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he COVID-19 pandemic drastically altered the way we operate in society, exposed glaring weaknesses within the healthcare infrastructure, and revealed the lack of preparedness across organizations. The irrefutable interrelation between work and life became acutely clear as households quickly became domains for office work, childcare, and virtual learning. This sudden societal change, buoyed with a prolonged pandemic, launched mental health, health equity, and overall well-being into the forefront of business discussions. As the world forges ahead to a new normal, organizations need to provide a holistic approach to well-being with an emphasis on restructuring caregiving policies, providing flexible work schedules, and delivering consistent, affordable, and sustainable avenues for supporting mental health.

One of the paramount concerns is the startling number of laborers, especially working mothers, who face the unmanageable choice of caring for a child or continuing to work. This issue has soared over the last year, with nearly 2.5 million women having left the labor force since February 2020. Prior to the pandemic, women accounted for more than 50% of the workforce. The ongoing pandemic expunged years of progress, highlighting the inequities within our caregiving system. It is imperative for organizations to provide comprehensive caregiving support to employees, particularly women, if the economy hopes to recover and flourish in a post-pandemic society.

Employers should invest in childcare subsidies as they would in employee benefits. The cost of recruiting and hiring new employees weighed against subsidizing childcare expenses to retain working parents proves its value. Last August, consulting firm Accenture paved the way by introducing a new school-day supervision for children ages six through twelve through a partnership with Bright Horizons. The organization covered 75% of the cost for its employees’ children to follow remote learning curriculums in supervised locations. Employees opting into this employer benefits program were only responsible for a minimal out-of-pocket cost of $5 an hour; a financial expense that pales in comparison to the burden of juggling both parental and professional responsibilities at one time.

Flexible work schedules will play an integral part in prioritizing human well-being and providing caregiving support for employees. According to a survey conducted by global nonprofit organization Catalyst, women with childcare responsibilities are 32% less likely to report intentions of leaving their job if they have access to remote work. Additionally, employees are 30% less likely to look for another job in the next year. The future workplace for many organizations will most likely be anywhere and at any time, with the traditional office location acting as an optional center for social interaction, collaboration, and innovation. This increased autonomy to employees will allow them to fit work around the rest of their lives, enhancing their job satisfaction and improving productivity.

As the hybrid workplace model continues to emerge as the preferred post-pandemic standard amongst employees, employers will also reap the benefits of this new industry structure, allowing businesses to focus on acquiring the essential skills needed to drive economic growth rather than filling key roles. The hybrid model provides an organization to expand its talent pool beyond local expertise, opening the possibility to obtain skilled professionals on a national or global scale.

A November report from McKinsey & Company revealed 62% of global employees considered mental health issues a top challenge during the pandemic. Even as the pandemic begins to wane in 2021, accessibility and affordability to mental health care remain daunting challenges as many therapists are overbooked and do not accept insurance coverage. Look for the new normal to transition to non-traditional forms of mental health treatment. Companies such as CVS are leading the way in trying to fill the gaps in access to mental health by piloting a counseling service in some of its retail stores.

The retail corporation is doing its part to reduce the cost of mental health care by negotiating with insurance companies to cover visits. Walmart Health offers a similar retail service model that provides counseling as well as diagnostic and primary care. Availability to affordable mental health professionals is not only limited to retail corporations. Online counseling services such as Talkspace and BetterHelp are poised to thrive in the post-pandemic world by offering affordable virtual therapy sessions at a significantly lower cost than traditional in-person treatment. Talkspace is even covered by major insurers, including Cigna, Humana, and Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield. Businesses should lean on these accessible and affordable avenues to mental health stability when evaluating their comprehensive employee benefits package in a post-pandemic world.

The future of well-being does not only depend on companies, but on state and federal policies as well. The American Rescue Plan Act is a noteworthy start, but industry, state, and federal leaders need to pave the way for systemic change and activism in healthcare; an industry that should be predicated on providing empathic, emotional connections with consumers coupled with an emphasis on patient outcomes rather than profits. The foundation for a prosperous future in a post-pandemic economy begins with a holistic focus on the quality of well-being amongst the workforce masses. Only then will society be able to build resiliency and strive toward transformational change.

Read the full article on Diplomatic Courier.