The “Great Resignation” has been covered, discussed, and analyzed ad infinitum. It is hardly a fresh topic, admittedly, but it’s going to remain a topical one for the foreseeable future.

According to Quest Diagnostics’ 2022 Health at Work study, more than 3 in 4 (78%) HR leaders say their organizations have been impacted by this shifting dynamic in the job market. It also revealed that a full two-thirds (66%) of employees say they are thinking about changing jobs within the next year, have begun actively looking, or have completed a job change.

Organizations are going above and beyond to attract and retain talent. They are offering signing bonuses, additional vacation days, and other perks. However, job seekers are in the driver’s seat and they are clearly seeking a better experience. HR knows and HR is responding.

Ninety percent of those leaders believe that for their organizations to attract the workers they need over the next year they must increase wages and offer genuinely meaningful benefits packages. It’s true that money is the top reason half of employees (50%) give for considering a job change, but better benefits in general (38%), better healthcare benefits specifically (36%), and better work/life balance (36%) round out the top four reasons given by employees for considering a new position in another organization.

So, employee benefits, especially in the areas of health and wellness, are critical. Knowing those are top of mind for would-be job-changers can help recruit new employees and, perhaps even more importantly, retain current ones. Here are three key areas to consider:

Neglected Physical Health

Employees know they have neglected their own health during the pandemic. Seventy-seven percent of them say that preventive care was difficult during that period, and 63% put off routine medical appointments and/or screenings over the last 2 years. Most adults’ annual screenings should include regular physical exams, body mass index (BMI) calculations, skin checks, cholesterol and blood pressure screenings, eye exams, immunizations, and screenings for sexually transmitted diseases. Beyond these healthcare “basics,” though, 73% of HR executives (HREs) worry about employees with chronic conditions that may have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Chronic conditions can be costly for employers. For example, people with diagnosed diabetes incur average medical expenditures of $16,752 per year, of which about $9,601 is attributed to diabetes, specifically.

Mental Health Risks

HREs are deeply concerned about employees’ mental health, too. Of those surveyed by Quest, 84% expressed that concern—nearly the same (85%) as those who expressed concerns about employees’ physical health. However, while a large majority (88%) of HREs say they care about the overall well-being of their employees, 76% of employees say they believe that of their organizations’ HREs. The reality is most employers offer phone apps, coaching, or group therapy and access to medical professionals who can help, but awareness of such programs remains low. To compete in today’s labor marketplace organizations must empower HREs to create programs that address awareness and adoption. Communication programs must be created that effectively and efficiently engage employees as these new benefits become available.

COVID Remains a Concern

According to the Quest survey, companies are as concerned about COVID as employees. Seventy percent of HREs worry about keeping employees safe from COVID-19. Even as COVID transitions to an endemic, it is a serious threat. HREs are more concerned about the possibility that their workforces are, or will be, sicker than in the past. To address these concerns, companies should establish policies around keeping employees safe and keeping them updated about developments, outbreaks, and precautionary measures.

Enhanced Health Benefits Are a Solution to Being an Employer of Choice

Traditionally, HREs have relied on slowly evolving (and questionable) benefits and wellness programs to help. However, new population health strategies—based on data analytics, and comprehensive biometric, laboratory, behavioral, and other data to identify individuals at risk for chronic diseases—have emerged as a replacement for traditional wellness screening programs.

Quest has implemented employer population health programs for years with great success for its 50,000 employees and other Fortune 500 companies that surmount the limitations of traditional “wellness” programs to improve engagement. Through its own programs, the company has delivered approximately $60 million in estimated savings over the past 5 years in employee-related medical costs. These savings were achieved through improved vendor management to reduce out-of-network utilization and intervention programs (i.e., diabetes prevention programs) to reduce health risks in at-risk members. Quest has been able to reinvest savings in additional programs, including mental health programs as well as minimize health insurance premium growth.

For instance, segments of a workforce whose lab results suggest a heightened risk for diabetes may be directed through special outreach into diabetes prevention programs, which typically employ education modules to instill healthier dietary and exercise choices. Participants can often see results and meet with a healthcare professional virtually, or through text messaging, including outside business hours when it is most convenient for them. These employee population health strategies help employers save on benefits, aid in recruitment and retention, and help employees and their families live healthier, more productive lives.

To be sure, employee benefits are not the only reason job seekers are considering a change. Upward career mobility, interest in other fields and industries they may not have been free to pursue before, and the increased ability to work remotely or in hybrid environments are factors, besides money that go into decision-making.

To work successfully within these new realities, organizations must recognize that improved healthcare benefits are more critical to a workforce with elevated expectations, more say in where they work, and relative freedom to go where they please. When employers actively engage employees in programs that help them understand health risks, overall employee health improves and costs associated with chronic disease management are more likely to decline. When employees are empowered to take charge of their own health, assisted by easily accessible employer-provided programs and initiatives, those employees are much more likely to stay healthy and stay put.

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