aspects together we can see if the program is meeting the employee need. If it’s not, we must think about how to move forward.
Employers should then focus on providing relevant programs based on what’s available in the market, what the company culture and objectives are and so forth. Leveraging corporate culture is vital, to ensure that the wellbeing program is well designed for employees and meets corporate objectives.
Emma Tekstra: Yes, and measurement is absolutely key, particularly making sure you can measure future results. Historically it has been very difficult to gauge ROI on wellbeing programs and that’s been a barrier. The wellbeing diagnostic that Cedric mentioned is a very important starting point to get a baseline. And it’s even more important to measure that year after year. This is the kind of strategic input that can show improvement in certain areas.
Right now, mental health is where we need to get resources into our employees’ hands very quickly.”Emma Tekstra | Innovation & Service Development Leader, Health & Benefits
Also, be reasonable with your plans. It’s important to avoid getting consumed with figuring out a three-year plan from the get-go. There's often a lot of low hanging fruit in the form of a burning issue that must be addressed. Right now, mental health is where we need to get resources into our employees’ hands very quickly. Quite often this low hanging fruit can be tackled with a fairly low budget.
Cedric Luah: Also, if the culture is not at the center of an employer’s approach to wellbeing, they are merely putting a bandage on a problem without a proper long-term fix. By taking the company's culture into consideration -- whether focused on teamwork, respect, integrity, or inclusion and diversity – the value of the wellbeing investment remains at the forefront and thus there is a greater likelihood that the strategy and programs will be effective.
Also, if the culture is not at the center of an employer’s approach to wellbeing, they are merely putting a bandage on a problem without a proper long-term fix.”Cedric Luah | Head of Health and Benefits, Asia & Australasia