Weathering the Next Storm
April 2023   WHOLE HEALTH

Weathering the Next Storm

The Great Disconnection and the Cost-of-Living Crisis
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Over 300 attendees and 60 global business leaders, including Jason Sadler, President, Cigna International Health, and Arjan Toor, CEO Europe, Cigna International Health, gathered in London on March 28, 2023, for The Economist’s Business Innovation Summit to discuss strategies to overcome challenges posed by today’s social, economic and political landscape. The global workforce has settled into a new normal but while employers face macro issues such as a possible recession, geopolitical tensions, and supply chain shortages, the war on talent also rages on, and expectations and pressured faced by its employees must be appropriately addressed to ensure business continuity.

Surviving and thriving in the cost-of-living crisis and addressing the “great disconnection” were two of the key themes discussed at the Summit, where Cigna was the lead sponsor. During the event, we also released the latest findings from our 360 Global Well-being Survey, sharing insights with leaders and employers to help them better understand the pressures and priorities facing people around the world and offer them the support they need.

Cost of living – a health crisis?

To delve into the biggest issues employers and employees face in the current environment, Cigna surveyed almost 9,000 people across the world about their worries, their current state of health, and the support they need to live healthier lives. The Cigna Healthcare 360 Global Well-being Survey found that inflation and the rising cost of living are top of mind for most people around the globe (37%), and only one-third feel their financial situation is good.

In the report, Dr Stella George, Chief Medical Officer, International Health, Cigna Healthcare, notes that the affordability crisis impacts almost all facets of life, saying “Concerns about being able to afford food and other essentials are having a huge impact on people’s well-being, and this will also impact people’s performance at work”.

Findings also revealed that access to healthcare is now the second highest concern for people globally, with 65% saying they struggle to afford to stay healthy, whether that be paying for adequate healthcare or well-being activities such as a gym membership or holidays. Employers must step in as this is cause for concern. The effects of employee health and well-being on productivity are well documented, and according to a study by the Pennsylvania State University in the US, even one poor mental health day in a month leads to a 1.84% drop in per capita real income growth.

What should employers do

While it may be tempting for leaders to reduce or cut workforce health and well-being benefits during tough economic times, the opposite is true. The University of California, Riverside found that organizations which invested in well-being saw a 5% increase in productivity, with each dollar spent on well-being programs resulting in a reduction of US$3.27 in health costs and US$2.73 in absenteeism costs.

Having said that, organizations should also explore alternative mechanisms to support employees, offering them flexibility, connection and meaning in their work. This could be done by formalizing a hybrid working model and creating a culture where people can openly talk about their well-being needs and to respond with appropriate employee initiatives.

At Cigna, we offer employees comprehensive support for physical and mental health, including Employee Assistance Programs and services such as counselling. As Jason Sadler shared during the event, we have recently launched the 5% Pledge, a new initiative which calls on business leaders to commit 5% of their working time to invest in improving the mental health and well-being of their employees.

The Great Disconnection

One of the biggest lasting impacts of the pandemic is the shift to hybrid or remote working, and while this change helped to protect the workforce and boost employee wellness back then, it has also led to the “great disconnection” in the post-pandemic world. The “great disconnection” refers to an employee disengagement crisis that’s being witnessed globally, post-pandemic. A survey by recruiting firm Robert Walters showed that two-thirds of 2,000 white-collar workers in the UK felt disengaged from their workplace, as did half of 3,000 US workers. An estimate from Gallup also found that disengaged employees cost the global community US$7.8 trillion due to lost productivity, absenteeism, and workflow disruption. 

Arjan Toor noted that not only are we seeing employees feeling disconnected from their organization, but there is also a disconnect between how employers think their employees feel and how they really feel.

With the switch to hybrid, the hours employees work have increased and according to a report published in partnership with the Economist in 2022 based on last year’s 360 Global Well-being Survey, 94% of all employees globally were experiencing at least one symptom of burnout – rising to 98% for expat workers. As a result of reduced face-to-face interactions, managers were struggling to stay constantly aware of their team’s well-being and thus the ability to take action.

Furthermore, employees also felt disconnected to their corporate purpose and mission, particularly those who were new to the organization or Gen Zs who were early in their career. The same survey revealed that 48% of Gen Z and 54% of Millennials saying work now feels transactional without the ability to bond with colleagues.

asian man at laptop on a desk looking stressed with hand on forehead

“Productivity paranoia”, a disconnect between employers and employees when it comes to productivity, is also a phenomenon that has led to this issue and may have contributed to employees’ inflated working hours and affected morale.

What should employers do?

Frequent, transparent and genuine communication continues to be the foundation to a happy and productive workforce. It is key to effectively building rapport among colleagues, helping managers identify issues early as well as clearly communicating the organization’s mission and how individuals and teams contribute to establish a collective goal.

Over time, this will also foster a culture of trust and empowerment – a crucial factor with close to a quarter (22%) of employees saying this was a key determinate in their reason to stay with, or join, a company.

At the Summit, exploring a new mindset and reimagining ways of working was also a key theme. In a world where the way we work, live and play has completely transformed in the wake of the pandemic, employers also need to reframe how productivity is defined and the role of managers in empowering employees to do their best at work.

At Cigna Healthcare, we invest in manager development programs to empower our employees to support their teams with mental health, career planning, and other major issues and milestones.  A healthy and diverse workforce is essential to achieving organizational growth. This means investing in people strategies, supporting employees’ health and well-being, driving DEI initiatives and emphasizing personal growth and development.

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