Examining Well-being and Caregiving Support for Employees, Strategies for the Future

Rachael McCann, senior director at Willis Towers Watson, speaks of the greater need for mental health and well-being resources from employers to address caregiving demands amid the pandemic.

With the pandemic spotlighting caregiving responsibilities of employees nationwide, expectations have shifted toward a greater employer presence to accommodate via flexible work hours and to provide resources on mental health and wellbeing education, said Rachael McCann, senior director at Willis Towers Watson.


AJMC®: Hello, I'm Matthew Gavidia. Today on the MJH Life Sciences’ Medical World News, The American Journal of Managed Care® is pleased to welcome Rachael McCann, senior director at Willis Towers Watson, who will speak on a survey by her organization examining current well-being and caregiving programs by employers.

Great to have you on, Rachael. Can you just introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your work?

McCann: Hi, glad to join y'all. I sit within our health and benefits practice at Willis Towers Watson. I work broadly with employers around their strategy, workforce really, supporting employees. I spend a lot of time on inclusion, diversity, equity, caregiving, and am really pleased with this discussion.

AJMC®: Delving into the survey, less than 3 in 10 employers say their well-being and caregiving programs are effective in supporting their respective workforce amid the pandemic. Can you discuss some of the notable caregiving needs that have been exacerbated by the pandemic and why current programs may not sufficiently address these concerns?

McCann: So, when we think about what was exacerbated, it really was several things. Access, so access to caregivers, whether it was regardless of age. Health and safety. We never had to think about health and safety in the same way as we do now. As the pandemic grew, truly you didn't hear employees talking to their employers around educational needs for their children. And that really shifted as the pandemic grew and truly the struggle to have children in school.

The last piece, and this is almost never spoken about—but I think it's becoming more and more top-of-mind right now linked to well-being—is there was never focus on care for caregivers and thinking about the important well-being needs that that caregiver has. So, the pandemic really just ripped the band aid off of all of those issues, and shifted employees looking at what they expected from their employers.

AJMC®: Building on what you just said, notably, more than two-thirds of employers identified increased caregiving demands as the top driver of employee mental health concerns. What can be done in the short term to better support employees at this time, and for the long term, how can employers be better prepared to accommodate workers who may be tasked with a greater caregiving burden?

McCann: Yeah, great questions. When I think about early in the pandemic, the short-term solutions were backup caregiving days for children and elders, paid or unpaid time off for caregiving needs. And if we think about what is really going to support employees now, because very few employers feel that the solutions are working—and it's just evidenced by employees identifying mental health as one of the top concerns driven by caregiving’s increased needs—it's thinking about really a holistic support.

So, yes, those programs are amazing and they're good for the days that they provide, but what else is there? So, thinking about behavioral health resources and virtual access to therapists far beyond what EAPs [employee assistance programs] ever provided. Thinking about flexible work and the importance of when someone works, how they work, and where they work.

Really important distinction, even thinking about if an employee still works a 40 hour week, is there flexibility in the hours that they can be on and off to balance the caregiving needs? Because that can reduce the level of stress and strain leading to mental health.

It is manager training. I know we ask so much of managers, and managers were often business leaders—they were really good at their job—but they were not people managers and helping their employees navigate things like caregiving in a pandemic. So, truly equipping those managers with the tools and education they need, as well as the boundaries in which it needs to be operated, within flexibility and other things. But, it's not one thing.

Some of these themes really go into the long term. So, we've been working more and more with companies to identify what is the long-term caregiving approach, because employees have spoken, they expect their employer to play a role. Part of it is resource and part of it is flexibility, time, and looking at caregiving solutions that really meet the needs of the entire workforce.

Certainly, those employees with elder caregiving needs oftentimes didn't bring that to work and might not now, but we know that 1 in 5 working employees is a caregiver in some shape or form to older Americans.

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