COVID-19 lessons from Humana's work to improve employee well-being

Humana building
Humana released its annual look at employee well-being on Wednesday. (Humana)

Humana has put a focus on its employee well-being initiatives for years—and that work is offering lessons for responding to COVID-19, executives said.

Tim State, senior vice president of associate health and well-being at Humana, told FierceHealthcare that the unique challenges posed by the pandemic underscore the need for taking a holistic approach to wellness and including physical and mental health, a sense of belonging, purpose and security.

“Everything we’re going through as a nation and the world it really impacts all four dimensions of the way we at Humana think about well-being,” State said.

The insurer released a report on employee well-being in 2019 on Wednesday, which found that nearly half (44.6%) of its teams reported improvements in wellness over the year prior. Humana has set a goal of seeing 90% of teams report better well-being by 2022. 

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Large numbers of Humana workers report feeling empowered at work and say they have strong communication with leadership. About 56% said they believe decisions are made without “unnecessary levels of approval,” while 75% said they have the “freedom” needed to serve members.

About 75% also said they can be “open and honest” with leaders at the company, according to the report. In addition, about 89% are inspired by the company’s “Bold Goal” of ensuring its members have greater numbers of “healthy days,” or days where they report high quality of life.

Kathy Driscoll, R.N., vice president and chief nursing officer, told FierceHealthcare those metrics have never been higher among the insurer’s clinical workforce than they are right now. The company’s front-line healthcare workers feel purposeful in their work to address the pandemic, she said.

“We’ve really seen the sense of purpose and the sense of working for an organization that you feel very connected to and proud of … increase consistently over last several years with the clinical population,” Driscoll said.

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However, there’s still work to be done, and the pandemic is highlighting some of those challenges further, State said. Financial security will be a major hurdle moving forward, for example, he said.

Humana has focused heavily on mental and emotional well-being, and adapting that approach to the uncertainties of the pandemic will pose another significant challenge, State said.

“For the weeks and months to come as we think about states reopening and a gradual, thoughtful, safe reentry into the workplace, how do you bring psychological safety and security into that experience?” he said.

Driscoll said that’s why it’s important for leaders to maintain an open dialogue with workers to stay abreast of what they need most in a situation like the pandemic that evolves by the moment.

“It’s listening to what people need to understand their context and to understand what they need to support their health and well-being, so they come to work as their best self,” she said.