Just a few days left in 2022, and it's a wrap; what a year it has been for the workplace as it struggled through unparalleled corporate shifts, such as the Great Resignation. With millions of employees voluntarily dumping their jobs in 2022 to seek a new meaning to life, employers have had enough empty offices to realize that workers are leaving because they feel unsatisfied and unvalued.
In 2023, employers can change the narrative by adopting new models of wellness and transforming their workplace culture. Key aspects to focus on include the following:
Rethink approach to wellness
If there’s one reason that wellness programs have often failed, it’s because of the one-size-fits-all generic approach to wellness that does not meet employees where they are.
The problem with this generic approach to wellness is that it assumes everyone’s health and wellness problems are the same, thus, the same interventions would solve their concerns. Generic solutions, in turn, lack the specificity to engage employees, and so, do not yield the desired wellness outcomes.
“You would think these employees are unwilling to take care of their health or are healthy enough to dismiss these well-being activities. But the answer is no. Everyone has one health need or the other, not just physical health needs, but also emotional, mental, and even spiritual health needs,” says Laura Kirk, Director of Total Rewards at Radial, in a recent interview with Corporate Wellness Magazine.
“No two employees are the same, and neither are their health concerns. These programs often offer initiatives that are too broad to have any significant impact on an employee or provide segmental offerings that only address a single issue without a holistic approach to an employee’s concerns,” Laura added.
Personalizing wellness is a sure way to improve employee engagement, productivity, and retention. Personalizing wellness focuses on the individual needs and contexts of employees and how solutions can be streamlined to meet those needs. This approach takes into account the psychosocial, physical, and behavioral drivers of health for employees, with curated solutions that address these factors.
More mental health offerings
The burden of mental health problems surged during the pandemic and afterward. Dealing with the deaths of loved ones, pandemic anxiety, and the economic impacts of the pandemic have heightened employee stress in the last few years, and many employees are still struggling with these issues.
According to a 2021 survey by the American Psychological Association, 79 percent of employees had experienced work-related stress amid the pandemic, including loss of interest, motivation, or energy, and lack of effort at work. While 36 percent reported cognitive fatigue, about 44 percent reported physical fatigue. While work-related stress had been a recurring issue for decades, the pandemic reinforced and heightened it.
Therefore, employers need to refocus on mental health to shift the paradigm in 2023. Rethinking mental well-being offerings begins with reshaping the workplace culture around mental health, ensuring that the workplace design supports employees’ mental well-being. This starts with reviewing how work affects employees. Are there measures to mitigate stress at work? How much workload are employees made to undertake? Are there enough off days or break hours? Do workers have the appropriate skillset for their tasks?
Part of rethinking the workplace culture also includes offering more mental health support through employee assistance programs, digital self-help tools, virtual therapy sessions, and easy access to tele-mental health care.
Recent findings show that more employers have recognized the value of mental health support in the workplace, particularly in the post-pandemic context. A recent survey by leading global advisory, Willis Towers Watson (WTW), has revealed an uptrend in workplace wellness offerings, as more employers are beginning to integrate these mental health strategies into their workplace wellness offerings.
Findings from the survey revealed that two out of three (67%) U.S. employers plan to make mental health and emotional well-being programs and solutions one of their top three health priorities over the next three years.
Focus on financial literacy
Financial stress has been one of the biggest drivers of employee stress, more so during the pandemic period. With global inflation and rising costs of healthcare, financial worries have heightened considerably, and more employees are concerned about meeting their financial obligations without running into debt.
Financial wellness was largely inadequate before the pandemic as employers thought if workers are getting paid, they might as well figure out how to manage their finances. But the problem with this is that in situations where workers are not adequately skilled to manage their finances or where they are not aware of or utilize their financial benefits adequately, they may run into serious financial problems that would, in turn, affect their productivity and performance.
More emphasis should be placed on financial literacy in the coming year, with strategies to equip employees with financial management skills and resources to make better financial decisions. Effective financial strategies may include offering financial coaching services, providing financial resources via webinars or seminars, and offering personalized financial benefits that meet the employees.
