Donna Carbell
Head of Group Benefits, Manulife Canada

Since coronavirus reached Canada, protecting our health has taken on a whole new urgency. As employers and leaders, we have a tremendous responsibility to help protect the health of employees, customers, and anyone else who passes through your organization’s doors.

I’ve been part of those discussions both within Manulife and with a whole range of businesses. So, I appreciate the enormity of this ongoing and ever evolving challenge. I can’t think of another time in my career when the health and well-being of our employees has held the attention of senior leaders to such a degree. And I have to say, I love that!

More than ever, a need for prevention

With health protection on everyone’s minds, I think there’s an opportunity to ask ourselves, can we take the current health protection mindset and weave it even deeper into the fabric of our workplaces?

I can’t think of another time in my career when the health and well-being of our employees has held the attention of senior leaders to such a degree.

Everyone agrees, it’s far better to have a healthy employee at work than it is to have a sick employee at home. And yet, the Conference Board of Canada finds 15% – 20% of payroll today goes to pay employees who are absent from work1. At up to $1 out of every $5 spent on payroll, it seems to me there’s a lot more we can, and should, be doing to reduce preventable absenteeism, improve employee engagement and maintain productivity by having a healthier workplace.

A new role for your group benefits plan

In an earlier post , I shared details about how we, at Manulife, are becoming more proactive in our effort to support benefit plan members with evidence-based guidance and programs to help protect their health. We’re viewing every claim as an opportunity to connect with people at precisely the right time in their health journeys – when they’re interacting with the healthcare system. And we now have the technology to deliver straight-forward guidance that they feel inspired to act on.

Interestingly, the pandemic has given us an opportunity to see this concept in action. These days, just about every public space has a sign on its door reminding us to wear a mask, use hand sanitizer, and keep a safe social distance. We see the sign at just the right time (when we’re entering the store), we understand the benefits of following the guidelines (avoid the spread of the virus), so we make the measures part of our daily routines (new habits). Over time, the new habits become second nature. In the grand scheme of things, these are pretty easy steps to take. So, what other change in habits could lead to equally significant outcomes?

To find out, we’re using analytics to identify patterns and opportunities. For example, an individual might be dealing with a mental health concern. When we look at the person holistically, we see there’s another health issue contributing to poor overall health outcomes, such as diabetes. By being proactive and offering additional support to help the individual manage the underlying health issue (perhaps through diet, exercise, medication or other steps), we can be more successful at helping them manage their mental health.

Instead of seeing individuals continue down a path that might lead to illness, absence, and disability, we’ll help create awareness of potential health risks in advance.

Insights that are personal, individualized, and unique

With over 60 million claim interactions with plan members each year, we have a privilege and a responsibility to look for these potential moments of risk in a person’s total health journey. Then, through our mobile app and website, we can seamlessly direct that individual to existing programs in their plan – health coaching, personalized medicine, cognitive behavioral therapy, Manulife Vitality Group Benefits and so on.

By delivering the right information, at the right time, in a way that is highly personalized and makes sense to that individual, I believe we can be a positive influence. Instead of seeing individuals continue down a path that might lead to illness, absence, and disability, we’ll help create awareness of potential health risks in advance.

Early success – fewer and shorter absences

Our work to date supports the approach. Working with one, large employer, we tested this kind of early intervention model. Over a two-year period, the group saw a 10% decrease in absences overall, and a 19% decrease in time away from work due to mental health issues. When absences happened, they were of shorter duration, with fewer relapses2. I think this is a strong step in the right direction and we’re working to make the model available more broadly.

Health by design

It remains to be seen, but I think there’s an excellent chance the new behaviours driven by coronavirus (masks, hand washing, social distancing etc.) will also reduce the number of colds, flus, cases of strep throat and similar ailments this fall and winter. What other timely, personalized guidance can we provide that might have equally positive results? I’m excited to find out, and confident this is where group benefits plans need to go, because the health of Canadians is too important to leave to chance.

Health by Design: William’s story

Pandemic workplace health and safety resources: check out the Return to Work Guide.

1 2017, The Conference Board of Canada: A Roadmap to Health System Sustainability

2 Manulife, 2018

The Vitality Group Inc., in association with The Manufacturers Life Insurance Company, provides the Manulife Vitality program. Vitality is a trademark of Vitality Group International, Inc., and is used by The Manufacturers Life Insurance Company and its affiliates under license. Manulife, Manulife & Stylized M Design, and Stylized M Design are trademarks of The Manufacturers Life Insurance Company, and are used by it, The Vitality Group and its affiliates under license. PO Box 2580, STN B Montreal QC, H3B 5C6