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Jan 4, 2022
Your New Growth Plan: 5 Ways Businesses Can Foster Workforce Health and Well-being

The world of work has changed forever.

In the workplace, many employers are grappling with unprecedented numbers of resignations and open positions. These staffing issues create even more stress for employees, who may be feeling exhausted by the pandemic and from dealing with accompanying issues such as insufficient child care, elder-care challenges, and quarantine-mandated home schooling.

In its new Leadership Report, Fortune explains that today’s employees expect more than paychecks. “Workers increasingly expect their employers to provide benefits, allowances, and flexibility conducive to a work/life balance that, pre-pandemic, may have seemed unattainable,” the report’s authors said. “And if companies don’t meet their needs, they will take their labor elsewhere.”

Taking steps to improve employees’ health and well-being can increase satisfaction and encourage retention, whether they are working on site, at home, or in both locations.

Your New Growth Plan: A Happy, Healthy Workforce

Your company likely sees health care primarily as a cost. But what if you could turn it into an investment in the growth of your business?

Learn more

Here are five ways employers can improve the workplace in 2022 and beyond while they show employees how much they care.

1. Heighten the Focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) to Make Employees Feel Like They Belong

Companies that invest in DEI position themselves to create more effective teams that are better able to flex and adapt, according to McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm.

Conversely, failing to focus on inclusion and diversity can place companies at a disadvantage, McKinsey said, noting that over the last five years, diverse companies have become increasingly likely to out-earn their industry peers. The research titled, “Diversity Wins: How Inclusion Matters,” measured how gender, ethnic, and cultural diversity affects companies’ bottom line.

According to the research, companies in the top quartile of gender diversity on their executive teams were 25% more likely to have higher-than-average profits, compared with companies in the bottom quartile. The report’s findings about ethnic and cultural diversity were similar: The most diverse companies were significantly more profitable.

At Cigna, we believe that having a diverse employee base sets us up to effectively serve our diverse customer and client-base. Cigna's DEI strategy is based on four pillars:

  • Leadership Accountability: When hiring senior manager and senior advisor roles and above, we require a slate of diverse candidates. We are committed to elevating the next set of diverse leaders and are working to increase gender equality in our leadership pipeline by increasing the number of women at our director and senior director roles.
  • Inclusive Culture: We want every employee to feel a sense of belonging so they are able to reach their fullest potential. As part of this goal, we require unconscious bias training and have added DEI workshops to our leadership development programs.
  • Organizational Commitment: We monitor people, processes, and programs to ensure equitable outcomes in hiring, promotions, and compensation. We are also strengthening our partnerships with diverse suppliers.
  • Mission Alignment: We showcase the impact of DEI with our colleagues, customers, clients, and communities. Our five-year Building Equity and Equality Program was created to grow and accelerate our efforts to support diversity, inclusion, equality, and equity for communities of color by focusing on improvements to health, well-being, peace of mind, and governance.

According to Susan Stith, Cigna's vice president of diversity, equity, inclusion, civic affairs and the Cigna Foundation, a focus on DEI benefits employers and employees alike. A work environment where everyone is fully seen and heard enables a culture where employees feel a sense of belonging and are more likely to thrive.

“Ensuring employees have the development they need, are engaged, and are rewarded can positively impact their mental health, which in turn can improve their whole-person health.”Susan Stith, vice president of diversity, equity, inclusion, civic affairs and the Cigna Foundation

2. Foster Well-being by Prioritizing Learning and Development for Employees

An array of meaningful educational and development opportunities gives employees tools they need to excel in their roles and supports their career development, said Hollie Ward, vice president of learning and development for Cigna.

“Investing in our employees enables them to broaden their impact while driving engagement,” she said. “In addition to programs that focus on improving job effectiveness, we offer programs that focus on the importance of being grounded – helping people maximize their emotional, physical, and social heath – in order to be effective colleagues and leaders and learn ways to improve their resilience.”

Steven Lambert, Cigna’s learning director, said the company offers a range of programs that support these three core learning experiences:

  • Professional development – the core skills needed in almost every role. All employees can access classes in a variety of media, including videos, written articles and online classes.
  • Career management – tools, tips, guidance and classes that help employees think about their careers and how to move in the direction they desire.
  • Onboarding – for new employees as well as those starting their first role managing others and senior leaders coming into the company. For example, when an individual contributor is promoted to the role of manager, Cigna provides an experience to understand expectations of the role, the common tools they’ll need to use, and essential leadership skills, such as coaching.

In addition, employees complete annual training geared to understanding the many regulations that govern the business. If they wish to pursue a degree from a college or university, the company also offers tuition reimbursement.

Cigna also has a multi-faceted leadership development program, said Samuel Rindell, director of the company’s leadership development and coaching center of excellence. The programs take many forms – but all focus on providing the tools and resources participants need to be successful. For example, individual business units can host programs, including early career development for people who have expressed an interest in becoming leaders. In a similar vein, the Cigna Academy leadership development program serves promising employees who were nominated because of their potential.

