Photo: Erik Mclean
After COVID-19: Improving Your Employee Wellness Program
The impacts of COVID-19 and the measures governments and organizations are taking to contain it right now are unprecedented. The hourly breaking news headlines of outbreaks and cancellations have our heads spinning. They have also kept the wellness of our families, friends, and co-workers top of mind. Companies like Google led the way in implementing work-from-home policies to keep their employees safe; now remote work is mandatory as part of stay-home, stay-safe policies.
Organizations should certainly follow CDC guidelines to keep their employees safe and prevent the virus from spreading. It’s imperative that companies stay cognizant of the risks the virus brings. We must also heed the short-term precautions that need to occur to keep employees healthy. But after this health crisis passes, think about how your company can keep employees healthy into the future.
Millennials — now the largest generation in the American workforce, and Gen Z are health-conscious employees who are choosing to work at companies that care about their well-being. That’s not going to change after the COVID-19 crisis is over; it will only intensify. These generations are more open and aware of mental and physical health: too many watched their parents sacrifice personal time, missing end-of-year recitals and Friday-night games due to job commitments.
Young professionals are willing to work hard, of course. But they want their employers to understand that there’s life outside of the 9-to-5 grind. They prefer to exchange their energy, education, and expertise for modern benefits — including company-based wellness programs. Organizations have taken notice, but many executives question which wellness program initiatives will offer the strongest return on investment.
Here are six possibilities that can have far-reaching positive effects.
1. On- and Off-Site Fitness Accessibility
Once we’re done with stay-at-home and social-distancing measures, everyone is going to need to move. Younger generations know that the couch potato lifestyle isn’t a winning choice. Businesses that offer on-site wellness centers or access to personal trainers or group fitness classes illustrate to young workers that they see them as people, not numbers.
If on-site facilities aren’t possible? Consider partnering with a local fitness center. Perhaps offer free or reduced-cost memberships for your employees. Or you can secure a corporate rate for ClassPass. That way, employees can choose the location and activity, such as spin class, yoga, boxing, and more. If you do end up partnering with a gym? Make sure it operates outside of traditional business hours. Otherwise, employees probably won’t take advantage of this corporate wellness program benefit.
And for a no-cost option, create a company walking club and set a day and time during the week for folks to participate.
2. Wellness Challenges
Most young workers are accustomed to socializing with coworkers , and wellness challenges allow them to collectively march toward a common goal. What’s more, according to a study of the Blue Zones, which are the world’s healthiest regions, feeling like you belong to a community is critical to long-term health. We’re seeing that play out right now in an explosion of online exercise classes and social media challenges. A return to normal will mean a return to community wellness.
Create wellness challenges around healthy living — for instance, ask participants to record how many ounces of water they drink each day or clock the miles that their walking group racks up in a week.
Make sure to publicize progress and give a shout-out to winners on your internal landing page, intranet, or other private communication channels. As you drum up excitement, you’ll see more people join in for upcoming challenges. Take it a step further and highlight employees who participate in 5Ks, marathons, triathlons, and other challenges in your monthly newsletter.
3. Flexible Hours
There are countless predictions about how we’ll return to work, and many posit that remote and flexible working will become the norm. Flextime should be considered part of a company’s wellness program. Research confirms that employees who are empowered to balance their personal and professional expectations are more productive, less stressed, and have a greater sense of well-being.
Before you roll out flexible work options, however, sit down with your leadership team to develop an intentional strategy. This will ensure you address any questions or concerns beforehand. Together, you can construct clear guardrails around the initiative, including defining the boundaries of flextime for employees. If you’re still unsure about flexible hours, test it with a small group of employees first. This way, you’ll have time to work out any kinks before rolling it out on a company-wide level.
4. Healthy Snacks
Everyone needs to eat, and free snacks and drinks are a great benefit that employees can see and enjoy immediately. Perhaps that’s why 32% of companies already offer this benefit, according to a report by SHRM. The wrong foods, however, can lead to a workforce that’s prone to energy crashes and food comas.
Skip the soda and chips and, instead, provide treats that taste great but don’t include added sugars, saturated fats, or excessive sodium. Consider having fresh fruit, vegetables, and an assortment of nuts delivered to the office weekly and placed in the lunchroom. Offering free healthy food also dovetails nicely with other elements of your wellness program — like gym memberships or personal training.
5. In-Office Preventive Health Screenings
Too many people put their personal health on the back burner so they can juggle busy work schedules and family obligations. A 2019 poll found that nearly 40% of American adults weren’t planning on getting a flu shot, and a national survey of 1,200 adults found that 45% of those between the ages of 18 and 29 did not have a primary care physician — an alarming issue when it comes to getting care during a health crisis.
It doesn’t have to be this way. To streamline preventive measures that may be covered by your corporate health insurance, invite medical professionals into the office once or twice a year to give flu shots and perform biometric screenings. Not only will doing so make life easier for employees, but it will also reduce the likelihood of employees getting the flu — which will save you a lot in illness-related lost productivity costs.
6. Mindfulness Meetings
Teaching your team members meditation techniques — such as how to breathe deeply and clear their heads — can have widespread corporate wellness program benefits. Practicing mindfulness can help workers lower anxiety and remain more present. One study even discovered a connection between meditation and how willing people are to help others.
If you’re unsure where to start, check out YouTube, where you’ll find hundreds of beginner tutorials and walk-throughs. After some simple research, you can reasonably self-direct mindfulness workshops. Or you can have a brown bag meeting and bring in a yoga instructor to teach people about breathing techniques and meditation. Additionally, there are numerous meditation apps on the market, including Calm and Headspace.
The popularity of wellness programs continues to rise among companies of all sizes — probably because more employees expect their employers to respect and care about their well-being. Of course you are doing everything right now to keep employees safe. But once this crisis is over, commit to offering long-term solutions to help your people stay healthy.