What the New U.S. Administration Can Mean for Employee Wellbeing at Your Organization
January 25, 2021 / Corporate Wellness
Between coronavirus, ongoing racial tensions, the 2020 U.S. Presidential election and the 24/7 news cycle, stress levels were at an all-time high across the U.S and abroad in the final months of 2020. Uncertainty caused unrest as we anxiously awaited the election results and what they will mean for the economy, healthcare, education, institutions, businesses and individuals.
After a controversial and unforgettable 2020 election, we now have some insight into what we can expect in the coming months and years, at least in terms of policy. Understanding the Biden administration’s plan is key to preparing your workplace strategy, particularly as you look to support the health and wellbeing of your employees over the next four years.
The Fight Against COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned our world upside down, highlighting the deficiencies in the U.S. healthcare system and underscoring the urgency of addressing chronic conditions and social determinants of health. With over two million coronavirus-related deaths worldwide and a recent surge in cases, the Biden administration has proposed a $1.9 trillion COVID-relief plan that includes allocations for a nationwide vaccination plan, another round of stimulus checks, small business grants, efforts to help schools safely reopen and $15 minimum wage for all industries . The goal? One hundred million vaccination doses in President Biden’s first one hundred days in office (on day three, we’re at over 18.4 million shots administered, with about 2.6 million fully vaccinated ) – and the hope that the country can begin to slowly lift restrictions to help people get back to “normal” life.
As a result, employers will need to decide when – and if – they’ll ask employees to return to the workplace, and determine what health and safety measures will be required to do so. This may include new policies, daily employee health screenings and social distancing measures, among other workplace changes. Businesses may also need to adjust minimum wages and explore grant opportunities or ways to lower costs to ensure employees are paid fairly.
Additionally, concerns about the economic impact of another potential shutdown and the mental health ramifications of isolation cannot and should not be ignored. As part of the administration’s COVID-19 plan, funding and access to mental health services will be increased , but employers still have an obligation to offer support in the workplace. Employers must prioritize the mental and social wellbeing of their workforce to keep employees engaged, productive and – most importantly – healthy. Some simple ways that businesses can support the mental health of workers include incorporating information on mental health and relevant resources within your employee wellbeing platform, offering on-demand telephonic health coaching and encouraging employees to maintain social connections with family, friends and coworkers.
Promoting Health Equity Through Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Social justice and racial equity are on the forefront of everyone’s minds due to recent tragic events sparking protests across the country, along with COVID-19 highlighting significant health disparities across minority ethnic populations. It’s vital that employers understand the Biden administration’s plan to address social justice matters, as these necessary changes will have a direct impact on institutions, workplaces and individuals.
President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are strong supporters of the Black community. According to President Biden’s Beat COVID-19 plan, he aims to create a COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force to properly address the healthcare and economic needs of underserved and disadvantaged communities. Other racial equity efforts include closing the wage gap, increasing access to and equity within education and making investments in reducing racial health disparities . Beyond his plans to address racial inequity, President Biden openly supports the Equality Act, which prevents any institutional or workplace discrimination of an individual based on sexual orientation or gender identity .
Many employers will need to review and revise their current workplace inclusion policies.
The State of Healthcare in the Biden Administration
Overrun hospitals, overworked medical staff, a rapid shift to telemedicine, the exposure of the many flaws within the U.S. healthcare system—there’s no question that the healthcare industry was hit hard by the pandemic and that a new approach to care and medicine is necessary. It’s crucial for employers and health providers to understand how the Biden administration plans to address our broken healthcare system, which currently leaves many uninsured or underinsured, untreated and in need of expensive care they cannot afford.
The Biden administration aims to reinvigorate the Affordable Care Act, which, though it survived the threat of repeal over the last four years, has been significantly changed since President Biden served as Vice President in the Obama administration. Increasing access to Medicaid and offering a government-backed public health plan option are incorporated into this plan. Other initiatives include reducing prescription drug costs, pushing for lower healthcare premiums, and putting measures in place to prevent healthcare discrimination and improve the accessibility of mental health services for members of the LGBTQ+ community .
While these strategies aim to remove many of the barriers to care that contribute to our broken healthcare system, business leaders may be wondering how this will affect employer-sponsored health insurance. It’s unlikely that many individuals will abandon the healthcare benefits offered by their employer. What one can (hopefully) expect, is a workforce that has greater access to and comfort with utilizing mental health care services and resources and one that is empowered and supported in putting personal wellbeing first.
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Employment and Wellbeing at Work
The future of workers’ rights and businesses, both small and large, are at stake following the events of 2020. Many employees have been forced to work remotely without a proper plan or resources. Workers have been furloughed or laid off, leaving 14.7% – nearly one in six – of American adults unemployed in April 2020, now a 6.7% unemployment rate according to December 2020 data . Businesses have had to permanently close their doors as the financial blow of a nationwide lockdown and ongoing restrictions exacted an unrelenting toll on their businesses.
Employers and employees alike are hoping for more support from the Biden administration. The President’s COVID relief plans indicate that he is committed to keeping people employed during the pandemic. He also hopes to strengthen unions, create more jobs and provide additional tax credits for families and anyone making less than $400,000 annually . In terms of retirement, President Biden supports boosting Social Security and increasing the availability of federal loans to support pension plans .
For those organizations who have been fortunate enough to maintain their workforce, it’s become apparent to organizational leaders that there is an urgent need for building a robust, whole-person–centered employee wellbeing ecosytem. Supporting the physical, mental, social, emotional and financial wellbeing of employees is crucial as the country continues to face the challenges that seemed to define 2020. Encouraging your dispersed workforce to participate in employee wellbeing programs, particularly high-risk employees, is imperative not only to the health of your people but also the success of your business. Employers should monitor the recent wellness rules proposed by the EEOC to understand how and if incentivizing participation in workplace wellbeing programs will be affected.
Maintain a strong company culture through this challenging time, even with a dispersed workforce. Launch a company-wide wellbeing challenge and digital health platform that your employees can engage with wherever, whenever with VP GO.
While the U.S. election process was—much like the rest of 2020—filled with stress and uncertainty, the events of the past year brought some long overdue attention to some pivotal issues and prompted new policies that will change our communities and workplaces – for the better. Being informed and prepared for these proposed changes can help your organization and your workforce thrive through the next four years and beyond.
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