Millions have been affected by the virus, but billions have felt the non-medical impact. Lockdown and loneliness, remote working and frontline working; home-schooling or digital and educational depravation. These are just some of the most obvious examples of extreme changes to everyday life the pandemic has imposed across the globe. And while these might not have caused a fever or a physical pain, each change has impacted upon the well-being of people everywhere.
Across Europe, as the pandemic begins to slowly ebb, focus can begin to turn to the world that awaits us and especially the world of work. It will be a new world, that much is already clear; not a return to the realities of life pre-COVID-19. Many of the changes are here to stay, with most forecasts suggesting a combination of remote working and physical presence. This shift has many implications for the health of employees in the post-pandemic world: health in the fullest sense of the word.
Governments and public health systems have been forced to deal with the immediate effects of the virus, and in efforts to contain it. This trend will undoubtedly continue into the future, as the public purse will come under increasing pressure. As a result, prevention of sickness and the maintenance of health will not gain the interest and focus necessary, a reality of significance to employers and organizations. These broader aspects of health need attention too – and not just for altruistic reasons. Healthy people are less prone to illness and given the dangers and costs of medical care during the pandemic, this is an important factor. But no less significantly, healthy people are happier and more productive; they are better members of society and better workers.
Caring for healthy people is therefore the best investment possible – and employers would do well to take account of this important reality. Healthy people are more resilient, capable of the endless wonderful cycle of working, caring, loving, and all the other great and tiny elements that make up daily life. As such, resilient people help to ensure the best possible business outcomes. But when they are not fully healthy – not sick but not well in the fullest sense of the word – the cycle becomes a burden. People become stressed, and stress leads to less resilience.
Cigna’s COVID-19 Impact Survey highlights very revealing data about the correlation between issues of well-being, stress, and reduced resilience. Unsurprisingly, the virus has caused a massive increase in stress: people are afraid of becoming infected, but they also fear the uncertainty wrought by the pandemic. And while over half feel they have a manageable workload and a good work-life balance, the new “always on” work pattern remains globally high. Office hours become a very abstract notion when screens are around all the time, and uncertainty is nearly tangible. As a result, remarkably few people eat well, exercise regularly and get a good night’s sleep.
For employers, these findings are not good news, and clearly underline the need to make changes: to create work environments and employment conditions that focus upon the whole health of employees, not just upon physical sickness. From mental-health interventions, stress management, and emotional well-being to better nutrition and movement coaching, healthcare must become the framework for maintaining the wellness of people, not just the curing of their bodily sickness.
Well-being programmes are making inroads in the employment market – and for good reasons. First, there are the obvious gains: well-being programmes score exceedingly high amongst employees and hence in the wider image of a company. In addition, well-being programmes can help to reduce healthcare costs and absenteeism in an organization, and at the same time increase productivity. With the rising incidence of chronic diseases and the increasing cost of healthcare coverage, these are very significant advantages for employers. More broadly, fully understanding the true dimensions of an employee’s life as it is lived allows for a far more effective management of human resources. In this context, research has revealed that providing employees with a platform to easily communicate with their managers is important. No less, providing mental health training to managers was shown to significantly impact employees’ mental health, thereby reducing sickness absence and yielding positive returns.
Leadership support and engagement in well-being programmes is crucial to their success. This is hardly surprising: investment in well-being is a strategic decision that yields returns over time. It is part of people management, and people are the main capital of any successful enterprise. The pandemic has highlighted the value of people, and at the same time shone a strong light upon the pressures everyone is under regardless of physical sickness.
Cigna Europe is leading the way in recognizing the pressures and needs of the world of employment by introducing its Whole Health strategic vision. At the core of this strategy is an understanding that health is more than just physical or even mental health; it’s everything that makes up our world: our family, friends, work-life balance, access to care, finances and home environment. A difficulty in any one of these areas can have an immediate knock-on effect on a person’s whole health. Cigna Europe provides tailored support and tools to help people face the demands of modern life, including help to maintain the work-life balance, support with social and family life, and provide counsel in the face of financial worries. Cigna Europe works with employers to educate them on the wide range of aspects that make up Whole Health and how best to care for their employees, in the fullest sense.
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our world. In coming to terms with the massive changes we have experienced it is important to also see the positive: the merging of work and home has allowed many insights into people’s lives as they are lived, not just as they are presented in the workplace. This is therefore a great opportunity to understand the people we work with, to care for them as they really are: the whole person, and their Whole Health.