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Lessons Learned from the Pandemic:

How to Keep Employees Well Connected and Protected in 2021


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Editor’s Note: In November, Medavie Blue Cross hosted Benefits Together, a virtual conference that brought together leading employers, HR and health professionals, for an interactive and instructive exchange of thoughts and ideas on the issues that are impacting our industry. This dialogue included an industry panel discussion that saw subject matter experts look at workplace health and wellness through the pandemic lens, sharing lessons learned and best management practices.

Insights & Goals

As we begin a new year, still facing considerable uncertainty and change, we are re-sharing the actionable insights the panelists offered here with the same main goals in mind: to help ensure you have benefit plans that are responsive to evolving needs and new workplace realities and to help you keep employees safe, healthy, and productive in this age of disruption and beyond. We have also included results of our audience polls to give you further insight into the experience and thinking of employers as 2021 gets underway.

Panelists

Paula Allen, SVP, Research, Analytics & Innovation, Morneau Shepell
Pierre Battah, Workplace leadership expert, HR consultant, speaker, author
Dr. Francis Nwakire, VP, Product, Maple
Dr. Marie-Helene Pelletier, Leadership, resilience & burnout prevention expert, work psychologist

Moderator

Travis Kelly, Regional Director, Business Development, Medavie Blue Cross

Trends & Takeaways

“This (the pandemic) has been an asteroid in front of us.” Paula Allen

Poll Question: What was the biggest challenge in your workplace in 2020?

  • Support employee mental and physical health — 44%
  • Adapt to remote work— 42%
  • Quarantine requirements — 8%
  • Implement public safety measures — 5%

Invest in Employee Wellbeing

“Businesses who invest in the health and wellbeing of their employees do better. Period.” Paula Allen
  • Prioritize and put into action systems and initiatives that will support workplace health and wellness.
  • Investments in employee wellbeing should demonstrate concern for their physical, mental, and financial health, as well as their career, their social needs, and their place in their community.
  • The Morneau Shepell Mental Health Index shows that financial wellbeing is the #1 driver in the decline of mental health since the pandemic with isolation in second place.
  • Signal very clearly to employees that their physical, mental and financial health is important.
  • Investments in mental health and wellbeing pay off in health and engagement in the short-term and will pay off even more in business reliance, health and disability costs in the long term.

Benefit Plan Flexibility & Adaptability

Poll Result: As a result of COVID-19, changes to your benefits plan will be?

  • Minor — 50%
  • Moderate —27%
  • Not applicable — 19%
  • Major— 2%

  • It is no longer a one-size-fits-all world and employers have to adapt their benefit plans accordingly.
  • Consider voluntary and non-traditional benefits, including those that support financial issues like emergency funds or loan repayment support.
  • With more adoption of technology, we have more real-time data. Leverage this data to custom design your benefit plan.
  • Many impactful actions do not require a major financial investment or none at all. Examples include leveraging resources you already have in place like your employee assistance program (EAP), showing empathic leadership, providing recognition and rewards, exercising flexibility in how work is done, and promoting public resources.
  • Do an inventory of health and wellness resources that are offered in your community and partner with local service providers to give additional support to your employees.

Digital Health

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has compelled us to revisit the way we think about health care.
  • The advantages of digital health are that it makes all types of health care accessible and ensures a continuum of health care.
  • Help employees understand that digital health is effective and confidential and can address the issue of stigma to encourage use of online services.
  • Digital health is poised to provide a lot of value with a lower cost than traditional brick-and-mortar care.
  • Work with service providers to get a clear picture of the health of your workforce and explore ways to meet their needs.

Mental Health

“Until the pandemic, we were pushing the mental health rock up the hill. Now the rock is running after us and happening fast, and everyone needs to pay attention.” Dr. Marie-Helene Pelletier
  • The pandemic has had a permanent impact on workplace mental health.
  • Review your health strategy, or create one, that addresses the new and different struggles employees are facing since the onset of COVID-19, e.g., working remotely and virtually from home.
  • Check out online resources to help employers protect the mental wellbeing of their employees, e.g. Conference Board of Canada blogs and research reports.
  • Learn the risk factors that impact employee mental health and encourage conversations on methods for promoting psychologically safe workplaces through the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
  • Share online resources with employees such as WellCan, a hub of mental health tools and resources.
  • Talk to employees about mental health to make them feel comfortable and aware of the services and supports that are available to them under their group plans.

Employee Communication & Clarity

Poll Question: What technology solution was most helpful in your workplace in 2020?

  • Videoconferencing (e.g. WebEx, Zoom) — 75%
  • Paperless, contactless processes—16%
  • Digital health solutions — 6%
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) innovations — 1%

Workplace Culture

  • To be healthy and sustainable for the future, organizations need a culture that is focused on learning, underpinning everything that they do.
  • Creating a healthy culture is based on great relationships and from that you can build capacity to adapt and be flexible.
  • Provide a clear direction and a plan for moving forward.
  • Equip team leaders with tools and training to better lead and manage people within the new reality. Creating highly engaged work teams in this virtual hybrid or essential front-line services environment will continue to be a priority and is different from how we’ve learned it in the past.
  • Provide team leaders with more caching and greater flexibility in problem solving.
  • Take a person-centered approach to their employee relationships, paying attention and listening closely to their needs.
  • Check in and communicate regularly with employees, reminding them of their health and wellness offering and ensuring there is uptake.
  • By reaching out, leaders can get a sense when there is trouble and make sure employees have the appropriate resources to manage that ‘trouble'.
  • Leaders are at high risk of mental health issues like burnout. Encourage them to practice self-care. If issues are not addressed, the long-term effect can be more profound.
  • We’ve lurched forward and there is no going back be it about working from home or accessing services remotely.
  • Working from home will quickly become working from anywhere, anytime. This will require a whole new skill set for leaders to manage relationships effectively.
  • It is important to recognize that there is a lot of change that is taking place that is positive, i.e. video conferencing tools to communicate.

Leadership

“Employees are clearly telling their leaders they need direction, clarity around expectations and evidence of the employers caring about their well-being. Data shows this is truer today than ever before.” Pierre Battah

Retention & Recruitment

  • There’s a big push on for new talent and employers are becoming more innovative in how they recruit.
  • Put health and wellness offerings front and centre in their attempts to attract talent.
  • There will be enhanced expectations for employers to be partners with employees in keeping not only them, but their family and their community healthy and safe.

Looking ahead

“Approach the next phase with curiosity. That will keep us in a growth mindset, which is so important for sustainability, innovation, resiliency and overall good health.” Dr. Marie-Helene Pelletier

Poll Question: What will have the longest-term impact in 2021 and beyond?

  • Flexible remote working options— 53%
  • Continued financial impact and layoffs — 25%
  • Better support for employee wellbeing—16%
  • Product and service operations — 4%

  • Working remotely is just the beginning of change. It’s clear the workforce will de-structure, which involves more than telework. It includes changes in how and when work is done, and how we experience the culture of an organization.
  • It’s going to take awhile for leaders to realize there are different ways to manage a group and collaborate and this will will come from this de-constructed work situation we’re moving into.
  • Be even more vigilant about mental health supports now than at the start of the pandemic. The impacts on work (which are already there) will also start to become more evident.
  • Elevating the concern for employee wellbeing to the most senior roles in the organization will have downstream benefits to everyone who is attempting to create healthier workplaces.
  • People remember how they are treated when times are difficult, and whether their wellbeing is a genuine priority. Post crisis, this will become more important in separating one organization from another.

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