May 27, 2020

Accolade's CEO Mandate

By Rajeev Singh, CEO at Accolade

At the outset of 2020, CEOs had a lot on their minds – the looming threat of recession, new competition, trade wars, climate change and the ongoing talent shortage. The usual weighty stuff.

What wasn’t keeping most CEOs up at night? Employee health and benefits.

At most midsized and large employers, that’s the domain of HR. It’s the HR benefits leader – often with the support of a consulting firm or brokerage house – who shapes the annual health plan and benefits offered to employees and their families.

HR’s charter is clear: find a way to rein in healthcare cost growth a point or two (e.g., 6% to 5%), keep employees satisfied, and minimize disruption – it’s important for employees to be able to keep their doctors, for instance.

So each year HR teams tweak the dials. They shift a little bit more of the healthcare cost burden to employees, add some new apps to the list of benefits, and retire others. It’s a critical and delicate balancing act for the health of the business.

In January, these new employee health and benefits plans took effect at businesses across the country, across all industries. Business as usual.

Not anymore.

Fast forward five months to an almost unrecognizable world. The COVID-19 outbreak has upended entire industries, disrupted nearly every business process, and emptied the vast majority of workplaces. As the virus continues to spread with no end in sight, CEOs are looking for a clear path forward. There isn’t one. Suddenly, chief executives have a lot of weighty concerns on their minds – and not the talent shortage.

The CEOs my team and I talk to are asking entirely new questions with urgency:

  • When do we bring our employees back to the office?
  • What protocol should I put in place for wearing masks? For meeting spaces?
  • How do we protect our employees?
  • What if they get sick?
  • What do we do when someone has tested positive?

There’s no shortage of guidance available. The CDC, HHS, National Safety Council, venture firms, consulting houses and others are putting forward mile-long to-do lists spanning workplace cleaning and physical distancing to health screenings, mental health support, employee communications and workforce policies. There are even new apps designed to help manage the process. All of this guidance is a start. It’s all important. But here’s what I also know to be true: all of these steps are woefully inadequate when you step back and look at the bigger picture. As the COVID-19 crisis unfolds, it’s exposing and exacerbating tough realities that CEOs, not just HR departments, will need to confront in the near term. Here are a few:

  • People don’t know what to do or where to turn for help when they’re sick. Navigating the healthcare maze has always been too hard; now it’s a black box.
  • It was already hard for people to access primary care, and it’s only getting worse. By the end of June, we could see a 40% reduction in family physicians across the country, and we already had an alarming shortage. 1
  • Employer health benefits – like telemedicine and employee assistance programs — are drastically under-utilized. Nearly half of employees say they haven’t used a single program in the past year. They simply don’t remember the benefits they have – or they can’t remember their password – or they don’t find them useful. Or all of the above.
  • Even before COVID-19 came along, our country’s mental health was dire and deteriorating. Isolation, a lack of belonging, loneliness, stigma and a completely disconnected behavioral health system are some of the reasons why. COVID-19 rips open the existing wound. It’s only getting harder for people to get the help they need. “Deaths of despair ”– from alcohol, drugs or suicide – were already on the rise; we could see another 75,000 due to COVID-19. 2

The fragmented, brick-and-mortar healthcare system is failing employees and their families. Just when more people than ever before need trusted support and guidance, it’s harder to come by, putting their health, well-being and productivity at risk. And that’s a risk for every employer – today, as they reopen, and as they move through the next waves of the pandemic. The health and well-being of employees and their families has become a business continuity issue for every employer, a weighty concern.

It’s a wake-up call for every CEO that has looked at health benefits and the health of their people as a line item cost. CEOs, not just HR leaders, must step up as stewards of employee health and well-being. It’s time to move past the jiggering of employee benefits plans year after year, expecting different results. It’s time to fill the glaring gaps of the fragmented healthcare system. To manage through the COVID-19 crisis, employers must give employees and their families the trusted clinical guidance and personalized support to help them live their healthiest lives – physically, emotionally and financially.

For more than a decade, Accolade has been doing just that. Our frontline care teams are the first stop for any employee health and benefits question, challenge or concern. They take the time to understand the whole person, not just what’s ailing them, and put them on the best path forward for their unique needs. Our nurses help people understand their symptoms, help guide people to the right care and benefits, and stay with them – supporting them and coordinating care at every single step of their healthcare journey. It’s a proactive approach anchored in clinical evidence, trusted relationships and clear, personalized guidance.

Today, Accolade is excited to apply our proven approach and experience to the COVID-19 crisis. Accolade COVID Response Care is a comprehensive, evidence-based clinical solution designed to addresses the entire COVID-19 lifecycle—from prevention to diagnosis, support and recovery, contact tracing and clinically guided return to office. Our nurses and Health Assistants are ready to support the needs of every employee, the healthy and the sick, at every stage of this crisis.

And Accolade is ready to help CEOs and their teams navigate the uncharted territory and uncertainty of the pandemic, today and going forward. We’re ready to help CEOs maintain business continuity and gain peace of mind.

How can we help yours? Reach out to us at: [email protected]


1 Health Landscape, Coronavirus Pandemic-Related Potential Family Medicine Office Closures and Economic Impact, April through June 2020,

2 Well Being Trust, Healing the Nation,