According to the recent report “Medical Trends Around the World 2018” by Mercer Marsh Benefits (MMB), international medical costs increased by an average of 9.5% in 2017, almost three times the estimated inflation rate. The rising costs associated with healthcare are a pressing concern for HR leaders with a need for resources, policies and practices that support a healthy and productive workforce while keeping expenses to a minimum.


HR professionals must leverage the latest disruptive trends and workforce health care strategies to thrive in increasingly competitive business environments where there is a renewed focus on cultivating a thriving and engaged workforce. This requires a proactive effort by HR leaders to move beyond their comfort zones and integrate the following three personas into their role responsibilities and leadership styles and prepare employees for a future where health impacts the wealth of both the individual and the employer.


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Today, HR leaders play a more important role in communicating the needs of contemporary workforces than ever before.
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Persona #1: Empathetic champion of mental health


Much has been written about the importance of emotional intelligence or EIQ in leadership roles. However, most of those discussions simply emphasize the value of being able to relate to other people and “walk in their shoes” for a while. As a result, many companies have instituted lifestyle changes to their business models, whether that be through the promotion of flexible-working practices such as allowing employees to telecommute, providing employees career development and educational opportunities, or encouraging employees to volunteer in their community or join a gym.


However, focusing on supporting the mental and emotional wellbeing of their employees presents companies with tremendous opportunities to elevate employee productivity, increase workplace morale, reduce absence and improve retention. In fact, the MMB report reveals that less than 50% of insurers and respective employer medical plans provide access to personal counseling. Progressive HR professionals who see through antiquated stereotypes about mental health issues are poised to lead their companies into the future. Preventative holistic care and wellness initiatives can save businesses millions of dollars on health care expenses by proactively preventing and treating employee mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, substance abuse, postpartum mental health, workplace stress, and other often overlooked conditions, as well as areas like sleep disorders.


Persona #2: Unrelenting facilitator-in-chief


HR leaders must take responsibility for empowering their employees to engage and utilize the resources available to them. HR pros should leverage the various ways their particular workforces interact with information, communicate their needs, and access employee benefit programs. The MMB report elaborates, “The top communication mechanisms for 2017 continued to be fairly traditional: websites, call centers and digital brochures, as well as paper booklets. This is another area ripe for disruption.


By assuming the role of Facilitator-in-Chief, HR leaders can directly improve inefficient bureaucracies and processes that hamper the employee-insurer relationship. In China, HR is collaborating with insurers to streamline services and information. “Some insurers in China are helping members by providing pre-authorization and medical provider referrals with ease. Others utilize a care team to provide members with health advisory services, or they have a case manager assist in making decisions. In addition, some insurers are also providing healthcare seminars to help members make smarter decisions regarding their healthcare needs.” HR leaders must advocate for improving technologies and processes that frustrate employees and prevent them from accessing the services they need to work effectively.

Persona #3: Political activist for policy change


Meaningful change happens at an excruciatingly slow pace. Governments, legislative bodies, and policymakers lag far behind the evolving demands of modern employees and employers. Today, HR leaders play a more important role in communicating the needs of contemporary workforces than ever before. These are revolutionary times – HR, human capital management and industry leaders across the planet must serve as the voice for millions of workers who are being let down by outdated programs that serve misaligned priorities.


John Deegan from MMB explains, “As health care costs become more material (outside the U.S.), employers are also questioning the intent and design of programs. Given the digital health revolution underway, we are seeing progressive employers redefine health and benefit principles and question traditional medical insurance designs, many of which were based on receiving crisis treatment in a hospital setting. And while it is starting in the U.S., the evolution towards value-based care, where providers are paid based on outcomes instead of fee for service, will demand innovation from the (global) insurance community.”


Only through political mechanisms can enduring changes to insurance regulations be implemented throughout the world’s nations. HR leaders are uniquely positioned to advocate for new health care policies for employees and employers. By adopting these three personas into their leadership dynamics, HR professionals can lead the way to a better, more affordable future. As Andrew Perry of MMB asserts, “Health insurance is ripe for disruption around the world.”

Liana Attard
Liana Attard
Partner, Asia Consulting Leader, Mercer Marsh Benefits

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