Like so much else, Cigna’s learning and development programs have worked to develop new strategies for employees newly offsite due to the pandemic. “The enterprise leadership team recognized the daily challenges that people leaders and their teams are currently facing,” Rindell said. When the company’s 10,000+ people managers needed to learn new ways of working and connecting, Cigna created 55-minute virtual sessions that were hosted by two senior leaders to help people managers navigate through the pandemic.

3. A Flexible and Hybrid Workplace Promotes Employee Health and Well-being  

A recent Gartner survey shows that 83% of all employees want to work in either a remote or hybrid arrangement, and only 17% of employees prefer to go back on-site full time. According to Gartner, the future of work is hybrid and flexible, and employee well-being depends on it.

 “Flexibility means different things to different people,” said Leeanne Probst Engels, managing director of human resources strategy for Cigna. “It is critical that there is an empathetic relationship between leaders and employees, aligning on where they do their best work and then creating solutions around that premise.” She noted that these solutions could change seasonally for some roles or take into account recurring events like team meetings. “Simply said, there are times when we are better together, and offices will become more of a hub for purposeful collaboration and team building.”

Flexibility also includes how and when people work, Probst Engels said. A hybrid work environment requires us to work differently, ensuring inclusivity and the ability for all employees to have a voice at the “virtual” table. “Even people who are designated as work from home may need flexibility to come on site,” she said. “Some people need quiet places, and many people welcome the opportunity for in-office collaboration and purposeful meetings. Our approach is anchored on enabling people to maximize their potential.” 

In a recent interview with the our Newsroom staff, Cindy Ryan, Cigna’s chief human resources officer, described how the company is piloting new office design ideas to create better areas for collaboration along with quiet spots for people who need to work in private. After testing and iterating a few concepts at Cigna’s headquarters in Connecticut, the company potentially will scale the best ideas across other office locations.

Today, just over 60% of Cigna’s employees work from home, up from 43% before the pandemic. 

“Until the pandemic is over, we need to acknowledge that the pendulum is still swinging in terms of what the new normal may be. We want to make sure the choices we’re making today allow us to continue to grow and flex with whatever the future holds.”Cindy Ryan, chief human resources officer, Cigna

4. Make Culture and Employee Experience a Strategic Priority in a Hybrid Workplace

Corporate culture encompasses just about everything that affects the employee experience, yet some companies still view it as an intangible or something too complex to influence, rather than taking steps to build a culture that aligns with their employees’ expectations and values.

According to a recent report cited in the Harvard Business Review, leaders should consider these three ways to create or enhance a strong corporate culture:

  • Enable employees to work in roles they’re passionate about.
  • Ensure employees understand that their contributions are meaningful to the organization.
  • Provide opportunities to establish and strengthen one-on-one connections.

When it comes to employee experience in a hybrid workforce, one thing is for sure: It will look different than what it currently looks like, and it will take some testing, learning and innovation to get it right.

A lot of the well-being strategies companies had in place prior to the pandemic were focused on well-being in an office. At Cigna, for example, we offer flu shots to employees, which they could get in the office. Now, with many companies encouraging their people to work from home at least part of the time if their job permits it, rethinking how we encourage people to continue to be well, is going to be really important.

For example, the team that staffs Cigna’s fitness facilities across the company had to quickly pivot their efforts when COVID-19 forced the closure of those areas in its offices. The staff transformed 15 for YOU, a traditionally on-site program designed to help employees recharge and relax, into virtual sessions for any group, small or large. Programs – which, as the name implies, are 15 minutes long – center around relaxation, stretching, mindfulness, nutrition, ergonomics while working, or conversation.

5. Utilize Benefits and Incentives to Promote Health and Well-Being

Across the United States, a third of all employees – and half of millennials – say they consider health insurance benefits to be more important since the start of the pandemic.

Benefits help provide employees with peace of mind, said Jill Vaslow, vice president, talent strategy and employee well-being for Cigna. “There’s a rich set of resources to help them guide, shape, and build their personal safety net in whatever direction they need to be their best selves, both at work and in life. We try to ensure the company’s thinking about whole-person health is reflected in the offerings to employees.”

A modest financial reward can put employees on the path to better health, she said.

“Incentives are a really great nudge,” she said, when someone is on the fence about seeking guidance and support. “They find a support channel they didn’t know would be valuable.”

For example, numerous Cigna employees who initially talked with a health coach with the goal of earning a $100 incentive were surprised to discover previously unidentified health issues, Vaslow said. They continue to speak regularly with their health coaches – and are living healthier lives as a result.

2022: The Year of the Employee

Employers sure do have their work cut out for them in 2022. From DEI, to talent development, employee experience, culture, and benefits that support whole-person health, each of the five areas above are complex. Successfully achieving them will require the right people, strategies and funding. However, the results can be significant as well – a happier, healthier, more resilient workforce.

Learn More Ways to Foster a Happy, Healthy Workforce

Browse through our thought leadership content and resources on what it is going to take to attract and retain top talent in the future of work.

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