Nearly every company would agree that their employees are one of their greatest assets – and now more than ever every employee needs wellness prioritized. What wellness is looks different to each individual, which makes it important for businesses to adopt robust and nontraditional benefits packages.
Over the course of 2020, we have all – in one way or another – faced a global pandemic, isolation and disruption to everyday life on top of political divisions and public calls for racial justice. One of these alone call for concern when it comes to employee mental, physical and financial wellbeing. Combine all of them, and total wellness become vital. The themes we typically associate with wellness as individual - safety, connection, security and support - are also at at risk in today's workplace, whether that individual stays home, goes into an office or has been deemed an essential worker.
So as we learn and adapt our behaviors to 2021, what does employee wellness look like? In 2019, 84 percent of large employers (200 or more workers) offering health benefits offered a workplace wellness program, such as those to help people lose weight, stop smoking, or provide lifestyle and behavioral coaching.1 Often, these are programs put in place to lower the cost of insurance for companies that get their people to engage in preventative care, countering the chronic issues behind the costliest medical interventions – all good ideas, but not always highly adopted and short-sighted to what employees are struggling with the most: stress, burnout and disengagement.
The World Health Organization has even labeled workplace stress one of the preeminent problems of the 21st century and is one of the leading causes of employee burnout and disengagement.2 It's a huge — and growing — issue in the workforce. And that was before COVID.
While great benefits and innovative ideas play a significant factor to employee's ability to thrive, how leaders treat and invest in their employees is a powerful factor for flourishing companies. Employers that learn to address these significant aspects of wellness are likely to be healthier too, even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. With the right connections, tools and resources, employers can create an environment where employees feel cared for and therefore are more engaged, productive and stronger when it comes to making an impact on customer satisfaction.
It can’t be said too much, wellness is unique to each individual and within each workplace, but here are five ways that can be applied in any work environment to help every employee thrive.
- Start with empathy. The best leaders are genuinely concerned for their team members and want them to succeed. While empathy has always been an important trait, it's even more vital in challenging times. If your people don’t feel you care about them now, you’ll lose their trust, which not only adds to their stress level but disengages them further from doing their jobs
- More listening, less tracking. With a majority of the workforce moving to remote work, everyone wants to be aware of what is going on. But there is a fine line. Many employers go wrong by over-tracking progress for their newly remote teams. They implement more scheduled meetings, require daily check-ins, request constant status updates, etc. These added checkpoints can further disengage —and exhaust—your team. Find a healthy balance that includes more listening and less tracking. This can help you have sincere connection points rather than formatted and scheduled.
- Provide mental health resources. COVID is changing jobs, but it’s important to remember that it’s also changed the dynamics at home, which is often more stressful. Wellness minded companies are opening more new channels of communications for working parents, diversity and inclusion, team wellness brainstorming and CEO listening hours. In addition, many insurance carriers include EAP programs that offer free counseling sessions for employees to talk through issues with a professional. The number of providers incorporating digital mental health services continues to grow, as are companies like Happify that provide users with innovative and on-demand mental wellness support. It's also important to remember that resources addressing tips on getting a better night’s sleep, how to better manage finances, or information and support for balancing family and career are easy to provide and meet those needs outside of counseling or professional mental health care.
- Provide opportunities for anonymous feedback. There is no better way to find out about your people and what they need than by going to them directly. For smaller and more remote organizations, short pulse surveys mixed with less frequent but more detailed engagement surveys provide the candid and uncensored feedback you need to address change. How employees felt in March could be very different in August. Allowing employees to complete these anonymously add a level for individuals to feel comfortable providing their transparent thoughts and opinions without any fear of backlash. Just as important is the reliability of employers following up and a team’s belief that they will. Employers of all sizes should also get more comfortable having candid conversations while creating a safe and trusting environment where team members feel comfortable delivering even constructive criticism freely.
- Set clear work boundaries. Just because employees are working from home, they should not feel expected to work 24/7. Without the commute, having the computer within eyesight at all times of the day, it makes it challenging to balance and see the boundaries around work time and personal time. Management will set the tone, therefore be aware of what tone is being communicated. For yourself as well as your team, hold off sending that 9pm email until the morning. Make sure working hours are still a thing. Respect your team member’s personal time by letting them know it’s ok not to check emails before or after reasonable working hours. Let employees know how much you value their time to connect with loved ones, go for a mid-day walk, pick up a new hobby or follow whatever passions they have outside of required work hours. Similarly, for those that are back in the office, allowing employees to prioritize longer breaks as well as to have time to step away from their workspace to a location where they are safe without a mask can be impactful.
After enduring a year of unease, fear, loss and anxiety, we all have a unique opportunity to come through better connected and stronger than before. Providing sincere and intentional practices to support your employee’s mental health and wellbeing is both the right thing to do for them as well as cultivating a foundation of trust and loyalty for many years to come.
At Benefitfocus, we're continuing to connect our customers to benefits for life, whatever life looks like today, tomorrow or 10 years from now.