COVID VaccinesReturn to WorkMental Health

Supporting employee well-being is more important than ever for business

May 11, 2022, 1:30 AM UTC

People are any given organization’s most valuable asset. Now more than ever—amid the pandemic and the “Great Resignation“—it’s clear that keeping a pulse on both employee and customer well-being offers strategic advantages in business.

That might sound aggressive, if not a tad cutthroat, but showing equal and strong interest in the mental and physical health of your people is crucial to employee retention, especially.

“COVID has changed what’s expected by employees of their employers,” said Northwell Direct CEO Nick Stefanizzi, while speaking at Fortune‘s Brainstorm Health conference in Marina Del Rey, Calif. on Tuesday. “That’s become particularly acute given the Great Resignation. And I think the employers of choice going forward are going to be those that are making the investments in health, well-being, and the resiliency of their workforce.”

Cisco recently conducted a survey among 28,000 workers worldwide, and the first thing the survey organizers learned was that 70% of respondents said working in hybrid workplaces was better for their well-being.

“People want the ability to choose how they work on a week-to-week basis,” said Fran Katsoudas, executive vice president and chief people, policy, and purpose officer at Cisco. “And so while Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday may work this week, it may not next week, and that’s really important to talent around the globe.”

Brainstorm Health co-chair and Thrive Global CEO Arianna Huffington stressed that the connection is clear between employee well-being and customer success, and a great deal of that comes from underscoring the value of empathy.

“These are no longer just warm and fuzzy benefits,” Huffington said. “These are critical strategies for business success.”

At Cisco, Katsoudas described a new system the company launched called “Personal Insights,” in which employees can see how many meetings you’re taking outside of your desired hours, and you can see who you’re scheduling meetings with outside of their hours. “Our hope is that this knowledge this intelligence makes us smarter and makes us more compassionate for our peers as well,” she said.

As the first chief health officer at Delta Air Lines, Dr. Henry Ting said his number one priority is to serve and care for the airline’s workforce, and to develop organization strategies to optimize their performance, specifically across four domains: physical, emotional, social, and financial.

But we can’t forget the fact we’ve all spent more than two years getting through this pandemic, and everyone’s experience has been different.

“All of us have had some loss, right? Whether that’s someone you’ve lost in your life or family to COVID, or just a birthday party you missed for your parents or a granddaughter or grandson or daughter or son,” Ting explained. “You know, two years into it, we have a workforce that has their resilience tank on empty now. And we’re telling our people is it’s okay not to be okay. It’s okay to ask for help and a break.”

Health care industry leaders discussed why we must shift our mindset from reactive treatment to proactive prevention by taking a “first-mile approach,” which means helping people avoid disease in the first place.

It’s also a sound financial investment strategy. According to the CDC, approximately 90% of the $3.8 trillion in U.S. health care spending is for people with chronic physical and mental health conditions. But many of these stress-related diseases can be better mitigated—or even prevented—with early detection and intervention.

“Employers not only have an interest, but an imperative to do something,” Stefanizzi said.

There is an opportunity through benefit design, Stefanizzi suggested, if employers work with health care and insurance providers—from leveraging wellness credits to drive the right behaviors among employees to be more proactive as well as incentivizing participating in disease-specific management programs to help people take control of their care.

“Being aware of your own health is really the first step, and being able to manage your health and being able to advocate for yourself,” said Dr. Mona Siddiqui, senior vice president of enterprise clinical strategy and quality at Humana.

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