A CEO's Take on the Future of Work
Jerome Droesch's idea for the future of work is clear-cut; people. The CEO of Domestic Health and Health Services at Cigna International Markets, Jerome, believes that the pandemic has outlined a new course for the way we work, and employees are dictating much of these terms. Organisations and CEOs need to acknowledge these needs to win the race of attracting and retaining talent. That means greater pressure for more efficient tools and flexible policies on where and how people work. Jerome further advocated the critical need to focus on employees' well-being which will play a profound role in an organisation's potential to win in the future of work.
Excerpts from a Q&A with Jerome Droesch, CEO- Domestic Health and Health Services at Cigna International Markets:
How do you think the future of work should evolve?
Organisations across the world are in a race to attract and retain talent. The modern workplace needs employees who are creative, motivated, and engaged. Our 360 Wellbeing study has also shown that employees want flexible working models with 41% choosing to work from home in some capacity. This means that firms need to place more importance on instilling a culture of wellbeing, offering flexibility, and rewarding outcomes rather than hours worked. To achieve this, employers must leverage new technologies to provide employees with appropriate support and access to healthcare services. As people become more aware of their health needs and approach wellbeing in a holistic manner, they demand comprehensive and accessible plans that factor in services such as mental health counselling, pandemic, maternity, dental and other coverage. Employers should be able to prioritize and cater to these needs. At Cigna, we have observed a surge in the demand for affordable, quality holistic healthcare in the region amidst a surge in remote working and diverse work environments, which lead to a stronger focus on the physical, behavioural, emotional, financial, and social dimensions of employee’s health.
What’s the biggest change Cigna is making to its business this year in line with your vision of the future of work?
Overall, the conversations surrounding the transformation of the healthcare sector, with a specific focus on greater accessibility and enhanced technology uptake continue unabated. At Cigna, we have observed a rise in the demand for affordable, quality holistic healthcare in the region. People are now more aware of their healthcare needs, and they are seeking enhanced health coverage from employers. On the other hand, employers have felt the pressure to find comprehensive quality plans at an affordable cost. To alleviate the pressure on employers and increase access to care, we launched our innovative product - SmartCare by Cigna - to make health insurance more accessible to a wider population. SmartCare offers members greater choice through a unique open-access network. Additionally, it also offers easy access to services such as employee assistance programs, telehealth services, and chronic case management. This enabled us to offer our solutions to a larger audience segment. However, our determination to innovate and make healthcare accessible does not stop here. In January 2022, Cigna Insurance Middle East received the honour of being granted a Participating Insurer (PI) license by the Dubai Health Insurance Corporation (DHIC), allowing us to offer the Dubai Essential Benefits plan to Lower Salary Band individuals earning 4,000 Dirhams or less. As champions of affordable, predictable, and simple healthcare, we strive to innovate and build on our robust range of products. We are thrilled by the prospects of making quality healthcare more accessible to individuals in Dubai.
What technology do you think will disrupt your industry in the future?
Based on emerging technologies, digital transformation — enabled by interoperable data, artificial intelligence, robotics, and open, secure platforms — will drive the change in the way healthcare systems work. Today, people are increasingly leveraging technology through telehealth services. In fact, there has been an 89% increase in virtual consultations for therapy and counselling since the start of the COVID pandemic. Interestingly, 66% of people surveyed as part of the Cigna 360 Well-being Survey said they would consider or prefer to access therapy and counselling services virtually, increasing to 71% for 25-34-year-olds. Across the region, almost 73% of respondents in KSA reported using virtual health before or during the pandemic, while 60% of UAE respondents reported using it for virtual consultations. We believe that virtual health is here to stay and will form a key component of the enhanced patient experience strategy post-pandemic for healthcare systems around the world.
What role will technology play in Cigna's business moving ahead — and has that changed since the pandemic?
Digital transformation has always been part of Cigna’s journey in line with the company’s core priority of providing flexible healthcare solutions tailored to clients’ needs. Our customers and employees are our North Star, and our teams proactively develop innovative and integrated healthcare experiences that match their requirements. We have ramped up our digital efforts to support customers, employees, and the public through our virtual services. In addition, we are enhancing our operational efficiencies across the region, especially through digital disruption, including revamping our interface and ensuring that all our members across the Middle East now enjoy cardless access to care. We will continue to enhance operational efficiencies through deploying tools that will transform our digital ecosystem and offer our partners, brokers, and customers more insights, flexibility, and data
Could there come a day when customers go to Cigna and never interact with a human but rather solely machines or robots?
