2021 was a rollercoaster. Twelve months marred by lockdowns, isolation, and evolving health policies; the global health crisis continued to ingrain itself deeply into every facet of our lives. As a result, the workplace has completely shifted, employee priorities have changed, and employers are being challenged to adapt their models to cater to the evolving work-life model.
Over the last year, many of these hard lessons manifested themselves in changes seen on the granular level, but when you zoom out, much larger trends were already taking shape. Here are seven that took flight in 2021 and will continue to command attention in 2022.
- The shift to virtual health care has been incredible
A reimagining of workforce well-being towards improved wellness and self-care hit a new level of urgency in 2021. Green Shield Canada recently announced the addition of three new digital solutions that emphasize physical health and wellness to allow users to access these tools from anywhere and from any device. According to a McKinsey report, growth in telehealth usage peaked during April 2020 but has stabilized and created a new baseline across all specialties. Watch for telehealth to continue to be a bridge model with in-person healthcare.
- A heightened focus on mental health support
As we shifted in the second calendar year of the pandemic, lockdowns and isolation made things collectively worse and emphasized the need for increased mental health support. Over the next three years, 67% of plan sponsors said they anticipate investing money or staff resources in wellness areas outside of their health benefits plan to support their employees resolve personal or work-related problems.
- Acquisitions and partnerships will continue to take shape
In October, LifeSpeak, the mental health and total wellbeing educational platform for employee and customer-focused organizations, acquired Lift, the online wellness company for $15 million. In addition, they also acquired ALAViDA, a virtual SaaS-based provider of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) health solutions. These strategic acquisitions and partnerships are only a sliver of what we’ve seen so far and will continue to define the benefits landscape in 2022.
Maple just acquired Wello, the virtual care company that provides on-demand phone or video virtual care appointment calls across Canada for urgent care. And Curv Health is another relatively new player making big waves into the space with their platform that combines telemedicine, smart billing, health information exchange, and predictive analytics.
- Putting the spotlight on diversity and inclusion
According to a new study, diversity and inclusion in the workplace are more of a priority for younger employees. 47% of respondents said they would feel more loyal to their organization if it publicly took a stand on these issues. Employees can see through any lip service and want their employers to step up and make a more concerted effort for a diverse leadership team, workplace accessibility, and gender equality. Talk is cheap at this stage of the game.
- Expanding offerings to include critical illness and life insurance
Gone are the days of basic medical, vision, and dental coverage. In this post-pandemic world, employees seek more extensive coverage that provides a broader safety net to cover critical illness insurance, life insurance, and financial counselling. This holistic approach caters to the real-life challenges and concerns many workers feel.
- Defining the hybrid work environment
The first full year of working from home certainly divided workplaces. Yet, even with the vaccine rollout, many businesses continued to adopt a flexible work from home policy that only furthers the debate around what the future of work will look like. For those that flourished with this new model, it’s understandable that they wanted to keep it up. But for those struggling to juggle family commitments with no time for vacation or even sick days, the idea of work-life balance is under the microscope.
Ontario’s new right-to-disconnect law broke monumental grounds this year, requiring employers with 25 or more employees to draft a right-to-disconnect policy. And while the pandemic provided a balance for some, it had disastrous effects on others.
Organizations will need to ensure productivity, healthy communications, and employee well-being can live in complete harmony with one another, rather than taking the authoritarian stance when it comes to dictating where one needs to work from.
- Telehealth providers pivot into the mental health side
FelixHealth introduced the ability to diagnose and treat mental health conditions directly through its platform. Dialogue introduced a new self-led therapy program to empower members to get proactive about their work-life balance on their terms. And paving the way with psychedelic science, iHealthOX’s online services gives patients the option to be virtually assessed by a physician and a clinical health provider to “determine their suitability to undergo ketamine therapy and ketamine-enhanced psychotherapy.” They are all pivoting, and it’s proven to be profitable for those early entrance into the space.
Consistent investments into mental health support, and permanent remote and hybrid work options are key themes that won’t go away anytime soon. Accommodating workers with the right telehealth tools, access to virtual care, and digital tools to improve productivity shouldn’t just be considered as trends anymore, and hopefully will be a permanent part of the workplace discussion in 2022.