Traditionally, employee well-being initiatives have focused on employees’ physical health. Gym memberships, healthy office snacks and corporate-sponsored health challenges have taken center stage. While an employee’s physical health is indeed important, what about an employee’s emotional, social and financial well-being? One of the positive developments during the pandemic was heightened employer awareness and sensitivity to their employees’ mental health. It quickly became apparent months of remote work coupled with managing unprecedented personal responsibilities all while dealing with the uncertainty of a global pandemic was taking its toll on employees. Isolation, fear and stress led to depression and anxiety for many. Fortunately, most employers stepped up to the plate and offered enhanced and more easily accessible mental health benefits for employees. While mental and physical health initiatives are clearly important, can more be done to benefit the “whole” employee? Can employers do better by taking a holistic approach to employee well-being in 2023?
Adopting a holistic wellness strategy focuses on the well-being of the whole person and supports the six dimensions of well-being affecting individuals in their daily lives: physical, emotional, social, financial, community and career. A holistic wellness model goes beyond the traditional focus on benefits and perks to include initiatives that help employees feel satisfied, engaged, empowered and respected professionally and, in turn, personally. Here are some ways in which companies can incorporate a more holistic approach to employee well-being in 2023.
Most companies have programs that promote physical health down to a T. However, many of those programs may be more suited to on-site employees such as providing healthy break room snacks and health screenings. What about remote or hybrid employees? With the right technology, tools, and creativity, HR can organize valuable and effective online wellness activities promoting healthy habits no matter where employees work. Employees can be encouraged to get up and moving anywhere at any time. Daily activity reminders can encourage employees to take a 15-minute stretch or yoga break in the morning and afternoon. A corporate sponsored mid-day meditation exercise can clear the cobwebs and help employees feel centered and focused. Employees appreciate help during meal times, and a discounted healthy meal delivery service promotes healthy eating while saving meal prep time. Online exercise classes exploded during the pandemic. Providing a subscription to a website or app with a variety of exercise classes for all fitness levels is another great way to support employees’ physical health.
As mentioned, employers are much more aware and sensitive to the importance of emotional well-being in the workplace post-pandemic. Most employers have enhanced their EAPs and made access to psychological help much easier. Employees must also know they are in an inclusive and psychologically safe space. Harvard Business School professor, Amy Edmondson, defines psychological safety as, “a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.” This means no ridiculing or shaming others for their beliefs, actions and words. Safe team members are engaged team members focused on solving problems, collaborating on projects and working to their full potential. Managers should be trained on how to identify when employees are struggling mentally or emotionally and know how to properly offer assistance without violating the ADA and other employment laws.
Emotional health is also bolstered when the body has time to relax, mend, regroup and refuel, all accomplished by providing employees sufficient PTO. By offering PTO instead of traditional leave that allocates a set number of days for “sick,” “personal,” or “vacation,” employees feel more empowered and in control of their leave without having to disclose to their employee the reason for taking leave.
Finally, employers should do all they can to actively reduce workloads by streamlining processes and eliminating inefficient ones. Is it necessary to have a standing mandatory Monday meeting? If so, are there ways to shorten it and be more efficient? Properly managing meetings begins pre-meeting by circulating a meticulous agenda with an allotted time slot for each topic. Only those critical to the meeting should be required to attend. Others peripherally involved can get up to speed on their own time by reading the agenda and meeting minutes or notes. Meeting attendees should be aware of meeting ground rules and required to strictly adhere to them including hard start and finish times. Topics that require further time can be sent to the “parking lot” meaning they will be addressed outside of the meeting.
“Social capital” described by Harvard Business Review as, “benefits people can get because of who they know” took a major hit during the pandemic due to hybrid and remote work. It turns out those seemingly insignificant “water cooler conversations” are more meaningful and important than once thought. The “chit chat” that occurs in passing in the hallways, after meetings and in the elevator directly leads to knowledge, guidance and help for coworkers, all drivers of increased productivity and engagement. The good news is those previous workplace relationships are incredibly resilient, and the trust among coworkers established pre-pandemic is likely still there and just needs to be rekindled and built upon.
Corporate leadership must be cognizant that every employee has a different level of comfort with and need for work connections and that there may be little value in trying to nurture social interactions just for the sake of being social. Hosting or providing opportunities for purposeful conversations on a wide range of topics, some not even work-related, is a way for employees to connect without feeling forced into work friendships. Employee resource groups, or ERGs, can be a value vehicle for such conversations. An ERG is a voluntary, employee-led diversity and inclusion initiative generally organized around common interests, backgrounds or experiences. It’s a forum for meaningful discussions, socializing and networking. There are no hard and fast rules concerning ERGs, and the group can even have a different name like “affinity,” “network” or “business resource group.” ERGs can help workplace relationships pick up where they left off pre-pandemic and create a deeper sense of understanding and community among employees.
There’s a direct link between financial well-being and stress level. When an individual lacks financial well-being, her stress levels soar affecting most aspects of her life, including her work performance. A Willis Towers Watson Global Benefits Attitude survey showed a clear relationship between employees’ financial worries and their work performance, engagement and absenteeism. Specifically, the survey found that employees who are financially struggling:
- lose 41% more work time to absences than peers without financial worries;
- are less engaged than peers without financial worries (51% vs. 29%); and
- are less productive than peers without financial worries (32% vs. 5%).
