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How to Prioritize Employee Wellness During COVID-19

Nicole Wolfe - ClassPass

2020 has been an unprecedented time for both companies and their employees alike, with the global pandemic forcing employees to stay home and set up makeshift home offices, often shared with spouses, children and housemates. For some employees, that means trading off the bathroom of a studio apartment for meetings or monitoring primary school lessons between Zoom calls – and that means that the pandemic will impact everyone differently.

A recent study found that 1 in 2 global professionals has reported an increased workload and greater stress and burnout levels, with 1 in 4 revealing that they have fewer resources available to them now compared to pre-COVID. A majority of professionals (71%) are also feeling disconnected from their co-workers, so now more than ever before, it’s vital for companies to provide tools to help their teams balance their physical and mental health.

The History Of Wellness In The Workplace

Fifteen years ago, companies who offered wellness programs were in the minority. The practice started as a cost-saving measure to respond to out-of-control health care expenses, but the entire landscape has changed immensely since then.

The wellness offering has become an important component of a company’s brand. Showing the business cares about employees by investing in their health and well-being carries weight and factors into whether a business gets the reputation as a great place to work. 70% of professionals ranked fitness benefits as the most valuable benefit outside of healthcare. For companies to attract the best and brightest, they need to provide a program that reaches their entire workforce and speaks to the huge array of employee needs within the business. As the responses to the pandemic have proved, the needs of every employee differ, and wellness programs should offer multiple ways for employees to engage.

The Common Myths about Wellness Programs

Before committing to a program, it’s important to address some of the misconceptions that are out there that can interfere with good decision-making and planning. 

Myth: Wellness programs are expensive. 

The fact is that many programs are affordable and that in the long run, they save businesses money. In fact, 96% say they feel more motivated and less stressed after exercising and 89% say they feel more productive during the work day after exercising. 

Myth: No one will participate. 

Wellness programs do require some uplift to get off the ground, but a well-designed and well-implemented program can get a large group of employees to join. A few ways to increase participation is by getting visible professionals at the organisation to use a benefit. Find people who are naturally connected across an organisation and excited to be wellness champions at your company. These are folks who can share in a Zoom meeting about their experiences, or post a video to Slack highlighting a benefit they enjoyed using. You can also design opt-in incentives such as virtual training sessions for a new benefit and give employees opportunities to ask questions about new perks in a public setting. 

Myth: Setting up a wellness program is a one and done thing. 

Committing to a wellness program is systemic and ongoing. While an email to employees asking them to sign up for a company walking program may be a good first step, you need to continue designing incentives and communications that sustain interest. For example, send a quarterly survey around asking for feedback from employees on which perks they enjoy and which they would prefer get swapped out. Make sure ongoing maintenance and measurement is part of your plan, and spend time learning about your employees and taking the time to create something that really works for them.

Myth: Programs only work in larger companies. 

The opposite is true! It’s much easier to get a program going in a small company. You are building from the ground up, so you can work with a small team to get them excited about perks early on, and can make that perk part of the company’s social culture.

That being said, don’t get discouraged if you are a large team. Here’s just one example of a large tech company that got 64% of their workforce to adopt a new benefit. Any benefit that is designed with the team in mind still can get off the ground, even if new to the company.

Ingredients of a Successful Wellness Program

So what does work? How can you design a program that’s likely to yield all the advantages?

  1. Give Employees Choice

Give employees a range of options as the needs of every employee differ. Your team may include a pack-a-day smoker and a seasoned marathon runner, and you want perks that will engage both employees.

  1. Monitor and Tweak Programs After Rollout

Think of almost any other business program rollout, whether it’s new technology or training, and all the follow-up that’s involved. It can take time to figure out what you want to measure and how to do so most effectively. Figure out which metrics you will measure for, and how you will gather this information. Then work with your recruitment and HR teams to make sure that any major success metrics are used positively to impact the organisation’s bottom line.

  1. Make It Social

There is a desire to create community and engagement among distributed teams. Now more than ever, employees are looking with ways to keep the social element of their workplace from home. We have seen our corporate partners tackle this desire through weekly fitness challenges over Slack. We are also helping partners such as WSP and Vita Coco to set up private workouts for their teams, with more than 50 employees joining each class. If that wasn’t enough incentive, a recent study has found that 3 in 5 professionals who participated in a team workout report feeling more connected to their team afterwards. Get creative, and use your benefits as a way to build camaraderie and workplace friendships from home.

  1. Start Today

There are lots of modest ways to begin offering wellness benefits, even if your company is not ready to roll out a full program. Think of a company-wide goal that’s simple and accessible to all, like seeing how many hours of meditation you can collectively accumulate. Make a few small starts to build a culture of wellness, so that employees are already familiar with and excited about new perks as they arrive.

Start today and build a program that offers variety, ongoing tracking, encouraging messaging, and leadership participation. Wellness programs, if done right, will keep your employees healthier and happier and your brand high up in the minds of talented millennials who are looking for the best place to commit themselves professionally.

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