The importance of supporting employees’ whole well-being

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Of the many illnesses that touch Canadian lives, cancer is by far one of the most common. Only heart disease and stroke are more pervasive, with one in two Canadians expected to develop cancer within their lifetimes. Those numbers are staggering. What’s heartening, however, is that an ever-increasing number of cancers are fully curable, while others can be held at bay or treated over long periods of time, allowing patients to continue living relatively normal, productive lives. National Cancer Wellness Awareness Day tomorrow is a reminder of the work needed to support those who have recovered from, or are living with, the disease—and employers can be a part of that well-being conversation.

As the National Cancer Wellness Awareness Day website notes, cancer wellness is about providing psychosocial care that focuses on a “… whole-person approach to wellness. It complements traditional medicine by addressing the person’s emotional, spiritual and physical needs to help them live well.” The reality is that physical or behavioural changes can help patients manage their cancer or recover from its effects. Many of those repercussions are long-lasting, particularly on the psychological front.

For example, the fear of a cancer recurrence is a mental health condition that plagues many cancer survivors—even those who have been fully cured of their disease and have a clear prognosis. While we might assume that as ‘the lucky ones,’ these individuals would be overjoyed after being declared cancer-free. They are, but the fear of a recurrence can be psychologically crippling nonetheless, preventing them from making a fulsome recovery and returning to full personal and professional productivity. Other illnesses and conditions have similar lingering consequences that impact long-term health and well-being.

That’s where employers have an opportunity to take notice and provide the necessary group benefits and insurance offerings to support employees’ whole-person wellness, as the National Cancer Wellness Awareness Day mission statement describes it. Helping employees recover from illnesses or manage chronic conditions is a useful way to position them for workplace success—be it after conquering cancer, recovering from a heart attack, overcoming addiction or coming back from any potentially traumatic, life-changing event.

Group benefits insurance enhancements and personal insurance planning

So, how can your organization help? First off, we should note that it’s not the responsibility of an employer to fully look after their employees. Employees should consult with their financial advisor to understand if they have gaps or shortfalls in coverage. Any support provided by an employer is supplemental and employees should never assume they’re fully protected.

Start the process by having your insurance and group benefits advisor audit your organization’s offerings, not only from the perspective of your healthy employees, but to also create a safety net in the event that members of your team fall ill or need time to recover. Are your programs tailored to meet their needs, as well?

Perhaps the most important support pillar for ill or recovering employees is financial. Paying attention to their overall well-being can mean providing income coverage and emergency leave, such as when time off work is needed for seemingly endless trips to doctor or therapist appointments, during hospital stays or when a mental health condition such as severe depression renders them unable to leave the house, let alone work. That could be for employees in distress, along with team members who need to care for ill family members.

A well-structured disability plan can help replace income lost due to illness or injury and deliver financial peace of mind which allows an employee to take time off for treatment and recuperation. Life insurance protects against worst-case scenarios, while critical illness insurance provides a lump sum tax-free payout that allows for financial flexibility during a long-term convalescence.

On the group benefits front, fundamental coverage such as paid sick leave and prescription drug coverage are an ideal foundation on which to build a customized employee offering. But there are a range of other products on the market that are revolutionizing the way organizations deliver wellness support.

As we noted in a previous blog one benefit of the COVID-19 crisis is the increased adoption of virtual services for physical or mental health care. From virtual addiction to psychological counselling, employees can access crucial supports from their living rooms if necessary.

A whole-person approach to benefits could mean covering a portion of the costs for everything from mindfulness and meditation services to child or pet care—whatever suits the needs of your workforce based on life stage, interests and financial needs. The key is understanding your team and customizing that package with a focus on flexibility to maximize plan usage.

A renewed employer-employee relationship

Of course, there may not be only an opportunity for organizations to provide whole wellness-focused benefits and insurance coverage—it could be an expectation on the part of their workforce.

A recent Randstad Canada survey on remote work preferences in the wake of COVID-19 shed light on evolving perceptions of the employer-employee relationship. In short, it found that employees envision a different workplace experience when they return to the office—and that message seems to be making its way up the ivory tower.

According to the survey, 82 per cent of leaders say the pandemic has prompted changes in their managerial style, with 34 per cent saying they’re willing to be more flexible around work arrangements and 28 per cent saying they’re prepared to spend more time checking on employee needs. Still, gaps remain.

Only 14 per cent of workers say they receive mental health benefits from their employer, with 28 per cent of younger workers saying that wellness-related programs were important to their workplace success—especially while working remotely.

The key point is that not only are most employers falling short in supporting their employees’ whole wellness, those shortcomings are amplified for individuals experiencing a health or psychosocial crisis—whether related to cancer, another disease or a challenging personal circumstance. The greater willingness of leaders to be available and empathetic is a step in the right direction, but employees in (either temporary or chronic) distress need concrete support mechanisms that allow them to heal and return to being their full productive selves.

Being proactive in offering those programs also helps to mitigate organizational risks related to increased employee turnover, disengagement or workplace culture issues—either because an ill or recovering staffer is less productive, thereby requiring other team members to take on part of their work, or because there is a perception that management is disinterested in addressing their wellness needs. If employees understand that their wellness is a priority, they’re more likely to support each other and trust management.

Perhaps most importantly, it’s an essential element of building an empathetic organization run by engaged owners or leaders who are prepared to step up and lend a hand when a member of their team needs it the most. Let’s take National Cancer Wellness Awareness Day as a reminder that it takes that kind of forward-thinking approach to help promote and ensure employee wellness in the workplace.

The Bridgewell Team

Contact a member of the Bridgewell team now to develop a customized group benefits program or discuss your insurance planning needs.

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