It’s been one year since almost every aspect of our lives changed when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. We abruptly adapted how we work, educate our children, engage with health care and interact with loved ones. While some of these changes have been incredibly difficult and fortunately will not last, others are likely to stick with us long after the threat of the virus is gone. Now is the time for HR and benefits leaders to reflect on how the pandemic has transformed work, life and health and consider our role in shaping the post-pandemic world, from crisis to opportunity.
All Eyes on Health Equity
COVID-19 surfaced systemic health and economic inequalities. Most tragically, Black, Indigenous and Latinx communities have significantly higher COVID-19 mortality rates than other races. And even after everything we’ve learned this year and our strong commitments to racial justice, we are still experiencing inequities in the vaccine distribution. These disparities can’t be explained away by vaccine concerns due to past racism and medical mistreatment; today’s vaccination data indicates a consistent pattern of Black and Hispanic people receiving smaller shares of vaccinations than their share of the total population.
We will not get to an equitable future on an inequitable path. It is up to HR and benefits leaders to ensure that company statements about equity, diversity and inclusion become real-world changes to the employee experience at work and with the health care system. Some critical first steps include making plans today to bolster equitable vaccine distribution efforts, listening to employee feedback, assessing current benefits (and the vendors who offer them) for equity and inclusivity, and expanding health and well-being strategies to address social determinants.
A Digital Explosion
From telehealth to telework, COVID-19 forced a long-anticipated digital adoption. Seventy-six percent of large employers increased access to virtual solutions due to COVID-19, and 78% saw an increase in telehealth utilization. Likewise, workforces across the globe transitioned overnight to full-time remote work. This flexibility provided needed business continuity but significantly blurred lines between our work and personal lives.
It’s clear that COVID-19 pushed us past a virtual tipping point. Looking ahead, HR leaders must consider how to optimize this digital transformation for their employees and business needs. Ensuring parity with in-person care, guiding employees on how to best use telehealth (in place of rather than in addition to in-person care), addressing the lack of required technology (e.g., wearables, tablets or broadband access) and designing a long-term telework approach are key issues for employers to tackle next.
It’s not so surprising that COVID-19 has taken a crushing toll on our mental health. The pandemic brought with it fear, anxiety, loneliness, parental and caregiving stress, economic insecurity and grief. Eighty-five percent of people surveyed for an HBR project indicated that their general well-being has declined since the start of COVID-19. The pandemic is also causing a rise in burnout, and it’s driving millions of women out of the workforce. While many companies have taken steps to support their employees, more changes need to be made to beat burnout and instill organizational resiliency.
According to burnout expert and future Business Group on Health Podcast guest, Jennifer Moss, not making some critical adjustments, like modifying workloads or giving employees more control, has exasperated our levels of burnout. But there’s still hope. We can leverage this moment when mental health is a C-suite conversation to expand and reinvigorate our well-being approaches with a greater focus on culture and strategy.
COVID-19 has been a catalyst for change, and together, we can influence where these trends will land. Interested in learning more about leading from crisis to opportunity? Join HR leaders and global experts at the Business Group’s Annual Conference, May 4-6. Opening keynote Dr. Vivian Lee of Verily Life Sciences will share her thoughts on how innovation, technology and focus on value can help us build a better, stronger, more efficient health care delivery system, and other sessions explore post-pandemic aftershocks, mental health, social determinants and health equity, the future of well-being and much more. Explore the agenda, and register today!