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Risk in Context

India: Insights for Returning to a New Normal

September 17, 2020

When considering the current pandemic situation and its impact, India presents a complex picture. Each of the 28 states and 8 union territories is governed by local mandates and policies in addition to the central guidelines from the Ministry of Health. 

Prawal Kalita, Mercer Marsh Benefits Leader, India shares the three areas that emerged consistently throughout client interactions.

Return to Work

Employee safety and wellbeing emerged as the top priority for all businesses. India’s economy contracted by a record 23.9% in the first quarter of FY21. The deep financial impact of the pandemic has made organizations take stringent measures to protect the bottom line while they continue to invest in their people.

As of now, we see more employees in the core sector returning to work versus the service sector, however, many clients have reflected that there are still challenges in operating at full capacity in the new normal. A common reason cited: employees’ safety concerns. Companies have the responsibility to both create a safe workplace and manage business operations.

There are two aspects to the ‘Return to Work’ (RTW) program. The first is for companies to ensure there are sufficient protective protocols, resources and equipment to maintain a safe workplace. Secondly, monitor employees’ health through online self-assessments and an adherence to government guidelines. Communication is the key!

Alternate Work Arrangements

The shift to the “new normal” has made businesses adaptable, innovative and consider alternate work arrangements.

This change in mindset is in parallel with the wider, more global rethinking of the office space. For the most part, Indian businesses have the resources to make remote working effective for employees through measures such as:

  • Implementing flexible working conditions 
  • Providing infrastructure support
  • Enabling access to home care services and child care support
  • Conducting remote wellbeing (physical and mental) programs
  • Encouraging learning and development
  • Regular employee engagement through digital communication (includes team calls, one-on-one catch-ups, CEO connect, etc.)

We have referred to Covid-19 and returning to work, but in reality, in the long-term, there may not be as many employees returning to work as there were previously. This will require such alternate work arrangements to form an integral part of employee health and benefits strategy.

Employee Safety and Wellbeing

The pandemic has made profound financial disruptions that impacted business budgets in the short and long term. This has created a great deal of uncertainty both amongst employees and employers.

As per MMB’s post-pandemic pulse survey, 81% (pre-pandemic: 17%) of the employers are considering digital healthcare solutions as a key offering under their health and well-being programs.  Mental wellbeing/EAP has also seen a significant shift with 92% (pre-pandemic: 66%) employers offering this benefit.

This reflects an understanding that a business’ most valuable asset is its people, and to continue supporting employees, businesses are introducing:

  • COVID19 specific coverages including home quarantine solutions and dedicated tele-helpline.
  • Telemedicine and digital healthcare solutions including consultations, counseling and access to discounted drugs.
  • Building mental health covers within OPD plans and hospitalization cover.
  • Designing and implementing bespoke communication addressing employees’ needs.

Ultimately, organizations are fighting for the health and resilience of its people and the health and resilience of its business. It is a balancing act that’s too often viewed as an "either or”. However, we at MMB India see it differently. When both sides of the equation are in sync, you create a virtuous circle whereby one reinforces the other — and your people and business emerge stronger from every challenge.

Prawal  Kalita

Mercer Marsh Benefits Leader, India.