This article was published in the Pittsburgh Business Times
November 1, 2022
The “Great Resignation” has given way to a “Great Reassessment,” according to Carolyn Wood, vice president of employee benefits at UPMC.
After an onslaught of pandemic-related stress and upheaval and a shifting of barriers between work and life, employees are reexamining their expectations of their workplaces. Benefits departments should take note, said Wood, and shift to a model of “whole person care,” catering to the social, emotional and health needs of the workers they hope to retain in job market now ruled by demand for labor.
“This Great Reassessment has, in many ways, created new areas for organizations like all of ours, and an evolution of employee benefits and healthcare that is resulting in the highest levels of expanded and enhanced programs that we’ve seen in decades,” Wood told an audience at the Fairmont Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh.
Wood was the title speaker at “The Post-Pandemic ‘Great Reassessment,’” a seminar that took place on Oct. 27 and delved into the new reality of work.
In her introduction, Amy Meister, associate chief medical officer at UPMC Health Plan, set the tone by noting every industry has been changed by the pandemic. She noted that quick pick-up parking spaces are still at supermarkets, a type of business that had changed little since the 1950’s.
“And I started thinking to myself, ‘Wow, they have changed their entire structure and model of service,’” said Meister. “It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in. It doesn’t matter how big of an employer you are or how small. We’ve all been impacted.”
She added, “There hasn’t been a day, probably in years, that I haven’t heard from somebody: These are unprecedented times, and that phrase applied to us all both personally and professionally, and that’s something we’re going to hear about today.”
In 2021, more than 47 million Americans voluntarily quit their jobs, more than the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded in any other year. Even those who haven’t jumped ship are keeping an eye on want ads; Gallup analysis found that 48 percent of the American working population is actively job-searching or just watching for opportunities.
Low pay, lack of opportunity for advancement, feelings of disrespect, childcare issues, and inflexibility of hours were top reasons given in a Pew Research survey from March.
Pundits dubbed the trend the “Great Resignation.” Like many observers, Wood, who has managed pensions and benefits at various companies for 30 years, senses an overarching sense of ennui and shifting of priorities due to the pandemic.
She defined the “Great Reassessment as “this volatile period where workers are rethinking everything, work, working conditions, careers, life goals, and some are even disengaging at work. Hence, the new terms we are seeing, like ‘quiet quitting,” the much-written-about phenomenon of employees doing the bare minimum because of lack of long term investment in their current job.
While it may seem “daunting,” she admits, employers need to redefine their entire relationship with their workforce if they hope to retain people. “In the face of the new reality, we’re beginning to examine every aspect, because clearly the workforce has changed,” she said. “Employees have new expectations, and we as employers need to redefine the employee value proposition.” Particularly, employers should be proactive in fighting stress, burnout and mental health challenges.
Wood said that tried and true engagement assessment tools, like focus groups and employee resource groups, are “now more important than ever.”
But she emphasized the importance of “innovation, like never before, in areas like behavioral mental health services.” These include “digital apps that might simply offer connections to other individuals that are dealing with the same issues” and phone lines for “frontline employees who are going to need someone to talk to you on the way home to enable them.”
Luckily, during the pandemic, people became used to virtual appointments and tele-health. These can be valuable resources for employers trying to increase access to services. “Digital healthcare delivery has created new opportunities to connect with patients and deliver physical [and] behavioral health services,” said Wood. “Seen as a necessity during the pandemic, it’s actually become the channel of choice today. Access to high-value therapies can facilitate access to specialty medications, how can we manage costs, and provide access in a socially conscious way. These are huge challenges that require innovations.”
Benefits professionals also have a variety at data-analytical tools that can improve and personalize care, Wood said.
“When we talk about whole person care and hyper-personalization, the data at the pump is critical,” she said. “When you can begin to leverage technology, for example, to bring health, financial and access data together, you’ll begin to see trends in the data and identify potential opportunities to develop a person-centered approach and identify your organization’s highest- priority issues. At a time, when many of us are seeing record levels of turnover, with no signs of slowing down, we’re all looking for ways to strengthen the employer employee relationship and impact our retention efforts.”
She added that UPMC is training its leaders and mangers in “mental health first aid training” that will allow them to see the first signs “that a team member needs extra support.”
It’s a new paradigm, Wood said, but one that many companies are embracing. A survey released in June by the insurance advisory company Willis Towers Watson, found that 86 percent of employers planned to put a focus on mental health needs (but only about half had laid out a formal plan).
“All of these things were not on our priority list five years ago,” said Wood. “Emotional wellbeing is now the pillar of many total wellbeing programs. Employers are developing new and unique programs to help employees with stress reduction, mindfulness and coping skills.”
Some have embraced a concept of “whole person care,” she said. “Employers are now focused on total wellbeing that often includes physical health, financial support, emotional health, career in belonging, and connection at work, bring it full circle and bringing it all together.”
“As I think about the mission of our benefit strategy, you will see that my goal is to deliver diverse programs and services that allow our employees, to find support in just about every area of work and to create their ideal work-life balance,” she said. As employers are becoming more and more of a trusted source of information, and trusted sources of support, the lines between work and life have blurred. I want our employees to feel like no matter where they are in their employment journey with us or stage of life, that we’re there, with programs and services to support them all.”
The message, conveyed by the totality of this effort, should be that employers care. “We’re here for you and your families,” said Wood, summarizing the message. “We’re going to provide resources for you to achieve your best health, and we’re going to support you on your wellbeing journey, with integrated and personalized approach — I can’t say that enough personalized, personalized, personalized — and we’re going to help you manage your healthcare in this period of the Great Reassessment. This employer-employee relationship, and the employee value proposition has become more important than ever.”
A panel discussion also included Chronis Manolis, chief pharmacy officer, UPMC Insurance Division Services, and Doug Mueztel, chief executive office of Wesley Family Services, which provides in-home counseling for children.
Manolis said that pharmacists can play a role in personalized care and UPMC has created a texting program to remind people of refills. “That’s really a chat bot that engages employees.”
He also expressed concern that rising costs of medications would frustrate employees. The pricing structure, by which common and older medications pay for newer and more obscure ones for pharmaceutical companies is not always clear to the public and pharmacy benefit programs have a role to play in reducing costs for employees. “It’s our job to make sure that medicines and science doesn’t outpace the cost,” said Manolis.
Mueztel said Wesley has prioritized training managers to consider employees’ emotional wellness. “The supervisor is the number-one reason someone stays with us or leaves with us. Shouldn’t we put that in our thought process?” he said.
He said, overall, employers need to create a culture of value and responsibility for employee wellbeing. “We create a culture where there is actually ownership of wellness by the staff members, Mueztel said. “That needs to be a value proposition, that a staff member feels empowered and has the resources.”