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Why Employers Should Prioritize Healthcare to Attract and Retain Talent

published10 months ago
4 min read

It’s clear that the values and priorities have of today’s employees have permanently shifted as a result of the pandemic. Remote work is here to stay, people are seeking out a greater sense of purpose from their jobs, and the importance of health and well-being has increased dramatically over the past year. Case in point: Gen Z says that healthcare benefits matter most in a job, even more than salary or flexible work schedules.

This renewed focus on health is causing many businesses to reevaluate their employee value proposition, including their benefits, to better support the health of their workforce. Forward-thinking employers understand the difficulties of attracting and retaining talent in today’s employee-driven market, and they know that businesses who don’t prioritize the health of their workers may find themselves left behind in an increasingly competitive global economy.

More importantly, these companies recognize that their people are badly in need of support after an immensely challenging year. Workers have struggled to navigate the uncertainty around COVID-19, and many were forced to oversee their own childcare or remote schooling. Now they’re anxious to take charge of their health again — but they don’t want to go it alone. Employees expect their employers to support them, not only by providing better healthcare benefits, but also by ensuring that they have access to experts and providers who can guide them on their journey to better physical and mental health.

Of course, benefits (including healthcare) are just one part of a holistic employee value proposition. But with healthcare emerging as more important than ever in the wake of the pandemic, employers can’t ignore this critical piece of the puzzle. New research from my firm Workplace Intelligence and One Medical, a membership-based primary care practice, sheds light on this important topic, including the impact of deferred care.

The deferred care crisis

During the pandemic, many people delayed their normal doctors’ visits due to concerns around COVID-19. Our study found that while 89% of employees needed healthcare last year, 54% postponed or skipped care. Around half of employees said they’ve already experienced negative consequences as a result of deferring care, from worsened health to sleep and substance abuse issues. They’re also taking more sick days and working while ill (presenteeism) more often.

The impact of care avoidance on employees and the business bottom line is clear; indeed, the vast majority of companies said they’re worried about their employees’ health worsening this year (86%) and the cost of employee healthcare increasing (88%). Over three-quarters (78%) of employers predict that healthcare costs will increase in 2022, by 7.5% on average.

While employees will resume seeing their providers after the pandemic, for many, the damage may already be done. The CDC stresses that delayed or avoided medical care can increase morbidity and mortality associated with both chronic and acute health conditions. And it’s important to recognize that employees may experience these long-term outcomes on top of their already worsened health: 22% of respondents reported that their physical health declined during the pandemic and 32% said their mental health worsened.

Charting a new path

Although there’s still a great deal of uncertainty about the future, employees are eager to begin reversing the negative health effects they’ve experienced over the past year, including the consequences of having to defer care. In fact, one of the silver linings of the pandemic is that many people experienced an awakening to the importance of their own health and the health of those they’re closest to.

This is exemplified by the fact that 65% of employees said they’d give up at least one benefit or perk — including flexible hours, money, and paid leave — in exchange for a best-in-class healthcare offering. For companies, this statistic should drive home just how important healthcare is for their workers right now. However, just 32% of employees rate their current healthcare offering as “excellent,” so it’s clear that there are areas where their benefits could be improved.

So, what does best-in-class healthcare look like for today’s workers? Affordability will be key, according to 89% of those surveyed. Other important features, selected by at least 8 out of 10 respondents, include the ease of using their benefits, access to top quality providers, fast and convenient access to care, a focus on preventive health, and seamless specialty care coordination.

Healthcare’s role in the war for talent

In my company’s research with One Medical, nearly all (99%) HR leaders and 87% of employees agreed that providing a healthcare offering that is a good value, high-quality, and patient-centered improves key business outcomes. These include not only retention and recruitment, but also job satisfaction, engagement, and productivity.

After the pandemic, best-in-class healthcare may become an even more essential weapon in the war for talent. In fact, employers that don’t take steps to improve their healthcare offering may soon find themselves affected by what some are calling the “great resignation.” Some 4 million people quit their jobs in April alone (a record high), and one in four workers plans to quit their job after the pandemic.

Research from AHIP, a trade association for health insurers, confirms that healthcare can play a significant role in people’s career decisions. Their study found that 56% of employees said that their health benefits were a key factor in deciding to stay at their current job, and 46% said health insurance was either the deciding factor or a positive influence in choosing their current job. These numbers may seem low, but can your business really afford to lose half of its current workforce or half of its qualified job applicants?

Remember, this isn’t a question of whether or not you understand the importance of healthcare — research from SHRM finds that 86% of employers believe healthcare is the most important benefit to their workforce. The real issue is that many businesses may not recognize that their current benefits aren’t meeting employees’ needs and expectations. And given that people place such a high priority on their health now, this could mean the difference between retaining or losing your best talent.

It’s time to demonstrate your commitment to the health of your people

For companies and employees alike, the timing couldn’t be more critical for change. Businesses need to take a hard look at the quality of their healthcare benefits if they want to avoid rising costs, worsening employee health, and potentially devastating effects on talent attraction and retention. It’s a challenging time as we continue to weather the ups and downs of the pandemic, but if you meet your employees in this pivotal moment, you’ll be well-positioned for success in an increasingly competitive environment.