In the second of two articles David Eline spoke to Damian Lenihan, Executive Director – Operations and Distribution Europe at Aetna International, on how employers will need to ensure staff well-being in the new normal and the lessons learned around the provision of IPMI for globally mobile staff.

Damian predicates his views on the likelihood that in the future the new normal will be fundamentally different from the working environment prior to COVID-19.

He believes with a potential easing of the global lockdowns in some areas, the world’s firms are now asking themselves what do you – or don’t you – need to do in the office in the future?

You also need to ask your staff what they are looking for in terms of their future working arrangements, he says, adding the challenge will then be to bridge the gap between what they want and what you as an employer want, along with how best to support customers.

Firms will need to understand how they can support their teams as they undertake the transition from a fully remote operation.

“We do face challenges because no-one has done this before, so we have little prior experience on which to base what we do on, both now and in the future,” explains Damian.

Employers will need not only to look after their existing staff but also examine the skills they need to operate in the new normal. Firms must find new ways of delivering well-being and support to ensure their staff are not only productive but also protected.

It may have been that in the past staff have had access to one-to-one support around mental health. In future this will need to be provided remotely and there will need to be a focus on team meetings to ensure effective communication if the staff are not to be in the office at the same time during the working week.

“If you have staff working remotely, virtual meetings need to persuade people to switch their cameras on so you can see them in order to better be able to judge how they are and how they are feeling,” adds Damian. “If you are redefining the office space you will need to look to design collaboration space that can be used for staff to meet every week or fortnight to ensure they are communicating and have the ability to share ideas and concerns about their well-being. The office is unlikely to be the place you do emails or Webex but the place where you collaborate face to face.”

He adds for expatriate staff and their families, the issue can be more acute.

“In terms of our IPMI members we have always looked to be forward thinking and offer a wide range of support, not just products. If the staff member had arrived at their new overseas post shortly before the pandemic struck, they would not have built a support network before they had been forced into lockdown and with that comes a significant degree of isolation.”

The pandemic has taught us that access to apps can deliver not only remote support but also connect people with each other in virtual gym classes for example, deliver significant benefits.

“It does differ globally, but we have seen a 3-4 fold increase in the utilisation of our virtual health service,” Damian adds. “Whilst some utilisation has been COVID-19 related this only amounted to around 10% with the rest being other health issues. It does evidence the demand we have been picking up from what would usually have been in-person visits. It certainly feels like the adoption of virtual services has accelerated”

“COVID-19 has redefined the way in which our virtual GP services have been utilised by our members.”

He says Aetna saw a reduction in the level of treatment in the early stage of the crisis, but overall it has not seen a great reduction in the level of claims from members. Where the underwriter has had claims, they have tended to be more expensive.

“Repatriations which pre-COVID-19 could have been carried out by road, are now having to be carried out by air ambulance, so what might have been a $5,000 claim can be anything up to $50,000,” explains Damian. “At present we do not know when the delayed reporting of claims to broker partners and ourselves will be complete, but we are hopeful that by the end of this year we will have a very good idea of where we are in terms of the claims that have arisen.”

The firm is aware of the rising interest from brokers and IFAs in IPMI as a business area that still maintains significant potential for growth.

“It is a complicated market so there is a need for clients to be made fully aware of the options they have when it comes to IPMI, and what we can provide,” concludes Damian.