4 Ways Leaders Need To Adapt Wellness Offerings In 2021 – And Beyond
Leadership requires more than an inspiring vision and compelling call to action – it must also demonstrate support for those being led. For business leaders, that means providing practical, tangible ways to meet individuals’ needs so they can deliver at work, care for their health, and feel fulfilled. Employee benefits are an essential part of this mix. And, a year into the pandemic, it’s clear that employees’ evolving needs and expectations will require creating a new workplace reality, especially when it comes to our mental and physical health needs.
The pandemic has uncovered gaps that even household company names with award-winning benefits offerings may have missed. From shifts in employee needs around remote working, childcare flexibility, and mental health support to increasing interest in programs that facilitate a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplace, the gold-standard benefits mix is changing at a rapid pace. According to Dr Tatiana Rowson from Henley Business School, an employee-centered approach to wellness and benefits with individualized solutions is a great way to value diversity in organizations. However, she warns that leaders should also be transparent on the options available to employees to ensure everyone has access to benefits and a maintained climate of trust.
Increasingly, employers are evaluating their benefits mix and how it aligns with changing workforce needs and expectations. For businesses of all sizes – from small startups to the Fortune 100 – cultivating a positive workplace culture and engaging best-in-class talent should start with providing tailored wellness benefits to their employees in support of individuals’ unique lifestyle and health needs.
According to MOBE CEO Chris Cronin, the shift in leadership thinking is a long time coming – but, like so many aspects of health and wellness, it’s been laid bare and accelerated by the pandemic. “After a tumultuous year and deserved attention on mental, physical and behavioral health, employees are looking to their leaders to walk the walk – to help them care for themselves and their health holistically,” Cronin said. “It’s not enough to provide access to a one-size-fits-all app or program. To achieve better health, employees need personalized support that addresses all aspects of their health – and keeps them engaged and making progress. With the right offerings, employers can make a significant impact on workforce health and productivity – and, the time to take action is now.” This approach goes hand-in-hand with the new thinking around sustainable work and career that not only engages employees but also ensure they are healthier and fitter for longer, explains Rowson
Cronin advises that as employees’ needs evolve, employers should take a holistic approach to their benefits offerings to ensure they have four key characteristics.
Engage employees with a “whole-person” approach. In this new normal, high-value benefits programs must support all aspects of an individual’s health, including medication, nutrition, fitness, diet, and other factors impacting wellness like sleep and mental health. The impact of stress and anxiety are both human and economic. According to the American Institute of Stress, more than half of the 550 million working days lost annually in the U.S. from absenteeism are stress-related – with unanticipated absenteeism estimated to cost American companies $602 per worker per year. The price tag for large employers could approach $3.5 million annually.
Provide employees with personalized support. “Everyone is unique in their health and wellness journey. Solutions that engage employees with personalized, one-on-one support see the most success in making a lasting impact on employee health outcomes,” Cronin noted. A recent survey by MOBE on Americans’ perceptions of their health revealed an increased need for guidance to help identify and address these areas; further, exercise (51%), eating healthier (40%), and getting more sleep (38%) were the changes consumers most wanted to make in relation to their health, but found most challenging to make. Perhaps most concerningly – 53% of consumers didn’t feel additional steps to improve their health (such as changing diet, exercise, and sleep habits) were easy to understandafter talking with their doctor. When one-on-one support is available at an employee’s fingertips when they need it, they can overcome these barriers and make progress on these goals – when and how to take prescribed medications, exercise regimens, diet plans, and ways to improve mental health –particularly important during stressful times like these.
Leverage data science and AI to ensure benefits are accessible to everyone. Recent research found that 81% of employees who can easily access their benefits said they feel loyal to their employer, and 79% say they were proud to work for their organization. Accessibility means more than downloading an app, though — it’s about providing offerings that proactively engage employees who need wellness support the most. “In an age when tech’s capabilities are seemingly limitless, we often forget the essential ingredient to improved outcomes: the human connection,” Chris added. “Identifying individuals who may benefit from this additional health support, and connecting them with relevant wellness offerings and interventions, is key to addressing and even preempting debilitating health problems across the entire population.” Deploying sophisticated data science and powerful data analysis tools to identify and engage these individuals is crucial for business and public health.
Finding — and engaging — those most in need. The 2020 Chronic Care Action Index found that three out of five individuals managing complex, chronic health concerns report these concerns are impacting their work life. With more than 83 million Americans managing two or more chronic conditions, this is a significant issue for employers – yet current benefits programs may be overlooking a small, “unengaged population” within this group. “Our data shows that this population declines participation in traditional wellness programs, generates 30% of employer healthcare costs and that despite accessing the healthcare system frequently, they are not getting better,” said Chris. Benefits programs that identify and reach out to these individuals can help ensure that people trying hard to improve their health have the support they need to do so and become more productive employees.
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At their core, benefits programs seek to provide employees with the tools and services they need to be happy, healthy, and productive – and often, these plans are a vital component to successful companies’ ability to retain great talent. As employers continue to adapt and engage new benefit options to support changing working environments, ensuring employees are happy both inside and outside of the office is more important than ever. Offerings that provide individualized, whole-person guidance and support – especially for those who sometimes fall under the radar – will be the new gold standard.