Here are some ways employers can help alleviate some employee financial worries:
Earned wage access or EWA gives employees a safety net to cover unexpected expenses providing greater financial security. EWA is the ability for employees to access a portion of their already earned wages, if needed, outside of a traditional pay cycle. Even before the COVID-19 economic shutdown, many employees lived paycheck-to-paycheck, often driven by a disconnect between daily expenses and traditional pay cycles. EWA’s popularity soared during the pandemic with big names like Walmart, McDonalds and Uber offering the benefit. In a recent VISA report, 95% of those surveyed stated an interest in working for an employer offering EWA, and 79% would be willing to switch to an employer offering EWA. Usually offering the benefit is as simple as partnering with an EWA provider that integrates its software into the existing payroll software so employees can seamlessly have access to funds against their earned wages.
Health Care Coverage Assistance
Health insurance is critical to employees’ financial wellness. When financially able, offering group health insurance and paying all or a portion of employees’ premiums is optimal. For some employers, particularly smaller ones, this may not be possible. However, there are options for small employers to assist employees with health care expenses. A qualified small employer health reimbursement arrangement (QSEHRA) permits eligible small businesses that don’t sponsor group health coverage or any excepted benefits, such as dental or vision care, to reimburse their employees for qualified medical expenses. These reimbursements are tax free if the employees are enrolled in health plans that meet the minimum essential coverage (MEC) requirements of the Affordable Care Act. The business must also not be considered an applicable large employer (ALE), e.g., it has less than 50 full-time employees. Another option may be individual coverage health reimbursement arrangements (ICHRA). An ICHRA is a formal group health plan that allows organizations of all sizes to reimburse their employees, tax-free, for their individual health insurance premiums and potentially other qualifying medical expenses.
An employer sponsored qualified retirement plan such as a 401(k), 403(b), and profit-sharing plans allow employees to invest now to secure their financial futures. Employee contributions made on a pre-tax basis are tax deferred reducing employees’ taxable income. Employers benefit from tax deductible employer contributions and the ability to attract and retain desirable talent.
Financial Wellness Programs
Employee financial wellness programs help employees better manage their finances and reduce financial worries through educating employees on personal and household budgeting, paying off debt, building credit, paying down student loans and establishing an emergency fund for unexpected expenses. Companies can offer a variety of platforms for financial wellness programs including in-person workshops with financial counselors and digital, online tools. Technology platforms provide employees confidential, around-the-clock access to information and assistance. Some employees may prefer actual human contact available during workshops for more complex, personalized assistance. Companies may offer one-time counseling or ongoing support. The key is to find the best vehicle to improve employees’ financial literacy.
A holistic approach to employee well-being recognizes the importance of employees’ lives outside the office and how satisfaction at home and in the community translates into satisfaction and engagement at work. Employee service programs are a great way for employees to gain enrichment by sharing their skills and talents for the common good of the community. Generally, corporate-sponsored employee service programs take the form of “giving” or “service.” Giving initiatives include charitable drives, fundraising campaigns and donation matching programs. Service programs allow employees to volunteer their time and talents to specific volunteer projects or programs. When deciding to offer an employee service program, employers should be authentic and true to the company’s mission.
Perhaps more now than ever, employees want meaningful work and opportunities for an enhanced work experience. With an unsettled workforce and record numbers of resignations, it’s critical for employers to execute holistic wellness strategies that support professional growth and development while promoting work-life integration. All-day seminars led by monotonous instructors and boring PowerPoint presentations don’t cut it. Not only are employees hesitant to attend massive conferences and seminars with Covid variants lurking, today’s employees prefer short bursts of information delivered via easy-to-access platforms. Some tips for delivering professional development information and training include making information:
- available in easy to access delivery methods;
- pertinent for both on-site and remote employees;
- focused, relevant and concise;
- delivered within a short amount of time (less than 30 minutes); and
- interactive and collaborative.
Career development initiatives don’t have to be budget busting. Some inexpensive or even no expense ideas include:
Mentoring programs serve to pair employees knowledgeable in a subject or skill with others in need of improvement or assistance. More seasoned employees can share their industry knowledge and experience with new hires or those taking on more challenging work projects. Reverse mentoring occurs when newer employees share their knowledge and skills from their previous jobs with more tenured employees.
Untapped Hidden Talent
Often employers can leverage from within and use existing internal talent at no cost for training and career development initiatives. Subject matter experts (SMEs) often abound within companies and are eager to share their skills and knowledge with larger groups of coworkers.
Everyone has professional and social contacts, many of whom are leaders in their field, have sought-after skills or just an interesting story to tell. Most would be flattered if asked to share their knowledge or experience with others.
Get Smart HR
It’s been a rough few years for employers and employees. Many people don’t yet feel “whole” again emerging from the pandemic. Employers know employees are their most valuable asset but may struggle with ways to show it. By approaching employee well-being holistically, employers leave no stone unturned in their quest to support and nurture employees. Now is the time to plan 2023 employee well-being initiatives, and Smart HR can help. Call today.