For an organization reevaluating its benefits offerings, wellness is a common area of focus and an opportunity to build a competitive advantage.
Ensuring employees feel and do their best physically, emotionally and mentally goes beyond improving job performance. Our personal lives have always impacted job performance, but remote and hybrid work has only reinforced employer influence in supporting employee well-being.
With multiple unique services and perks available, finding the best combination for your workforce will require more understanding of your workforce’s circumstances and goals outside the purview of their professional role. Gaining that kind of visibility without overstepping can be a challenge, and some companies may not even realize a workforce need until they begin offering a benefit for it.
So how do HR teams get on the right track?
Examine external factors
Stress originates from a multitude of areas in life. Whether work-related or not, it’s important to consider the many things that can influence job satisfaction.
Experiencing divorce, the loss of a close friend or family member, birth or adoption, illness, marriage, and various other positive and negative experiences are not uncommon occurrences. However, their connection to our work lives is strengthening, emphasizing the need to broaden the definition of wellness in the workplace.
For example, a program that helps employees pay down student loan debt may not seem related to wellness at first glance, but it targets a very common source of stress: money. According to a Bank of America report, 64% of employees are stressed about their finances, illuminating the kind of strain the workforce faces. Employees utilizing a financial benefit may see an improvement in their outlook and productivity.
This targeted approach can be used in other applications, as seen with Microsoft and other companies offering menopause benefits, with the general idea of providing the most impactful benefit for a given employee group.
A critical employee segment like single parents, for example, faces the same level of expectation at work as childless or married peers, yet aren’t always given the support and wellness resources they need.
These employees have additional circumstances outside of work that make them some of the hardest working and most loyal employees, however they often don’t receive wellness benefits that have a positive impact on their lives. Consider how you can reframe your efforts to serve those who are often overlooked.
Think of wellness as an individual and collective goal
Examine your wellness offerings from an individual and group context. Thinking individually is key to identifying the wider set of employee groups your offering will serve and how best to serve them. At the same time, one team member’s major life event, personal goal or ongoing challenge can impact a team or business as a whole.
My divorce was a turning point both, personally and professionally. I know there were days when I carried some aspect of it into the office. The main point: It’s unrealistic to expect every employee to leave their personal life at the door or that all employees will perform at the same level at all times in their lives.
While fostering a positive social environment is beneficial, going a step further with targeted benefits creates a workforce that is better equipped to support colleagues during challenging times.
For example, long COVID can impact an employee firsthand, or secondarily if they take on caregiving responsibilities for a loved one. In either case, improving an employee’s ability to manage their own care is beneficial. Employer support could range from anything like a grocery program or a healthcare management tool.
In general, a major life event or change in health is very personal. Employees might refrain from discussing these issues due to concerns about potential professional repercussions. Employers or management may not know something is happening, but having wellness resources available regardless can truly make a difference.
Though how do you know what’s needed most?
Find the pulse using experimentation
The reality is that even the most effective HR department can only achieve a limited level of insight into employee needs. Though our work and personal lives continue to blend, employees are also more empowered to maintain the boundary between them.
Semi-frequent surveys and open forums are a great starting point. To gain a better understanding of the types of benefits employees need, try offering a host of options. Trialing a unique benefit, beyond the more common reduced-rate gym memberships or mindfulness app subscriptions, can reveal needs that go beyond surface level.
You can estimate uptake rates ahead of a benefit being launched, but evaluating the true impact may only be done when something is rolled out. Budgeting for a trial or two and checking in with employees consistently can dramatically improve an offering refresh.
At this point, you might be thinking “Keep dreaming. We don’t have the money for that!”
Financial concerns are understandable, especially right now, and decision-makers outside of HR will more than likely want to see a clear ROI from the outset. Making the case for something new or “unconventional” requires a degree of finesse and planning.
Consider the following starting points on how best to generate buy-in for wellness initiatives:
- Survey leadership in tandem with employees to reveal potential areas of disconnect
- Audit competitors to see where their benefits and retention efforts outpace yours
- Leverage third-party data to support your perspective
- Tap into professional groups or networks for tips, and
- Forecast potential long-term losses if a specific need or resource goes unfulfilled.
In many cases, leaders may find it challenging to observe or address employees due to their position or because sometimes the leaders themselves are isolated in some sort of vacuum.
As an HR professional, you best understand the unique factors at play within your organization and personalizing strategies will yield better results. Fostering an environment where employee input is not only appreciated but also properly elevated and addressed is invaluable to this kind of work.
Ultimately, meeting modern stressors with modern solutions is imperative. Our workforce is becoming more generationally diverse, grappling with persistent inflation and the possibility of a recession, and individuals are increasingly clear about the working model that suits them best.
It’s important for leaders to think about their role in building a more balanced workplace that prioritizes wellness. While wellness perks and nice-to-haves are certainly appealing, businesses should consider areas where they can make an even more significant impact.