On-site stress management program
GETTYHealth and wellness programs and benefits will continue to be a significant way for employers to stand out from the pack in the coming years. Offering progressive and innovative programs and benefits not only gives companies a competitive advantage in the increasingly tight war for talent. It is also a lever by which employers can foster greater engagement and resilience and reduce stress and absenteeism.
A suite of surveys by the Society for Human Resource Management offers a glimpse into how employers in the U.S. are thinking about corporate wellness. Health and wellness benefits increased more than those in any other area in 2019. Beyond traditional offerings, this also included initiatives around financial wellbeing and flexible work arrangements.
Mental health benefitsThe SHRM survey reports "slow but steady" progress in increased workplace support for mental health. The authors see a growing recognition among employers that "long term stress and anxiety can negatively impact employees in many ways, including deteriorating health and productivity."
Today In: LeadershipThe report notes a promising 13% increase in on-site stress management programs and an 11% increase in mindfulness or meditation programs.
Mental health is a particularly pressing problem for young workers, whose issues with anxiety and related disorders often begin in college or earlier. Young workers are more open about these issues, which is forcing a change in how they are dealt with in the workplace, says Dan Schwabel, author of Back to Human: How Great Leaders Connect in an Age of Isolation. "People in today's world want to bring their full selves into the workplace, and their full selves include mental disorders. Therefore, leaders have to be more empathetic and supportive of people going through tough times mentally because it's more common than you think.
Technology and personalized wellnessAnother trend that is sure to accelerate in the upcoming decade is the use of technology to create personalized and, in some cases, virtual health services. The SHRM survey finds a 10% increase in so-called "telemedicine" services. Amazon recently launched a virtual clinic for its Seattle employees.
Another tech-driven trend is the use of genetic screenings to detect future health risks and develop preventative care proactively rather than reactively. Apple now offers Silicon Valley employees free screenings at its on-site health clinics. However, the use of genetic testing is fraught with concerns about privacy, discrimination, and over-diagnosis. Regardless, it will be an interesting trend to watch.
Holistic wellbeingCompanies are slowly but surely waking up and viewing their employees' health through the broader lens of wellbeing. "The big thing in the HR world is that the industry is sort of rebranding, if you will, from wellness to wellbeing," says Sarah Sardella, senior director for global benefits at Akamai Technologies in Cambridge, Mass. "There was this initial focus on health and fitness—physical health. Now everyone is saying 'What about financial wellness, emotional wellbeing, and mental mindfulness?'"
Harvard Medical School professor Jeff Levin-Scherz concurs. "There has been a migration from traditional wellness programs to programs that actually have more facets and hopefully address the needs of different employees at different places in their lives."
Two trends noted in the SHRM survey indicate a growing commitment to making the workplace itself a healthier place to be. The use of standing desks has increased by 7%, and the availability of on-site massage therapy has gone up 13%.
Financial wellnessWorry about personal finances is a significant contributor to stress and anxiety, and a drag on productivity. According to a Bank of Merrill Lynch study, 56% of employees are stressed about their financial situation—and of this group, over half say such concerns interfere with their ability to focus and be productive at work.
Encouragingly, the SHRM survey finds a growing number of employers stepping up to the plate on these issues. More than half (56%) provide tuition assistance, and 36% offer non-retirement financial counseling.
This commitment to addressing employees' financial wellness is going to have to grow even stronger, especially for younger workers. According to a new PricewaterhouseCoopers survey, 71% of Millennials say their financial stress has increased over the last twelve months.
"We foresee critical issues for organizations if the root causes of this financial stress are not addressed," the PwC report concludes. "While some studies show upwards of 80% of employers having a financial wellness program in place, our results show that a majority are still traditional retirement education and planning programs lacking focus on the key areas causing employee stress."
The bottom line is that business leaders must keep expanding their ideas about health and wellness. When viewed through a wider lens, almost everything relates to wellbeing. For example, another promising trend noted by SHRM is a modest but significant increase in benefits associated with caretaking (most frequently child or elder care). The survey cites research showing such benefits reduce stress and absenteeism, increase employee retention and productivity, and also improve workplace diversity and inclusion.
Any forward-thinking initiative around employee wellbeing will have similar ripple effects. In the 2020s, smart business leaders will actively expand their vision of employee wellbeing and capture the numerous competitive advantages of doing so.