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Should Singapore firms revamp employees’ healthcare benefits after Covid-19?

By Alvin Yuan

COVID-19 has disrupted the workplace permanently. Since the pandemic began two years ago, workers are getting more used to work-from-home or hybrid work arrangements.

According to recent news reports, more than two-thirds of people surveyed by Future Forum now prefer a hybrid working model and 95 percent of respondents want flexibility over times when they work. Companies too are learning and have refined their work policies to ensure minimum disruption to work quality and productivity. In essence, our workplace practices and policies are evolving.

In Singapore, hybrid work practices will soon become a mainstay as firms become more adept in managing their workforce by putting in place the digital infrastructure required to support their business functions and human resources. Some have advanced to begin implementing policies that prioritise employees’ well-being, addressing issues of work-life balance and boundaries of work hours in hybrid work arrangements.

But what about employee healthcare benefits? Do companies need to relook into this as healthcare needs have vastly changed since the pandemic? According to various reports by World Health Organisation (WHO) and others, among some of the mental health issues brought about by the pandemic on employees include: -

  • Loss of purpose and direction
  • Anxiety-related to the future and job security
  • Work overload and pressure to do more work than usual
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Difficulty in concentrating and making decisions
  • Difficulty in falling asleep and staying asleep

Increasingly and spurred by the pandemic, employees are prioritising health over wealth. Many of the HR professionals we speak to have brought up the challenges in retaining and engaging employees, who now more than ever prioritise healthcare-related benefits over other perks.

The younger generation (the millennials) especially prefer companies that offer remote working opportunities and flexible work hours. Across the board and regardless of age groups, employees prefer companies that offer good medical benefits and wellness programs. They want to have the assurance their welfare is in the good hands of the company, which includes ensuring that sick leave and medical expenses if incurred during the volatile pandemic situation, are well covered.

Dealing with Rising Cost of Healthcare Benefits

In Singapore, sick leave benefits generally correspond to the minimum requirements of the Employment Act while healthcare insurance benefits largely depend on the employer. However, the rising cost of healthcare benefits pose a challenge for employers. While most would like to offer the best to their employees, the high cost and the frequency of employees seeking medical help is much higher during the pandemic. In addition, multiple factors such as inflation and prior claim history affect insurance premiums.

To mitigate the impact of the high cost of health benefits, some employers are using a combination of tactics, ranging from care navigation support to managing premiums. According to a survey by Willis Towers Watson, employers globally are planning or considering taking the following measures to manage healthcare costs:

  • Use Care Navigation Support (32%)
  • Use Condition Specific Care (30%)
  • Manage Premiums Paid to Insurance Providers/Vendors (29%)

To deliver value to employees during and post the pandemic period, Singapore firms should look into enhancing the choice and flexibility in their healthcare benefits. But do they have the right tools to help them manage and navigate these benefits? For companies with a sizeable workforce, such as manufacturing and banking sectors, this task can be daunting, especially with the myriad changes in work arrangements.

 Enhancing Transparency and Communication of Benefits

The Willis Towers Watson survey also found that the areas within administration and operations where employers globally show the greatest weakness is in the use of technology in HR and having streamlined internal HR operations. But Covid-19 has changed this somewhat.

Many companies are becoming more cognizant of the importance of deepening employees’ understanding and appreciation of their benefits through improved use of technology, manager support, and enhanced communication.

For one, the pandemic has definitely accelerated the use of cloud-based systems for HR and digital health systems for employees. In Singapore, telemedicine and telehealth mobile apps are also becoming more essential and widely used, especially for a remote or hybrid workforce.

However, the transparency and communication of their healthcare benefits still need to be further enhanced. Employers should consider using a range of tools, including preferably interconnected digital hubs, navigator tools and mobile apps that can also offer personalised communications to specific segments of the workforce. Giving both employers and employees immediate, real-time data of healthcare benefits offered and utilised is critical, especially during this pandemic period.  

Leveraging Analytics to Forecast Cost and Risks

Finally, analytics help employers better understand the wants and needs of different employees and make data-driven decisions critical to managing healthcare cost as well as employee welfare. But this is still a highly untapped potential and unutilised tool by many employers. The Willis Towers Watson survey on benefits trends finds that only 38% of employers globally use data and analytics to understand program effectiveness.

In Singapore, uptake of HR analytics has been promising. Some of the bigger companies in the banking and logistics sector have started using predictive analytics to prevent and monitor attrition. But on the strategic and operational level, not many companies have fully realised the potential of using analytics to forecast healthcare benefits costs and manage risks. Top executives buy-in is key as this can potentially help save the company hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In conclusion, the pandemic has set in motion a new wave of unprecedented changes for both employers and employees. While work arrangements and policies have changed, employee’s healthcare needs and how this healthcare benefits information is accessed by them have also changed. Offering the same healthcare benefits using the same old channels may no longer be effective.

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