Workplace wellness for a changing world
The definition of workplace wellness has broadened steadily over the past 10 years. An initial focus on physical health and safety has grown to encompass a more holistic view, inclusive of employees’ emotional, psychological, social, and even financial well-being.
Workplace wellness is also gaining traction as a business priority. In Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2020 report, 80% of respondents cited it as an “important” or “very important” priority, making it the year’s top-ranked trend. Today, successful companies are also adopting this broader, more inclusive view of employee well-being. Why? The data supports it. Businesses see the long-term organizational benefits that can accompany a well and happy workforce. According to a 2020 article in Forbes magazine, some of the many ways that workplace wellness initiatives are paying off for modern businesses include increased loyalty, improved performance, and better engagement.
With the COVID-19 pandemic came a sudden and seismic shift to a remote workforce. Workplace wellness initiatives that were already well underway were disrupted as the focus shifted – almost overnight – to the challenges of supporting a newly-remote employee base. With this “new normal” still in flux, and the health of many employees at even greater risk, the pressure on large companies to have flexible, scalable, and innovative wellness solutions to meet the needs of the changing world of work is even larger.
What is workplace wellness? Any activity or program designed to support the physical, emotional, social, or financial well-being of employees.
Benefits of wellness in the workplace
Wellness in the workplace begins with individual employees and extends across teams and departments to the organization as a whole. According to Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends 2020, organizations implementing workforce well-being initiatives may find that it “reduces the need for remediation of work’s negative effects, freeing up resources to invest in other areas and increasing individual and team contributions to organizational outcomes.” Thus, immediate productivity benefits also drive long-term gains, such as worker resilience and higher organizational performance.
A recent McKinsey article demonstrates how “good health is good business.” When businesses make a meaningful commitment to workplace wellness initiatives, they can expect lasting and long-term benefits, including:
- Healthier employees with fewer sick days
- Greater ability to focus on work
- Fewer early retirements
- Lower healthcare costs
- An expanded workforce
How forward-thinking businesses are improving employee well-being
With up to 90% of their employees working remotely, HR leaders are redefining employee wellness, creatively adapting and expanding programs beyond the standard gym memberships and employee assistance programs. According to research from Fidelity Investments and Business Group on Health, 78% of global employers now help employees improve their work–life balance, and 95% include emotional and mental health programs in their corporate well-being platforms.
Now more than ever, employers are highly focused on employee mental health and well-being as they adjust to the pandemic, economic disruption, and heightened focus on the impact of racial and societal issues.
- Ellen Kelsay, President and CEO, Business Group on Health
Here is a small sample of specific ideas that HR leaders can build into employee well-being programs:
- Develop personalized support tools to help employees navigate their healthcare options and the healthcare system.
- Subsidize healthy activities or offer financial wellness incentives, giving employees a choice of various wellness activities – such as “lose the COVID 15” or “10,000 steps per day.”
- Create an online portal to offer small classes, such as yoga or healthy cooking, exclusively for team members. Encourage members to bond by sharing ideas and suggestions.
- Provide subsidized and confidential online counseling to help employees transition to new ways of working and manage work–life stressors.
- Consider flexible work hours and stipends for work-related technologies to support remote workers.
- Support employees as they return to the physical workspace, by minimizing risks and implementing clear and supportive health and safety procedures.
How HR technologies are supporting workplace well-being
HR technologies can help employees both feel and perform better. Smart, data-driven solutions are already helping HR teams identify and address employees’ physical issues, such as ergonomic discomfort or fatigue, and mental–emotional problems such as feeling overworked or anxious.
Sensors and wearables, gamification of wellness goals and milestones, and fitness and wellness apps allow for high levels of engagement. Artificial intelligence (AI) for HR and advanced data analytics can help create effective, personalized programs for individuals and recommend improvements to the overall employee wellness initiative.
How to implement wellness solutions and change
- Be selective. Start small when choosing and implementing new wellness initiatives and technologies. Roll them out in a trickle rather than a deluge. Use intelligent HR solutions to determine the most positive employee reactions – and to assess ROI.
- Be transparent. Demonstrate and explain how these technologies and programs work. Show employees that sensors and other wellness technologies are voluntary and designed to improve their workplace experience, not oversee it.
- Keep the trust. Reassure employees about their privacy and anonymity. Use examples like: “Here are sensor readings of an anonymous employee. We noticed high levels of frustration and fatigue, so we gave her less repetitive admin work and more creative problem-solving tasks – which she thrives at and enjoys.”
- Don’t presume. Everyone has a different level of stress tolerance, and some are more “joiners” than others. The beauty of modern HR technology is that it customizes solutions to suit individual needs. Give employees access, support, and encouragement to use wellness tools and programs, but don’t nag them or make them mandatory.
- Listen and learn. Many HR leaders are in uncharted territory in a workplace that has changed rapidly and drastically. It’s vital to leverage new HR technologies for their ability to gather and analyze data. Use advanced analytics as much as possible to help determine where employees need the most support and which solutions are working best.
Corporate wellness solutions for the changing world of work
The past year has produced unforeseen challenges that have permanently changed the world of work. Fortunately, knowledge and data-driven technology already exist to help companies transform their workplace. Even if the vast majority of employees return to a physical workplace, the emphasis on workplace wellness will continue – and that’s good news for both companies and their employees.
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