World Health Day

Climate change and workforce sustainability

Companies are increasingly focusing on ESG (environmental, social and governance) issues as they recognize the impact that it is having on their workforce and their business.

Co-workers in office happily discussing the details of a project

It’s time for employers to put the “S” in ESG — here’s how.

Global concerns about climate and equity are top of mind for investors and employers. And for many, this includes readdressing the social contract with one of their most important stakeholder groups — employees.  The intent to tackle inequity in health and wellbeing is central to these goals

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the need to protect and promote the health and wellbeing of our workforce.  The impact of the pandemic is not experienced evenly either from a health or economic point of view. There is ample evidence that racial and gender differences were factors in how people fared in their experience and outcomes as well as wage, age, and disability status.

A UN report found that 53% of women suffered reduced work hours as a result of the pandemic compared to 31% of men.[1] In the UK, women were about one-third more likely to be working in a sector that shut down. Even when they could continue working, mothers were one-and-a-half times more likely to stop work than fathers.

Our recent Health on Demand research found that 24% of employees aren’t confident they can afford the healthcare they or their families need. Individuals with below-median household incomes are less likely to have medical coverage, short-term disability protection, and access to mental health counseling through their employer.

Access to benefits through employers for high wage earners vs low wage earners

MMB Health on Demand 2021.
Q1. Which of the following benefits do you currently have access to? Equal Country Weight; base n = 14096. Access to benefits through an employer.

The impact of climate change on workforce health

So how can the learnings from the pandemic prepare employers for the future crisis? Climate change is threatening to worsen health conditions across the globe. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that climate change is already responsible for at least 150,000 deaths per year, and this number is expected to double by 2030.[2] Though we all need to prepare for the impacts- like COVID-19 will not be even. Vulnerable populations are very similar to the ones most impacted by COVID-19 and thus employers have a real opportunity to prepare and correct the inherent inequities in order to prepare for this challenge.

More frequent and severe climate-driven storms, floods, wildfires, and temperature swings also lead to increased prevalence of infectious and chronic disease.  The WHO analysed 15 European cities and estimates in the next 10 years, for every 1◦C rise in temperature above the city threshold level, there will be a 2% increase in mortality in northern cities and a 3% increase in mortality in southern cities.

Heat waves and poor air quality often go hand-in-hand, which leads to an increase in respiratory conditions.  For instance, Black and African American individuals are 40% more likely to currently live in areas with the highest projected increases in extreme-temperature-related deaths and 34% more likely to currently live in areas with the highest projected increases in childhood asthma diagnoses.

Why should employers care?

For employers, this is not just about doing the right thing.  These issues are increasingly central to a company’s reputation and financial performance.  Equally, companies continue to be scrutinized by an array of stakeholders including investors, ratings agencies and clients. 

As these trends progress, ESG performance will play an increasing role in attracting and retaining talent.  By 2029, the Millennial and Gen Z generations will make up 72% of the world’s workforce; compared to their predecessors, they will expect more focus from their employers on well-being and creating a safe, healthy and supportive workplace.  Our research consistently shows that the more benefits an employee has access to, the less likely they are to move to a competitor. Happy workers also report being more motivated and engaged.

We know from our Health on Demand research that employers are a key catalyst for change and a trusted source for information.  Our survey found that 46% of employees trust their employer to deliver high-quality, convenient, affordable and secure personal health solutions. In fact, after healthcare professionals, employers were the most trusted source of health solutions, ranking above private medical insurers, online retailers and technology providers.

How can employers help

Businesses can do a lot to improve access to health benefits and equity in the workplace, starting with offering new types of programs to support diverse and vulnerable populations. Companies need to understand their workforce’s needs and meet their employees where they are by offering new types of programs that support diverse populations. Forward-looking benefits plans are evolving to recognize that healthcare is no longer confined to inpatient and outpatient settings, but can now be delivered virtually anywhere via self-management tools and devices. Digital healthcare solutions have the potential to serve as a vital connection point between individuals and providers in closing gaps in accessing care.

Five steps for employers to take

  • Listen to your employees: Understand their needs and how they can be met.
  • Use data and analysis: To understand what is driving claims and who has access to benefits.
  • Flip the pyramid: Make sure every employee has access to healthcare, not just the most senior staff.
  • Broaden appeal and be flexible: Make sure you are considering mental health, childcare, families, women’s issues, diversity initiatives and equity concerns.
  • Go digital: Extend care where in-person care has limited or only partial access.

For more information, contact your MMB client executive or local office.


[1] US Global Leadership Coalition. COVID-19 BRIEF: Impact on Women and Girls – USGLC

[2] UN Chronicle. The Health Effects Of Global Warming: Developing Countries Are The Most Vulnerable | United Nations


Meet the author

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Dr. Lorna Friedman

Senior Partner, Health Transformation and Sustainability, Mercer

  • United States

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Many Wu

Principal, Global Health & Well-being, Mercer

  • United States

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