COVID-19 has creating a new urgency to build a more resilient workforce and reduce the risks employees face with economic disruptions, according to a new report from Zurich and the University of Oxford.

“Having a workforce that is protected, well-trained and agile is paramount for a healthy economy and everyone needs to play their part,” Alison Martin, Zurich’s CEO for Europe, Middle East & Africa (EMEA) and Bank Distribution, said in prepared remarks.

The report found, in part, that the pandemic-related accelerated march toward digitalization has helped some. But for many others, the trend, and the new training it requires for remote workers, has added stresses on their ability to adapt. That has strained social safety net systems, leaving younger workers more risk averse and older workers not laid off seeking to postpone their retirement. Typically, for example, younger workers have been much more likely compared to their older counterparts to choose freelancing as a career option. Zurich/University of Oxford said that younger workforce will likely avoid gig-related freelance jobs in the future.

In the pandemic era, insurance to protect workers who are laid off or between jobs should be mandatory. Beyond unemployment insurance, health, disability and income protection must also be part of the equation, the report concludes.

“Without it, [employees] are forced into taking the first available job, thereby damaging the human capital they have to offer in a more suitable role,” according to the report. “These types of insurance schemes need to be compulsory because those most at risk are those who ought to be given every chance to adapt and adjust in ways that sustain their own well-being as well as societal welfare.”

Zurich/University of Oxford added that their research suggests that employees who take risks that have “long-term payoffs for their household finances hold income protection insurance.”

Other finding highlights:

  • Pressure is higher on workers to adapt to technological changes as digitalization accelerates, boosting the need for skills training in areas including AI and automation.
  • Public-private partnerships can be formed in new ways to ease pressure on governments seeking to add stability to workforces, the study found.

The study is an outgrowth of a three-year research program begun in 2018 by Zurich Insurance Group and the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford. Included in the new report are empirical insights from earlier phases of the project, plus key findings from a previous research program – all used to develop a “multi-stakeholder approach” to protecting the workforce in a post-COVID-19 world. The next and final report for the project, due in 2021, will consist of country profiles, each tailored to one of the 17 countries sampled in our 2019 survey.

Source: Zurich/University of Oxford