When your employees are unwell, your business is unwell. Supporting employee health is good for morale, good for productivity and really good for your budget. Having a largely healthy workforce is a key element of controlling health care costs, especially for self-insured employers that cover their own medical claims.
But the coronavirus pandemic hit everyone hard in 2020, and now many employers are trying to navigate a new landscape in which remote work is the norm. At a time when American workers are facing unprecedented health challenges, their employers have less face-to-face contact than ever before. It’s a difficult but not impossible situation. There’s a lot that business owners can do to support employee health, no matter where those employees are working from.
The State of Employee Health
The unfortunate reality is that many people are worse off today than they were a year ago, from both a physical and mental health perspective.
The pandemic created conditions that made it challenging for people to access the medical resources they needed. Elective procedures were canceled when lockdown began, and many people still haven’t had those procedures performed; presumably, some of their conditions have worsened in the ensuing months. Millions of Americans also delayed medical appointments because of financial strain and/or concerns about being exposed to the virus. At the end of June 2020, the CDC estimated that 41 percent of American adults had avoided receiving medical care during the pandemic, with 12 percent of people avoiding urgent or emergency care.
The pandemic caused lifestyle changes that affected employee health. Many people are now living with chronic stress, which contributes to countless physical health conditions. People who used to get some exercise from visiting the gym or walking around their offices have been largely stuck at home for months, with many people being more sedentary than they used to be. Generally speaking, employers can assume that many of their employees aren’t in great health right now.
Supporting Employee Health Remotely
As an employer, the methods by which you can do to support employee health is somewhat limited. Even if you’re self-insured and pay your employee claims directly, it’s critical to respect employees’ privacy around health. What you can do is connect your employees with the resources they need, and make it easy and comfortable for them to access those resources.
Promote your telehealth options.
Making sure employees can seek help for minor or developing issues keeps those issues from snowballing into more serious conditions that are difficult and expensive to treat. Not everything can be accomplished via telehealth, but a lot can—including certain kinds of preventive and mental health care. Get really clear about the telemedicine coverage you currently provide, then share that information widely with employees.
Protect their personal time.
If you employ salaried workers who control their own schedules, be mindful about the demands you put on their time. It can be difficult for remote workers to get out of work mode, which can contribute to poor physical and mental health. Do employees feel pressured to be available on nights and weekends, or can they use this time for exercise and relaxation? If someone wanted to take an hour off during the day to attend a telehealth therapy appointment, would they be able to do that without getting pushback from a manager?
Share your EAP.
An employee assistance program should include a range of resources that support employee health, but many employees don’t know much about their EAPs. If you haven’t already, make sure that all employees know where to find information about your EAP and whom to contact with questions about it.
Offer remote fitness and wellness resources.
To encourage remote workers to move around during the day, your business may want to provide memberships for virtual fitness programs or align with a corporate wellness program that includes a range of online exercise classes. Providing free subscriptions to a meditation app may also help remote workers manage stress and anxiety.
Ask for their input.
When your workers are remote, you can’t see the health challenges they’re dealing with everyday, or the ways that you as an employer are contributing to them. It may be useful to ask for feedback about specific things you can do to support employee health. For example, maybe you’ll find out that requiring people to do video calls keeps them stuck at their desks, and that switching your daily all-hands meeting to a phone call would let people participate while walking around the block or doing some stretching.
For self-insured employers, managing employee health care costs is especially critical. I know that this has been a challenging time for many employers, but you do have the means to support your team members right now. Reach out with questions or concerns about self-funding, stop loss and managing employee health costs in the new year. Contact me today!