10 things you need to know about the changing employee health landscape
Employee health and wellbeing planning has never been as key for employers than it is today.
Absence surges and ‘pingdemics’, remote working complications, juggling test results and return to work timings, and now vaccination status, have disrupted the status quo for all organisations.
This turbulence has revealed employee health as the critical success factor we have always known it to be. Every organisation has had a stark reminder that unless staff are healthy, present, and productive, continuity is compromised, and future success is at risk.
In 2022 organisational leaders, HR directors and occupational health professionals will need to collaborate more, connect disparate activities, share and manage information better, and generally up their game when it comes to employee health and wellbeing.
More COVID challenges are clearly to come – yet employee health and wellbeing considerations and forward planning must look beyond just the pandemic.
Here’s a quick overview of the employee health and wellbeing landscape and imperatives for 2022:
- Maintain vigilance in the workplace. There is clear and increasing evidence that double-vaccinated individuals can still catch and transmit the virus. It is also likely to be true for those who have received booster doses. Very early Omicron indicators suggest reinfection risks may be rising too. There’s no option to slacken workplace infection control.
- Help staff with Long COVID needs. One Oxford study suggests that 37% of people with COVID (even those who were asymptomatic and perhaps did not realise it) can face ongoing symptoms lasting 12 weeks plus. Employers must learn about common symptoms and support necessary work adjustments. It may drive new short or long-term absences also, with unrecognised or undeclared Long COVID a significant sick presence issue in 2022.
- Improve workplace Occupational Health. Better employee health management includes ensuring OH support is in place. All employers may be encouraged to do this, following the outcomes of the Health is Everyone’s Business consultation. However, even large employers with existing OH must integrate it better and connect it to key workflows such as absence and HR case management if it is to contribute fully.
- Increase employee health spending. One global survey revealed that British firms may increase health spending by up to 18% next year. Gaining value from OH services, health schemes and Employee Assistance Programmes means ensuring managers are able and equipped to refer into them effectively – while utilisation and ROI will require monitoring.
- Keep Mental health in mind. Growing concerns have intensified during the pandemic. Effective physical or mental health support require organisations to take a more proactive approach not just to recognising health issues (such as via the Mental Health at Work Commitment) but enabling managers to engage properly and take the right action.
- Put employee health at the heart of new ways of working. Many organisations are now embracing flexibility for the long term and reconsidering how they utilise offices. But there are practical health and safety considerations to consider. The duty of care extends to home workers as well as those working on site or elsewhere. Conducting good risk assessments is essential. Check out the solid home working health and safety guidance from the HSE.
- Meet rising employee expectations. Up to 68% of staff no longer feel safe at work, suggested one global study. Employers will need to show commitment to employee health and wellbeing. They must demonstrate tangible action to reassure staff they care about employee health and protect their internal and external reputation. Employees are sharing their experiences of the firms who excelled at support and care, or who did less than they could have to protect them, during the pandemic.
- Support talent retention and recruiting. A recent survey about employer attraction described talent expectations as undergoing a ‘seismic shift’. In a COVID world, potential recruits will be influenced both by reputation and promises on employee health and wellbeing. Retention may also be a challenge, as many experienced older workers choose retirement instead of the risk of returning to workplaces. Recognising and adapting to their employee health concerns may be important to stem this talent drain.
- Employee health and wellbeing is part of Corporate Social Responsibility. If an employer believes it is a good corporate citizen that cares about the world and communities, it must also show that it cares about its employees. Organisational behaviour around employee health can be shared fast in a social world. It could be among CSR factors that are increasingly under scrutiny by media, investors, and employee groups.
- Recognise the gaps and shortcomings in current HR technologies. Although many firms have several HR technologies in use, most solutions cannot help employers capture health-related data, nor connect health into organisational HR workflows such as employee relations case management and absence. They neither support the health of individuals nor the organisation’s need for insight and understanding of workforce health and presence.
All these factors reinforce that cursory workplace wellbeing initiatives and sporadic attention to employee health will simply not be sufficient in 2022.
Employee health and wellbeing is no longer optional
Proactive, organisation-wide employee health and wellbeing strategies, supported by the appropriate platforms, processes and professionals are needed in every size and type of employer, not just to navigate the remainder of the pandemic but to underpin future success.
We expand on these 10 factors in a major feature in OHW+, the Occupational Health and Wellbeing portal at Personnel Today. Subscribers can read it in full at Rethinking Occupational Health in 2022.