Technology is evolving fast, and we see robotic interactions with customers across sectors. As per our survey in the past, nearly 70% of people would be happy to use a ‘robotic doctor’ if the cost is much lower than a human doctor and almost 68% of respondents said they would be happy to have a surgical operation performed with a robot-assisted doctor. Globally, it is predicted that there will be a manifold increase in the use of robots to deliver medications, supplies, and food throughout hospitals. And over 40% of healthcare organizations worldwide will use IoT-enabled biosensors to passively measure patients’ vital signs and other biometrics. However, we understand the value human interactions add to a customer experience journey and believe it is necessary to enhance customer experience. At Cigna, we believe that personal human interaction sets us ahead of our competitors and will continue to be an integral part of our proposition.
How do you define “hybrid” work, and what’s your take on that approach?
While some employees are now returning to the workplace, many more are expected to continue to spend a greater proportion of their time working remotely through ‘hybrid’ models that split time between the workplace and remote working. This model extends employers’ responsibility for their employees beyond the work premises. In the initial stages of the pandemic, employers responded by allowing more flexibility in both location and working hours, upgrading technology to ensure better connectivity, and allowing meetings to take place virtually. The focus should now shift from flexible working arrangements to longer-term solutions. Hybrid working may benefit mental well-being. Greater flexibility can provide improved control over how employees allocate time, and home working can allow increased time for personal priorities while maintaining productivity deadlines. One study found employees given the daily option of work location during the pandemic chose the office when looking to reduce family pressures and home to reduce work-associated stress. Furthermore, organisations’ operational costs could benefit through reduced office space, and opportunities to acquire a more global workforce could be realised. The evidence suggests three key approaches organizations and managers can take to support remote working employees: Use supportive management practices such as motivational language, trust-building exercises, and information sharing rather than close monitoring. Be aware of personal challenges, as research indicates that working remotely is more difficult for some. Ensuring a safe space for honest consideration from both parties is key. Recognize that informal communication can increase job satisfaction and help to reduce loneliness, and build opportunities for this during the working week. Leadership needs to take action now!
What leadership skills are needed to succeed in a hybrid work environment?
As companies try to navigate a safe transition to the hybrid working model, employees struggle with an increased workload, blended hours, managing childcare, and the overall changes in the working model over the last couple of years. From a leadership perspective, the ability to demonstrate empathy, trust, and flexibility in the workplace has become more important now than ever. The ability to trust your employees to get work done while offering them flexibility and showing empathy is critical to success in a hybrid workplace.
In this new era of work, what do you think are some of the biggest hurdles for workers and employers?
The move to remote working was a rapid response to a global emergency. In the longer term, as we contemplate sustained home working and hybrid working models, it is essential to consider the impact on employees’ emotional well-being.
Mitigating the risks associated with hybrid working:
Preventing musculoskeletal issues: Homeworking at ergonomically inadequate workstations could increase the risk of the development – or worsening – of musculoskeletal (MSK) issues; a problematic scenario given recognized links between living with an MSK condition and poor mental health, and lower job satisfaction. For employers, a renewed focus on an ergonomic home setup is important. A balanced diet and regular activity can also prevent MSK issues, emphasizing the validity of a comprehensive risk-reduction strategy.
Maintaining work-life boundaries: Hybrid working may blur the boundaries between work and home, promoting an “always on” mindset that subsequently increases anxiety and stress. Empowering employees to fully disconnect outside office hours may help support mental health and prevent burnout.
Supporting mental well-being: Research conducted after the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak found nearly one in 10 participants reported more pessimistic perceptions of life. Therefore, repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic could have implications for mental wellness for some time to come. Actions to counteract this could include continued vital support for employees experiencing poor mental health and dialogue regarding associated anxieties.
Any advice for other CEOs on how to plan for the future of work?
Companies operating in the post-pandemic market are looking for new ways to accelerate growth, but to achieve this they need an empowered, motivated, and talented team. To attract and retain staff, employers need to look at what they can offer employees. They also need to engage with staff, show flexibility, and, most importantly, support and manage distributed teams that are not working in the office. To effectively implement a hybrid working model, it will be necessary for firms to adjust recruitment strategies to identify staff that have the resilience and flexibility to work remotely and will also need to change the skillset of their managers. Managers will need to improve people’s skills, develop engagement, and ensure that the staff feels recognized and worthy. This will involve one-on-one communication and personalized management rather than just using software to establish when an employee has logged in. We need to work as a community to raise awareness and drive positive change where mental health is concerned. We all must unite to tackle the ‘Always-on’ culture, a persistent issue we have seen across all our studies over the last few years. Many people have been overworked, and more care needs to be taken to look after staff. CEOs and others in leadership positions can open a door by modelling vulnerability. Sharing their stories or even a simple admission that “I had a hard day” can go a long way toward normalizing the conversation, showing employees that no one is alone in struggling with these feelings. Employees tend to model the behaviours of their leaders, and there is nothing more powerful than an authentic story from a CEO or senior executive. Simply giving your workforce encouragement daily, checking in regularly, allowing flexible working hours, and providing employer benefit packages in line with employee expectations, give people a good reason to remain at their business.