After another year of enduring the global pandemic, collectively we are seeking respite from the uncertainty. While the new year will bring its own set of challenges, here also lie plenty of opportunities. What can we expect from 2022? wellteq explores.
It is fair to say that many won’t be sorry to say farewell to 2021. The continued impact of the pandemic has been felt far and wide, and as individuals re-evaluate their priorities, we are beginning to see the predicted historical movement coined by Professor Anthony Klotz as ‘the great resignation’. At the same time, a silver lining to the pandemic has been an enormous acceleration in the acceptance and adoption of remote engagement not only of employees in the workplace, but of telemedicine and remote wellness engagement and monitoring.
This dramatic shift is forcing already changing businesses to try to keep pace and continue to adapt to meet these new employee expectations and needs. All of this, on top of the need to keep up with ever-evolving technological advancements.
Those who are agile enough to embrace these technological and organisational shifts, will adaptively seize both the imperative and the opportunity to better engage and serve their employees than was ever before possible. But for others who cannot or will not accept these changes as the new norm, they may not be so lucky. To understand what this means for the future of business, we speak to three wellteq leaders at the coalface of change.
Chief medical officer Dr. George Gellert has seen the pandemic and its knock-on effect on companies up close: ‘Businesses globally have been brutalised by the last year. The goal has been to survive financially. The ones that could progress towards remote work by engaging – and psychologically supporting – their people from afar, have done well. For others, it’s been an extremely difficult and troublesome time.’
CEO Scott Montgomery adds comment to the organisational shifts: ‘The biggest demonstration of performance is how the business world have adapted from several centuries of face-to-face, nine-to-five, clock-in-clock-out environments to literally overnight working from home. The next challenge will be this great resignation of people. For some, it’s not only going to set back companies but entire industries.’
Wellness coach and chief growth officer, Olly Bridge, shares how, collectively, we can maximise opportunities in this time of constant flux: ‘For most of us, COVID-19 has given us time to reflect as individuals about what is really important to us. We all need to be deliberate about not losing these special things and not just return to what was. For companies, they must embrace what is important to their people, and essential to their success in this new era, or they’ll fall behind.’
Here, Scott, Olly, and Dr. Gellert share what businesses need to do to thrive in the post-pandemic world.
Flexibility and organisational change
The successful shift to remote working has meant that flexible working is here to stay. While some people thrive in this new environment, others do not. Employers will need to work with employees, build their work arrangements on individual factors, and move to a hybrid work model. ‘Remote communication has enabled business continuity in the greatest global public health crisis in over a century. Many employers have been creative in enabling and empowering people to find new ways of delivering value remotely. However, the approach taken by most has been primarily reactive and stopgap rather than proactive and creative. To succeed, this must change,’ says Dr. Gellert.
Not only has the pandemic changed the way we work, but it has also fundamentally altered how we feel about our work. Dr. Gellert continues, ‘ The pandemic has caused many people to re-examine their lives and basic values. After enduring a global pandemic, many people come to recognize that life can no longer be taken for granted. And as a result, people hunger for a more balanced lifestyle – this is where we are seeing the ‘great resignation’ play out. It’s an interesting use of the term ‘resignation’ because people are not only resigning from a job, but also undergoing an emotional and psychological process of resigning themselves from their existing lifestyles and seeking a new and different lifestyle, set of values and sensibilities.’ In this sense, the great resignation is, at an individual employee level, a great personal transformation.
And this is naturally having a fundamentally transformative effect on the workplace. The tables are turning on employers with many employees wanting more from their workplaces and no longer accepting outdated business culture models. This is upending an extended period of power asymmetry between employers and their employees, where employers directed employees on all key workflow decisions and processes and employees simply complied.
Olly explains, ‘People want – they need – to be treated like human beings – as individuals with very diverse and different requirements. The coming era will be defined by a need for employer flexibility and adaptability. But don’t be fooled – being flexible is no longer a unique selling point – it’s now an expectation and evolving standard. We know that we need to be around other human beings – but we can be deliberate about when we choose to do that, rather than every day? It’s no longer black or white, or solely about employer preferences. It’s about compromise, mutual accommodation and what is the best outcome for not only the business but everyone involved, including employees. This, of course, is going to be relatively difficult for old-school managers to adopt and adapt to, but far more feasible for modern-day people leaders. We need to promote a more agile culture of open conversations and ongoing dialogue about what our people need, and come at it from a position of genuine and not just rhetorical trust.’
There is an undeniable human dimension of business that historically has been ignored or subordinated that companies now need to focus on as an essential business imperative. The shift in employee expectations is leading to an unprecedented demand for a human-centric approach to structural workplace design, workflows, and brand purpose.
Scott clarifies, ‘The digital-first generation are more purpose-driven than their predecessors. If organisations can genuinely align how people are enabled to work, give them a purpose, alongside a sense of professional meaning, then employees are empowered. We’ve got to shift to a people-centric focus within our teams and what we’re producing and why. If you can foster creative thinking and problem solving, then combine it with purpose-driven foundations and flexibility – this is how you’ll get the most out of people’s passions and capabilities. To do this we must empower the HR division out of a historically limiting ‘hire-and-fire’ function into people and culture which is a more a strategic performance driver of companies of the future. It’s a recipe for success.’