A new survey published in November shows a rise in financial incentives and benefits in the workplace since the pandemic eased, indicating a shift in the workplace culture of wellness. The survey, coordinated by Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), revealed that employers are investing more in specific financial benefits, such as financial education, tuition reimbursement and/or assistance, child/elder caregiving benefits, personalized credit, debt counseling, and basic money management tools.
With more focus on financial wellness, as a significant component of wellness, employers can drive a rapid increase in employee engagement and retention, reversing the trend of quiet quitting and employee dissatisfaction.
Leverage benefits to lower healthcare spending
Employees are facing the brunt of the rising cost of healthcare as annual health premiums have increased rapidly in the last few years. According to the 2022 Employer Health Benefits Survey by Kaiser Family Foundation, workers face an annual deductible for single coverage of $1,763 in 2022, up 61% from 2012. Similarly, employer contributions to premiums have also shot up in the last few years.
The implication of the raging cost of care as was experienced this year is that more workers are avoiding healthcare services to avoid running into debt. More employees are postponing tests and treatments or even avoiding hospital visits to avoid incurring more financial burdens.
According to a survey by Kaiser Family Foundation, the financial burden of cancer treatment has pushed about 70 percent of adults with debt from cancer treatment to cut down on basic expenses, including food, housing, and clothing, while 25 percent have declared bankruptcy. To highlight the financial burden of cancer treatment, a team of cancer researchers at the University of Washington found that cancer patients were about three times more likely to declare bankruptcy than those without the disease, and cancer patients who did were more likely to die than those who did not.
Scott Haas, Senior Vice President at USI Insurance Services, in a recent roundtable coordinated by Global Healthcare Resources, publishers of Corporate Wellness Magazine, highlighted undue pricing by manufacturers, fraud and corruption in the healthcare system, and poor health management strategies as drivers of healthcare costs.
One way to get around these drivers, as posited by Wade Larson, Chief Human Resource Officer for Wagstaff Incorporated, a self-funded manufacturing firm in Washington, is to focus on chronic disease management and preventive care. This emphasizes remodeling corporate wellness strategies to improve healthcare metrics and lower the risk of chronic diseases, which account for the most expenses on health.
Employers may also benefit from pharmacy benefit managers, who offer various strategies, including negotiating rebates with manufacturers and drugstores, medication therapy management programs and medication adherence programs, and drug utilization programs to increase the use of cheaper and equally effective generics versus branded medicines.
The workplace landscape is changing; corporate populations are now more diverse, such that achieving desired health outcomes across employee populations requires driving inclusivity into workplace wellness programs.
The concept of inclusive wellness is seminal to building a successful wellness program. Employees are unlikely to engage in wellness initiatives if they do not feel included or if the program does not consider their individual differences.
"We have not paid enough attention to those external factors that relate to the world of DE&I, things like gender, race, age, and religion, that really shape our capacity as individuals to be able to make the healthy choice," says Laura Kirk, founder and CEO of Motion Infusion, in a recent interview with Corporate Wellness Magazine. “What wellness looks like to each of us is different; so everyone gets to choose what their best self looks like for them,” Laura added.
Employers need to sit down and ask these vital questions: what are those individual factors that make employee A at more risk of a health condition than employee B? Instead of offering yoga classes or a meditation room to improve mental well-being, is employee A battling depression and anxiety because they are being discriminated against for their sexual orientation or religious views? A million yoga sessions a day is unlikely to help that employee.
Do employees belonging to the LGBTQ community have access to specific fertility wellness services or are they left to search for solutions unique to them? Do Muslim or Jewish workers have access to culturally appropriate wellness services or do they have to just adjust with everyone else?
When employers take these nuances into consideration, they’ll realize that wellness is not a standalone concept, but in the very fabric of employees’ day-to-day operations. It would be easy to create gender-neutral training facilities, for example, or facilities accessible for wheelchair-bound employees or ensure that a sign language interpreter is present in conferences and workplace events to ensure everyone feels included.
Rethinking Workplace Wellness in 2023
While the pandemic has eased its grip on our lives, it has brought with it some lessons about the inadequacies of our corporate wellness infrastructure. Employers now need to remodel these programs to meet the needs of the new normal, rethinking their approach to wellness and curating initiatives that meet the needs of employees where they are.