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Healthy work and society

The concept of healthy societies can help boards manage people risk in their organisations.

By Alison Bamford, Country Leader of Mercer Marsh Benefits New Zealand
15 Dec 2021
read time
4 min to read
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Directors have responded swiftly to the pandemic by supporting management teams, but now they face new challenges to the health and safety of their workforces.

At the same time, there is a rising awareness of the need to begin addressing societal concerns, such as mental health and wellbeing, and the long-term impacts of covid-19.

At the intersection of these two issues is the notion of creating healthy societies. This notion incorporates equitable access to affordable, quality healthcare and support, providing healthy environments to live and work in, creating financial security and a more equitable workforce across race, ethnicity, and gender.

Your employees are a key strength, but they can also be a key risk if they become unhappy and leave. Boards that manage “people risks” with the right balance of empathy and economics will be better positioned to prosper during this accelerated period of sustained change.

Creating a safe environment

With the widespread adoption of working from home, the line between the workplace and the office has blurred. While this shift has been welcomed by the majority of affected employees, new mental health stressors have emerged as people are reluctant to leave their home offices and go back in the office, particularly as covid-19 remains a threat.

Providing employees with a safe working environment remains a top concern for most directors and their organisations. Changes to the physical design of workspaces plus the use of masks, sanitisers, physical distancing, temperature checks, testing, and other safety measures, are being normalised. These changes give employees who need to be physically present to perform their jobs the confidence that they are protected.

A consistent and sustained safety policy will help make the transition from the home office less stressful for those returning to the workplace.

But a larger question remains for directors and management: when we emerge from the pandemic, will organisations try to revert to pre-pandemic “business as usual” or will they create new operating models to ensure flexibility and agility in response to future outbreaks or other disruptions?

Boards that advocate for contingency planning that factors in the health and safety of those in the workplace will enable companies to swiftly pivot and maintain productivity in the face of unforeseen circumstances.

Emotional wellbeing

Organisations are already responding to the pandemic related mental health crisis among employees. In the 2020-2021 Global Talent Trends Study by Mercer, 45% of human resources executives reported adding benefits to address mental and emotional health issues.

A continued focus on employee wellbeing will take time and resources, and conversations at the board level about these critical issues will help keep the needs of employees front and centre as new policies are proposed.

Talent acquisition

Talent acquisition and retention continues to be another top challenge facing organisations. This was borne out in the results of the same Mercer survey, as well as the 2021 Mercer Marsh Benefits Global People Risk Report.

That challenge is not only finding the right talent to fill positions, but also creating a diverse organisation that contributes to the overall health of our workplaces and society, as well as contributing to an employee’s sense of inclusion and belonging.

Meeting this challenge is core to limiting a company’s people risk exposure to what has recently been termed the Great Resignation. This is in terms of both a growing domestic and international war for talent.

In a tight labour market, employees want to have a strong connection to purposeful organisations that demonstrate strong environmental, social, and governance (ESG)  values, and they are more likely to stay at and be more productive for these kinds of employers.

New technologies, changing demographics and the pandemic are creating other challenges for employees as they seek not only to find satisfying work but also to work in a manner that contributes to their wellbeing. This changing nature of work also requires new considerations for talent management.

For example, boards should be aware of the legal and operational issues associated with flexible working and technology adoption. As more of the workforce opts into flexible working arrangements, organisations will need to examine investing in digital technology and designing work experiences and benefits that demonstrate a deep understanding of the needs of their people. These topics belong at the board table, as directors can support talent development that leads to healthy and sustained organisational growth.

Looking ahead

After threatening public health and ushering in unprecedented disruptions, the covid-19 pandemic has uprooted daily life and fundamentally transformed values for companies, employees, and society. Boards that adopt a people-first and healthysociety mindset can help organisations develop sound strategies for the future. And that future begins with recognising and embracing the expanded role employers can play in the health and wellbeing of employees inside and outside the workplace.

Boards that adopt a people-first and healthy society mind-set can help leadership in developing sound strategies for the future. And that future begins with recognising and embracing the expanded role employers can play in the health and wellbeing of employees inside and outside the workplace.

The New Zealand perspective

Here are some of the key challenges for directors to consider.

  • The legal implications of companies' current and future covid-19 responses from a corporate operating policy perspective (whether essential service or not) derive from the New Zealand Health & Safety Act. This includes when people are working from home. Directors are personally liable under the legislation.
  • A current, and developing, challenge is grappling with covid-19 vaccination policies, such as mandating vaccination or not. These policies feed directly or indirectly into company culture ethos around exclusion and freedom of choice.
  • Future immigration policies will impact the ability to attract talent in some sectors more than others - such as aged care, hospitality, horticulture and transportation, especially around minimum earnings requirements for visa eligibility.
  • Mental health issues are still to play out in New Zealand. Many SME companies are likely to fold.
  • Boards will continue to see high turnover of senior executives in large corporates due to the fatigue of dealing with covid-19.
  • Attracting staff today will require a holistic approach, engaging with mind, body and spirit. 

For further information

Alison Bamford
Country Leader of Mercer Marsh Benefits New Zealand
Mobile: +64 27 910 5540

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