Scott continues, ‘To further enhance the employee experience, leaders must look beyond job roles, titles and performance metrics and see how they can support their people. Not just in the day-to-day processes but in career progression, succession planning, more collaborative working styles, initiatives, creativity and innovation. And, importantly, in achieving an effective and personally satisfying work-life balance. Business planning and strategic decisions all need to be looked at with a people-first lens on.’
Olly agrees, ‘Organisations that say our people are our most important asset will really have to prove that is the case. Employers will have to ‘walk the talk’ with their employees like never before. This will need to be impactful and measurable; employers need to show up for their people and ensure they are central to everything they do. It won’t only be important for companies who want to retain talent, but for ones who want to attract the best.’
Prioritise health outcomes
Off the back of the global health crisis, the most important focus for businesses in 2022 is to prioritise the health and wellness outcomes of their employees. Health and wellbeing will play a far larger role in the successful and productive workplace of the future. As more employees opt for flexible work conditions, leaders will need to reevaluate how employee health and wellness, and by extension, human health are effectively managed and supported.
Referring to (Workplace Health and Safety (WHS), Olly suggests that ‘Organisations will need to lead by putting the H back into WHS. Safety has been embraced, but what about the health and wellness part of it? We’ve been somewhat absent in looking after our people’s health, even in the more mature markets such as Australia and the UK. We need to better understand people’s wellbeing, and every organisation will need to develop and implement an individualised approach for their people, including how they can best support them both as employees and as individuals.’
The challenge for many leaders will be building the trust to have honest conversations about health and wellbeing, and facilitating employees getting to the care pathway they need. Olly continues, ‘People are reluctant to seek out help. Let’s put it into perspective, we have had EAP for 30 odd years, and utilisation sits somewhere between 5-7% in most organisations. Still, we know that at least 20% of the population should be having conversations with a mental health or psychosocial support professional in some way, shape or form. So, what’s happening to that 12-15% of the population that currently isn’t accessing EAP but should be? And what percentage of that underserved group ends up experiencing preventable work absences, engaged in avoidable and costly health care utilisation, or preventable loss of work productivity and quality?’
Dr, Gellert adds, ‘This is where our focus should be, and unfortunately that percentage has been growing for years, and now this has been accelerated by the pandemic and all of its fallout. This is where our great opportunity sits as employers. We need to find better ways to humanize employee management and convey psychosocial wellness opportunities, where technology can help support our employees and manage their health outcomes with unprecedented cost-effectiveness.’
Scott concurs, ‘Having a framework and psychosocial support delivery vehicles in place is vital for any enterprise seeking to take those first steps on an employee health and wellness journey. From our experience, support is a critical and integral piece of the puzzle in getting employees to make those changes, and where early intervention and prevention opportunities happen.’
This convergence and transformation of health awareness, healthcare, and the workplace is only the beginning. Dr. Gellert explains, ‘Employers and employees share a common interest in prevention and physical and mental health risk reduction for both acute, short-term and chronic long-term illness, and for both traditional physical ailments and the mental health problems we have seen increase so dramatically over the pandemic. These mental health challenges will likely persist well beyond when COVID-19 is reduced from a pandemic to an endemic part of our healthcare delivery system, just like the HIV/AIDS pandemic before it. Remote engagement and personalised technology that help people better understand and effectively engage their own health and self-care is the future of employee health and wellness, and will enable much greater prevention of avoidable health issues and outcomes that negatively impact employees and employers equally. This approach, and the cost-effective leveraging of technology not only promotes healthy living and wellness, but increases employee engagement and productivity as well as job satisfaction.’
Technological advancements and collaboration
After so much upheaval across so many different industries, it’s hard to imagine that there is more to come. But with the new year will come new opportunities, and new opportunities are increasingly being delivered by rapidly advancing technologies that enable personalisation and drive employee behaviour change and risk reduction. The question is, how can organisations benefit from such innovative technology, and how can they enable them to focus on what really matters in terms of achieving a truly positive and sustainable impact on their employees?
Scott emphasises, ‘Now is not the time to deviate too far from your strategic vision and pathway, instead we must look for ways employers can integrate technology into the fabric of their organisation and the health and wellness journey of their employees. New technologies are remarkable both with respect to their power to change employee behaviour and their affordability. Many are game-changing, but businesses are only now playing catch up. To effectively harness these technologies, the providers must ensure they prioritise partnership and collaboration with employers. Software, algorithmic artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities will catapult us into the future, but all still require a human understanding and application.’
Dr. Gellert agrees, ‘There are so many real employee health and wellness opportunities out there that have been made affordable by technology. But we mustn’t squander them or revert to pre-pandemic mode. Many in the health promotion and risk reduction space feel that we’re about to enter a golden era, and not just because of the power of remote technology and telemedicine. While the degree of sophistication in technology continues to be formidable, it’s being deployed in ways we had never imagined just a decade ago, and that increase impact whilst reducing avoidable costs. There are already over 25,000 healthcare applications for the iPhone, so it’s clearly becoming a powerful diagnostic device, as well as a vehicle for achieving substantial and sustainable improvements in health outcomes alongside reducing employees’ health and wellness risks. When combined with wearables embedded within an integrated employee engagement platform, the power to impact and achieve improvements in employee health and wellness increase exponentially. These applications and technologies are our best defence to reduce risk; whether individuals are suffering from anxiety and high stress, chronic insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea, or diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke. As this technology continues to advance, it will quite literally save lives far in excess of those saved by existing healthcare that is focused less on prevention and more on mitigating impact once disease exists.’
For more information on the future of business and health management, chat to our team.