Pandemic - boosts corporate wellbeing

Although Covid-19 constitutes an unprecedented challenge to workers’ health, employers can respond constructively, both on and off work. More than ever, wellbeing is central to a successful employer – employee engagement

Pandemic - boosts corporate wellbeing
Mental wellbeing was already a concern for some time due to evolutions in employment practices, lingering consequences from the financial crisis and pervasiveness of technology. 
Because of the pandemic, mental health is of even greater importance now as job insecurity, income volatility, health hazards, caregiving duties and adjustment to virtual work inflict prolonged strain on people’s lives worldwide. 
Maintaining at the same time the physical, social and financial health of today’s multi-cultural, multigenerational and remote workforce makes the employer’s role harder. 
Companies appreciate the need for holistic solutions but, as boundaries between professional and private life blur, they often struggle to define wellbeing, let alone deliver it to all employees no matter where they work from. 
Ensuring the office, factory or, increasingly, home is a healthy and effective place to work is a strategic priority for corporate functions from HR, to risk management, finance and, ultimately, the board. 
How far can organizations go in their responsibility for employees’ wellbeing, particularly mental health? There’s a fine line between duty of care and intrusion, and it shifts according to age, gender, country, culture, as well as the law. 
Even basic concepts as "working hours” are no longer straightforward but surely maintaining income is a prerequisite for one’s overall wellbeing, not just financial health. 
While in the past the role of employers in offering financial advice had been very limited, that attitude started to change before the onset of Covid-19. 
Our survey of employers in Australia, Brazil, Germany, Spain, Switzerland and UK identified room for improvement in staff’s financial literacy, rated at a median 7 out of 10, and found over two thirds believe enhanced financial education would benefit their employees.  
We also found that close to 60% of companies experienced increased demand for advice on financial wellbeing in the past three to five years while 68% of employers plan to increase both scope and frequency of their financial literacy programs.  
Financial acumen will grow ever more important for many reasons: from pension reforms diminishing states’ provision of old age income, to the gig economy causing more fragmented careers and therefore preventing a linear accumulation of occupational savings. 
Non-standard employment contracts are relied upon because of their favorable impact on companies’ costs and flexibility. However, they often fall short when mobilization and engagement are required across the entire organization, just as in a crisis. 
Covid-19 has cast a light on the vulnerability of arrangements that allow freedom and control on where, when and how to work while traditional employment forms, with their stability and employer sponsored benefits, have recovered some of their shine. 
The sudden transition to Work from Home intensified and extended the fatigue of jobs which, as they can be performed remotely, can count on a much wider pool of candidates as workers are no longer tied to a given location. 
Such new kind of globalization may translate into depressed compensation at a time when people need as much income as they possibly can earn. 
Past recessions, such as the financial crisis erupted in 2008, show that the skill sets as well as the size of the workforce are quickly revisited when the survival of an organization is at stake. 
This time around technology will allow even more drastic decisions than in the past. 
Today, stress and uncertainty abound, especially for the more fragile categories of workers who can only maintain competitiveness on the talent market by re-training and re-skilling. 
As workers turn to their health, protection and savings packages for peace of mind, employers have an excellent opportunity to improve their employees’ commitment and loyalty by addressing these sources of anxiety. 
Ensuring balanced attention to employees’ physical, mental, social and financial wellbeing is challenging at the best of times but it assumes exceptional urgency and importance today.  


The Future of Work 

This article draws on Zurich’s multi-year research collaboration with the Smith School at University of Oxford about workforce protection. 
Insights are based on comprehensive surveys of 19,000 workers across 17 countries and 1,200 businesses in six major economies, as well as in-depth interviews with decision-makers from several corporations. Access full research here.

Paolo Marini is Global Head of Customer & Distribution at Zurich.  
He began his insurance career in 1990 at Generali where he held positions in Italy, USA, Hong Kong and Belgium, lastly as director for sales, marketing and communications in the employee benefits network. 
In 2011, Paolo joined Zurich to develop customer management and strengthen cooperation with general insurance. In 2019, his remit was enlarged to include responsibility for distribution.  
His expertise include global employee benefits solutions, domestic and international pension and protection. 
Paolo is a frequent contributor to industry events and a thought leader on issues ranging from income protection, to aging and demographics or the changing nature of work.  
Paolo holds a degree in Political Sciences from the University of Trieste.  
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