Avneet Kaur: How to focus on health equity and improve employee resilience

Over recent years, diversity has increasingly become a topic organisations want, and need, to engage with. Stakeholders, including governments, prospective and current employees are asking to see a more proactive approach by organisations, and the proof of progress.

Indeed, in Aon’s recent Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) in the Workplace report, published August 2021, 83% of EMEA organisations surveyed stated they have created or are planning to create DE&I metrics or goals.

But there is a consequence of systemic lack of diversity and inclusion that needs greater attention: a lack of health equity.

Health equity is the absence of unfair and avoidable differences in health and healthcare, which can often stem from differences in geographical location, social background and standards of living.

The Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic in particular showed which communities suffer from a lack of health equity, with Covid death rates reported to be two to four times higher in most minority ethnic groups compared with the white population, according to The Lancet article, Covid-19 and disparities affecting ethnic minorities, published April 2021.

Those with learning or physical disabilities faced poorer care accessibility and discriminatory treatment for COVID in the EU, according to a recent study. People with pre-existing conditions and poor baseline health also saw greater adverse outcomes from Covid, with over 91% of deaths between March and June 2020 being people with at least one pre-existing condition, according to Office of National Statistics figures.

Why is it important?

Aside from being a responsible thing to do, having a diverse and inclusive workforce ultimately has a positive impact on an organisation.

A Boston Consulting Group study, published in January 2018, found that diverse organisations typically enjoy 2.3 times higher cash flow per employee, while research from Gartner, published in August 2018, found that inclusive teams improve performance by up to 30%.

It’s also a key issue for prospective and current employees, with 80% of women, 80% of black, 75% of Asian, and 80% of Latino survey respondents saying diversity was important for making employment decisions in a Glassdoor survey published in September 2020.

Catering to the needs of each individual, such as striving for health equity, can help build a truly diverse workforce. It can help employees feel secure, valued and more engaged.

In Aon’s recent Rising Resilient report, published in 2020, 79% of employees who felt secure in their job said they see themselves staying with that same employer for the foreseeable future.

How to push for health equity

Striving for health equity means trying to ensure the best access to healthcare for all of the workforce. This could potentially mean giving special attention to those more at risk of adverse outcomes. It is worth noting that often those who need extra support might not be immediately obvious.

For those who have either a learning or physical disability, health equity means ensuring that pre-existing conditions will not exclude them from the company’s health plan. Sometimes this can also be catered for by having an additional pot of funds to pay for extra health coverage where needed.

Ensuring those with a disability can get access to healthcare exactly when they need will not only help manage their health, but also build a supportive and resilient relationship with the organsiation.

Alongside those with disabilities, those with lower-paid incomes can also struggle to access healthcare. These employees can have minimal disposable income, which limits the amount they can spend on their health and wellbeing. This can sometimes lead to delayed care or chronic conditions.

Enabling these employees to get access to health coverage through the company can ensure they get that care they need, when they need it, which can often help prevent or minimise the consequences of delayed care.

Health equity plans also need to consider how people are accessing this care. Digital healthcare has been rising for a number of years, and while it certainly has a role to play, it could very easily become a new barrier to access for those who do not have the means to engage with technology. Teams should consider whether digital solutions are therefore accessible for all their employees, or if there needs to be another method of access as well.

Beyond access, there should also be diversity in an overall wellbeing strategy that seeks to ensure health equity. Health is multi-dimensional, and while structured healthcare is important, so are wellbeing initiatives that encourage the management of mental health, disease prevention and those that avoid burnout.

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A truly diverse and inclusive healthcare strategy will encourage a culture of looking after oneself, and through striving for health equity, will make it possible across all employees within the company, in all circumstances.

Dr Avneet Kaur is principal consultant, Health Solutions EMEA at Aon