Four Ways to Improve Your Employee Wellness Program in 2021

Employee Wellbeing in 2021What does Krispy Kreme have to do with health and wellness? Not much, if you ask most health experts. But the popular doughnut brand recently drew the attention of the wellness community when it began offering a free original glazed doughnut to anyone who shows a COVID-19 vaccination card.

Free doughnuts sounds like a sweet offer, but the company has faced backlash for linking doughnuts to positive health choices. They have also received some criticism for discriminating against people who plan to refuse the vaccine for personal reasons (they’ve already solved the latter problem by offering a free doughnut and coffee to everyone on Mondays through May 24).

We won’t attempt to puzzle out those issues for Krispy Kreme – they’ll have to face that music on their own. But it does raise some interesting questions for brands.

In addition to the free doughnut offer, Krispy Kreme is also offering up to four hours of paid time off for employees who get vaccinated. Other companies have taken similar steps in an attempt to encourage employees to take the plunge. And the CDC has released training materials for healthcare workers that will help them engage patients in productive conversations about vaccine safety and effectiveness.

All of this raises an important question: how much responsibility should a business take for the wellness of its employees?

How Wellness Programs Can Support Business Success

Of course, every employer wants employees to be healthy and happy. But how much should companies invest in helping workers reach their wellness goals in terms of actual dollars and time?

It's accepted knowledge that engaged employees make better workers, and employee surveys back it up. A Gallup survey found that engaged employees miss fewer days of work, are more productive, and stay with their employees longer. They also get better feedback from customers and close more sales. Overall, highly engaged employees contribute to 21% higher profitability for their employers.

That's important because there is a positive link between engagement and a company's commitment to employee wellness. A 2016 report by the American Psychological Association found that when senior managers champion a company's wellness initiatives, employees feel more satisified with their jobs and they are more likely to recommend their company as a good place to work.  

In 2020, employers quickly learned that mental health support is also a vital component of employee wellbeing. When employees had to work from their homes, they had less interaction with managers and co-workers, fewer opportunities for feedback, and fewer ways to stay connected with teams. Companies who helped their workers navigate these difficult scenarios best were those that intentionally created ways to stay connected and support each other in a remote work environment. 

The bottom line is that employee wellbeing contributes to engagement, engagement is the foundation for productivity, and productivity drives profit.

In other words, there’s a direct connection between employee wellness and profitability.


What Can You Do To Promote Employee Wellbeing?

As researchers have studied employee wellness, they’ve learned that wellness is more than just physical health or even mental health. It includes a person's total experience, from stress management to work-life balance to financial health. If we have learned anything from 2020, it is that the vital need to protect your employee's physical health must work hand in hand (figuratively - social distancing still matters!) with supporting their total wellbeing. 

As you examine your employee wellness approach for 2021 and beyond, here are four ways to support the total wellbeing of your workforce:

  1. Educate Employees About Health Benefits - Do your employees know what benefits are available to them? Can they easily find information on your internal website? If you offer perks such as a gym membership, health coaching, or health incentives (like HSA contributions for healthy behaviors), do your employees know about them? 

    Your self-service portal is an excellent tool to educate your workforce on these benefits. Tools such as chatbots and self-directed learning modules give employees the opportunity to explore available options on their own schedule. They also make it easy for your workers to find specific information quickly.
  2. Expand Your Definition of Wellness - Wellness is a holistic endeavor that includes stress management, financial circumstances, work-life balance, family situations, social interactions, and emotional health in addition to a person's physical wellbeing. As an employer, you may not be able to change all of the stressful circumstances in your employees' lives, but you can offer support so they can do their best work in the office. Here are a few ways you can support total wellness in your workplace:

    - Physical Health - If you don't already, consider offering health coaching services to help your employees understand and manage their physical health more effectively. This may include nutrition coaching, activity awareness, goal-setting, and other resources for healthy changes.

    - Mental Health - Mindfulness programs help employees improve self-awareness, regulate emotions, reduce stress, and improve focus and productivity. Training programs teach employees to make positive changes in these areas by applying mindfulness principles to their daily interactions at work. They can also help reduce stress outside of work as employees learn to improve communication, manage conflict, and build emotional resilience. 

    - Emotional Health - Emotional awareness training teaches employees about topics like emotional intelligence, confilct resolution, de-escalating tense situations, emotional regulation, and managing a full range of thoughts and feelings in a postivie way.

    Financial Health - Financial coaching helps employees evaluate their current situation and create a long-term financial strategy. You can include information about specific opportunities offered through your benefits program such as your 401(k), an employer-sponsored 529 plan, and an overview of insurance options. Training modules may also cover universally applicable topics such as budgeting, debt reduction, and investment. 
  3. Incorporate Recogition - Recognition incentives boosts motivation to participate in wellness program initiatives. Incentives may include contributions to an HSA, financial rewards, paid time off or perks for participation (such as a gym membership or a healthy lunch provided once a month). You may also want to enter participants in a drawing for a larger prize as they check off various aspects of the program.  

    Your self-service portal can once again play an important role in the success of a recognition program. Make it easy for employees to update their status, add points, and check off desired behaviors to qualify for rewards.
  4. Normalize Mental Health and Rest - For too long, it has been normal to push through and attend work even when you have a fever or you are showing symptoms of illness. COVID-19 quickly changed that, at least temporarily. The nature of the virus necessitated a swift reponse including quarantine when symptoms emerged, and that will likely continue for the forseeable future even as employees begin coming back to the office. Still, that mindset of soldiering on in the face of exhaustion hasn't disappeared from the workplace psyche, and it can quickly lead to burnout. 

    Companies can help employees be more productive and satisfied at work, however, when they encourage a culture of balance. For example, take a look at your sick day policy and see if it gives employees enough flexibility to stay home when they shouldn't be at work. Remote work options have greatly expanded since the advent of COVID-19, which gives both employers and employees more flexibility. You may want to consider incorporating remote work day opportunities for employees who have a mild illness and don't want to spread it, but who still feel well enough to work. Family leave policies, flexible work hours, and mental health days are also helpful ways to promote work-life balance and support the total wellbeing of your workforce.

    For these policies to work, however, they need to be championed and practiced from the top down. An employee who hears a manager saying that work-life balance is important, but who observes that manager working 60-hour weeks will feel pressured to match that pace. When managers practice what they teach, however, the whole team benefits. 

COVID-19 made it necessary for companies to quickly adjust policies and procedures to protect the health of their employees and customers. It was incredibly disruptive and will undoubtedly continue to impact working conditions for some time to come. Still, the news may not be all bad. If finding ways to operate during the pandemic has given companies greater motivation and flexibility to support the wellbeing of workers, that may be the rainbow after the storm. 



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