We’re wrapping up 2019. It’s time to start planning for the New Year, and that means taking a close look at the issues around workforce wellness. Concepts of wellness, particularly employee wellness, are evolving, and in 2020 we’ll see a lot of organizations working to meet their employees’ needs better. Pay attention to these six employee wellness trends for 2020. I predict we will be hearing a lot about them.

The Concept of Wellness is Changing

The current multi-generational workforce is guiding the conversations around health and wellness in the workplace. Both Millennials and Generation Zs expect employers to invest in their health and wellbeing. According to research just published by ClassPass, “Seventy-five percent of professionals surveyed believe it is their employer’s responsibility to contribute to their health and wellbeing, ideally in part by providing wellness benefits to employees.”

But there’s a disparity between how employers and employees view access to health and wellness benefits. According to a study published by Aetna, 70% of employers believe they provide reasonable access to health and wellness benefits, while only 23% of employees agree. Additionally, the study found that 82% of workers across the globe are concerned that mental health issues could impact their ability to work. But only 25% of employees feel their organizations provide enough support for mental health conditions.

I’ve been writing in the HR space for years about the importance of a healthy workforce — and that means revising health and wellness programs to better meet new workforce realities. Let’s take a closer look at what some of these are:

1. Holistic benefits: Holistic benefits plans will become more readily available. Holistic benefits plans are constructed to address all aspects of care, including mind and body components. Managing mental health conditions such as stress and depression will be increasingly commonplace, extending, in some plans, to assistance with financial stressors such as college loan payments.

More companies will approach health insurance and employee benefits with an eye toward investing in both benefits and people. Those who take this direction will be focusing on the impact this has on metrics, including employee retention, productivity, workforce attraction, and company culture. “High-value options and technologies are increasingly defining and shaping holistic employee benefit programs,” according to Workforce.com.

Employees want health and wellness benefits options that fit their needs and lives, and statistics bear that out. In MetLife’s 2019 Employee Benefit Trends Study, 55% of those surveyed said they would be more interested in working for a company offering holistic benefits. Fifty-three percent of respondents said they would be more loyal to a company providing those benefits, while 52% stated they believed they would be more successful in both work and life with access to holistic benefits. Generation Z and Millennial employees rated holistic benefits as slightly more important (57% versus 52%) in their responses.

2. Equal benefits for alternative families and identities: Ensuring that alternative families have access to equal benefits will be a significant shift moving into 2020. Examples of this may include people who are caring for extended family members or elderly parents, have blended families, or are part of an LGBTQ+ community. We will see organizations begin to explore the feasibility of expanding family leave policies to provide new parents of both sexes access to flex-time policies.

3. A focus on mental health and stress reduction benefits: Stress harms overall mental health and employee engagement, so we’ll see more organizations build stress-reduction activities into their employee wellness programming. Many companies are already offering on-site, face-to-face wellness coaching, mindfulness courses, and individual therapy.

As the ClassPass survey findings illustrate, people believe their employers should contribute to their health and wellbeing. Eighty-eight percent of the survey’s respondents stated they would be more likely to recommend an employer who supports their wellbeing efforts.

4. Adventure and social good programs: Companies are adding programs like these to their employee wellness programs, which allow employees to give back by volunteering time and services. Salesforce has a fantastic program, offering its “citizen philanthropists” seven days of paid Volunteer Time Off, among other social good options. This type of initiative appeals to younger workers, and we’ll see an increase in the implementation of adventure and social good programming.

5. Expanding financial wellness programs for all employees: Going beyond the lunchtime seminars and offering in-house financial counseling and programs targeted to individual employees’ needs. Most firms will have employees ranging in age from those just entering the workforce to a cohort facing retirement. Financial wellness program possibilities are endless, from payday loans using alternative “currencies” like hours or vacation time, tuition reimbursement and student loan pay-down assistance, to credit counselors and financial concierge services. Financial stress takes a massive toll on productivity in the workplace. Savvy employers understand that whatever costs they incur expanding financial wellness programs, they will reap back two-fold.

6. Using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to predict evolving employee needs and benefits investments better: AI is already creating more personalized experiences for employees. Its use is allowing companies to leverage data to tweak and adjust their wellness programs, resulting in a better user experience based on the employees’ preferences and wellness goals, as well as reduced overall corporate costs through fine-tuning. You’ll see more of this in the coming year. Watch for AI that monitors the use of emojis in internal messaging systems such as Slack, allowing organizations to gauge employee satisfaction and handle issues before they get out of hand.

Evaluating Your Own Workplace Wellness Culture

Employers need to keep pace with these changes. I’d suggest we commit to conducting a yearly review of our workplace wellness cultures. Annual reviews are essential to help organizations stay abreast of changing technology, societal conditions, and worker satisfaction levels. Your review should factor in metrics like productivity and employee engagement. Afterward, plan to adjust your programs in response to the results. You might even try experimenting with corporate culture shifts such as flex-time or remote-work options — which are certainly related to wellness, as more of us are starting to find out.

Here’s looking at a healthy and happy 2020. Cheers!

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