What a time it’s been. A global pandemic, wars, monkeypox . . . in some ways, it feels like we’ve been living in a movie. I can’t watch disaster movies anymore―which I used to love―because they hit too close to home now.
It goes without saying that the last few years have presented huge issues for employers and plan sponsors. They’ve had to fundamentally shift the way they do business and adjust constantly to new realities. They’ve had to manage the ebbs and flows of claims on health benefits plans―from significant claims reductions during lockdowns to dramatic increases when things started to open up again. They’ve had to be nimble and agile in a way they never could have anticipated. Everyone is tired of hearing the dreaded word “pivot.”
But in all the doom and gloom, we can’t lose sight of the opportunities. Let’s look at three of those and what they mean going forward.
The shift to virtual caught everyone by surprise, but what a difference it’s made in our daily lives. We could see one another in virtual meetings instead of being at the other end of a crackly phone line. We could visit with loved ones online when we couldn’t be with them in person. From a health care standpoint, virtual care made it possible for us to see a doctor even during lockdowns when we couldn’t leave our homes. Despite “Zoom fatigue,” this technological shift has been critically important, and it’s fundamentally changed the way we live and work.
Mental health has come to the forefront. The pandemic brought with it a lot of mental health challenges, but it also brought greater awareness and willingness to speak up about those challenges. Our shared experience contributed significantly to destigmatizing these issues. Finally, it was ok not to be ok and to admit that you were struggling, even in a workplace context. The concept of bringing your whole self to work and focusing on total well-being will exist long after this pandemic has receded into the rearview mirror.
Flexible and hybrid work is here to stay. The pandemic showed that, if the right foundation is in place, people can work remotely and still be productive. Supporting employees’ desire for greater flexibility can be more challenging for employers and people managers, but it can also go a long way toward ensuring that organizations can effectively attract and retain talent in an employee-centric labour market. And from the employee’s perspective, it just makes life easier. We can throw in a load of laundry before our next Zoom call or pick up our kids from school without stressing about the commuting time. There will still be some adjusting, as employers and employees figure out how to balance the organization’s needs with the employee’s wants, but we’ll get there.
Make no mistake, the pandemic has been a horrible, life-changing experience. And while we talk about a postpandemic world, we’re clearly not there yet. But advancements like these would never have happened so quickly, or so thoroughly, without the pandemic to push them forward.
And there’s another silver lining to consider. What all these changes have in common is a profound shift in focus to treating people as people, not just as employees―and that’s a win for everyone.
Director, Education and Outreach – Canada
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- Rethinking Gender: How Benefit Plans, Sponsors and Trustees Can—And Must—Adapt