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Mercer Marsh Benefits

Are your health and well-being approaches inclusive?

COVID-19 has demonstrated the need for better equity as minority groups have been disproportionately affected by the virus. We are urging employers to step up and create inclusive benefits as part of their diversity, equity and inclusion strategy.
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Although diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has largely become non-negotiable, inclusive benefits that address the needs of a diverse workforce are really in their infancy. How can people thrive on and off the job if their work environment is not inclusive? With benefits a key component of the employee experience, the way health, risk protection and well-being benefits are designed and delivered can play a key part in enabling the desired workplace culture and employer brand. We urge employers to incorporate inclusive benefits as part of their DEI strategy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for more equity. A study published in The Lancet found that across the United Kingdom and United States, Black individuals were twice as likely to become infected with COVID-19 compared their white counterparts, while Asian and Hispanic individuals were one and a half times more likely to become infected compared to white people.1 In Toronto, while 52% of the population identifies as nonwhite, as of September 2020, 82% of COVID-19 cases and 71% of hospitalizations were among nonwhite individuals.


 of COVID-19 cases were nonwhite individuals.


of hospitalizations were nonwhite individuals.

Many traditional benefit plans assume a linear life pattern, where an “average” employee gets married, buys a home, raises a family, and retires. Health and well-being benefits often fail to take account of racial, ethnic, sexual orientation, gender identity, income, or country of origin, among other dimensions (see Figure below). Health, risk protection and well-being benefits offered to employees — including provisions for areas like mental health, paid time off, and caregiving — are far behind the reality of a diverse workforce. Firms should adapt their benefit plans and introduce benefits that are designed to support all employees, including people of color, women, LGBTQ+ individuals, veterans, immigrants (including refugees and migrant workers), and people with disabilities.

Although 81% of employers are focused on improving diversity, equity and inclusion, only 38% of businesses actually have a multi-year strategy in place to achieve this1 . For employers wanting to lead the way on inclusive benefits, Mercer Marsh Benefits suggests starting with a four-step process:

1. Assess gaps in current benefits

Employers can start by assessing gaps in current benefits and identifying priority segments, themes and geographies. It is important to start understanding the baseline situation in each country, as well as the regulatory framework and socio-cultural constraints. The combination of market practice employer-sponsored benefit plans and government healthcare provisions may not meet employee needs (see women, LGBTQ+ and other examples). As part of this assessment, employers should check that the existing coverage in their medical, leave and retirement plans is still fit for purpose, and also investigate government programs in the relevant locations. This exercise can ensure accessibility and quality, while optimally allocating costs and resources where they are needed most.

2. Define and uphold minimum standards

Often the process of acknowledging program shortfalls from different lenses results in debate and dialogue about how best to modernize benefit philosophy. This compels the business to define critical areas of focus, which are typically aligned to broader people objectives, workforce strategy and emerging best practices. Employers should set a clear internal bar across the company aligned to the DEI strategy that considers employee needs, legal risk tolerance, cost and operational resources. This must also consider clinical best practices and creative benefitdelivery models. The desired end goal can be articulated as a set of guiding principles and minimum standards that can be consistently applied and adapted to different geographies, business units and employee groups.

3. Design a universal strategy

Employers can then develop a plan for deploying their minimum standards consistently across their organization. This would involve creating a roadmap over a period of three to five years, with strong buy-in from senior leadership and engagement of other stakeholders including works councils, unions, providers and various internal functions.

4. Challenge the status quo

To avoid waiting too long to close prioritized gaps, employers will need to encourage internal decision-makers as well as external advisors, vendors and insurers to be creative in filling gaps as traditional insurance approaches are insufficient. For example, this may mean self-insuring different expenses through an administrative service or captive financing arrangement.

Discover the four-step process to lead the way on inclusive benefits.

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