Employee wellbeing affects every business, and that wellbeing has taken on a whole new level of meaning since the onset of COVID-19. Accordingly, employers must adjust their wellbeing strategy to address new and evolving needs, which may seem overwhelming among all of the other changes we’ve been forced to make.
However, it’s important that businesses do so to ensure they can attract, retain and engage top talent. So we sat down with experts from our engagement and wellbeing team to discuss how employee wellbeing programs have shifted and how to best move forward in 2021.
Here are the highlights of our Q&A session.
1. What are some things about employee wellbeing programs that you learned during the pandemic that may be useful moving forward?
Specific to planning, I think one of the biggest things is that employers must determine how they can live their company values and how they can create a sense of belonging so that employees can truly do their best work from anywhere. Another lesson is the need to be more proactive and intentional with supportive programs, as well as management practices – how do we check in with people before they check out? Burnout was trending upward even before the pandemic, but especially now and moving forward employers must address burnout prevention in their wellbeing strategy.
Also, we learned that the value of incentives and penalties in wellbeing programs has become limited at best. Employees don't need the added pressure of having to reach goals during or post-pandemic. Further, there are some compliance issues around activities like biometric screenings and health assessments that involve medical inquiries. So we're shifting programs to be more personally meaningful to employees – programs that make them feel supported, not punished or ashamed.
Finally, we continue to learn how to make wellbeing efforts more inclusive and more mindful of a diverse workforce.
2. What does remote wellbeing look like now?
The whole world is relying on technology. And, of course, there's no lack of virtual options for at-home workouts, guided meditations, etc. With respect to doctor visits, we've certainly seen an increase in people using virtual visits not only for physical health care but also for mental health counseling. We're seeing studies that show the number of people reporting symptoms of depression and anxiety have almost tripled since last year. So it's critical that access to mental health care via phone or video is included in your wellbeing program.
3. Do you have any advice for the people who are running the wellbeing programs? What can they do to better reach coworkers in this different environment?
Most wellbeing professionals have experienced some degree of pandemic fatigue, as we're calling it. So, first and foremost, it's self care; don't put yourself on the back burner. But to be honest, many employers have struggled with participation in wellbeing programs even before the pandemic. So given today’s unique circumstances, wellbeing professionals, coordinators and employee wellbeing champions are having to reach out in new ways. To determine the best ways to do that, we must get better at surveying and checking in with employees.
And then I think the biggest enhancement in reaching out to people is that transition from in-person programming to online support. That could be encouraging the use of online education and tools for self-care challenges, online training for supervisors on how to support remote employees, on-demand professional development courses to enhance career wellbeing, and the like.
A lot of our clients are getting engagement through digital assessments and screening opportunities. So wellbeing professionals are really supporting and promoting those activities, especially around virtual classes on mental health, first aid, improving resiliency and financial counseling. Employers and the professionals administering these programs will have to continue to monitor how they're working and then adjust based on the needs for various content and levels of access to it, and then find the balance between supporting folks and bombarding them, of course, and recognizing that engagement really is personal and not one size fits all.
4. What are some things specifically that people should be looking at to make it easier as people return to the office?
I think as we return to offices and/or continue to adapt to this remote work environment or some hybrid scenario, employers can help with the transition through really solid communication and compassion. I anticipate that many employers will continue to offer virtual access to benefits of programs . . . at least I hope they will because we're getting really good traction there. They also might consider some modifications to their physical workspace, including aesthetic improvements, such as lighting, artwork and plants to make the environment a more friendly, soothing place to be. Employers should also consider fitness equipment to make sure employees can practice self care when they're at the office. I also really like the idea of having privacy spaces, which allow employees to step away from their desk to perhaps meet virtually with their doctors or therapists or check in and assist their kids who still may be learning from home.