The growth of remote-first work opportunities means HR professionals are managing the needs of employees who might never share the same office. Meanwhile, changing attitudes about well-being and work-life balance have reshaped expectations about the wellness support employers should offer.
It’s a daunting task. For example, there were 11.5 million job openings at the end of March and more than 60% of employees say well-being support will be a top priority when they apply for their next job. As a result, employers who put a premium on compensation, titles and advancement opportunities to entice employees may find themselves at a disadvantage next to employers who are more in tune with what employees want from their health and well-being benefits.
Given the growing value of well-being, employers need a plan to address the mental, physical and emotional health of a workforce that is more diverse and dispersed than ever. While that may sound intimidating, it is far from impossible.
With a little foresight, employers can build a well-being initiative that gives employees the kind of support that will keep them happy, healthy, engaged and productive – regardless of their location and their position.
Here are five wellness trends to watch for employers who are ready to embrace the future of workplace well-being.
1. Find fitness that fits
It has become clear in recent years that staying fit doesn’t have to mean driving to the gym or scheduling your day around a group fitness class. Americans spent $3.3 billion on home fitness equipment between January and November 2021, and they continue to appreciate the benefits of workouts that fit their interests and their schedule.
While gym memberships have rebounded since the pandemic, 25% of former gym members say they don’t plan to go back. As remote work becomes commonplace and employees continue to embrace working out on their own terms, employers need options that engage users of all ages, interests and ability levels.
One option is on-demand, virtual well-being classes that offer a range of lengths and formats because while some people might thrive with an hour-long sweat fest, others prefer a brief mindfulness break, a yoga workout or outdoor fitness.
2. Battle burnout
Burnout has been a recognized concern since at least 2013 when the World Health Organization predicted a global burnout pandemic within the next decade. But two years of COVID-19-related anxiety, workplace disruptions and the stress of balancing work demands with family needs elevated burnout concerns to crisis level.
With nearly 90% of employees experiencing occupational burnout over the previous year and 27% saying they experience burnout “all of the time,” it’s clearly a problem and it’s costing employers money. Your team needs resources to prevent or mitigate burnout, but because the causes of burnout are complex, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution.
Teams that succeed will find a balanced approach of fitness, mindfulness and nutrition, in conjunction with mental health support and resources for team members who may also be balancing family caregiving responsibilities.
3. Prioritize mental health
One-in-five adults experience mental illness, and one in 20 experience serious mental illness, a situation compounded by the fact that 25% of Americans say they have to choose between mental health treatment and paying for daily necessities. Even when the cost is not an issue, patients may have to wait weeks or months to receive care.
Employers are increasingly finding ways to normalize conversations about mental health and creating a culture where employees feel comfortable asking for help. Helping employees access one-on-one counseling sessions is useful in these efforts, but virtual resources are becoming increasingly important because they allow employees to access help more quickly while removing barriers to care that can be caused by lingering mental health stigma.
4. Provide care for caregivers
According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, the number of Americans providing unpaid care for an adult grew from 43.5 million in 2015 to 53 million in 2020, and 24% of people are caring for more than one person. That is affecting employee performance and satisfaction.
In response, employers are increasingly introducing resources that ease the burden on employees who are also caregivers. For example, some have begun to recognize the skills that unpaid caregivers bring to the workforce. Others are communicating more regularly with all employees about the challenges and rewards of being a working caregiver in an effort to improve understanding of the additional burden their coworkers may be carrying.
You may also consider encouraging mindfulness breaks during the day to help caregivers manage their stress, or building flexibility into work schedules so they can more easily attend doctor and other appointments with their loved ones. You can also help by giving employees ready access to caregiving resources that can connect them with specialists and specialized support for their loved ones.
5. Step up nutrition support
The growth of remote and hybrid work schedules has changed the way people eat. Home cooking has become more popular, which has led to healthier eating. On the other hand, people are snacking more often and drinking more, potentially contributing to increased levels of depression and anxiety.
Your team can encourage healthy cooking and eating habits with classes and recipes that give employees the confidence and skills to prepare quick, healthy meals. Beyond the kitchen, it’s important to encourage employees to eat more mindfully by encouraging them to step away from their desks to enjoy a meal rather than sneaking bites between emails.
You also want to educate employees about functional nutrition – an approach that recognizes the power of food to improve gut health and brain health, regulate hormones and mitigate the symptoms of chronic conditions. This rapidly growing area of nutrition can deliver a multitude of benefits for your organization and your employees.
The future of workplace well-being is simultaneously more personal and less in-person, but supporting employee well-being still boils down to a simple mission statement: find what matters to employees and offer support that meets their needs in a way that engages them. Whether that means more flexibility in the way people work out, more robust mental health support or the freedom to care for a loved one, employers who embrace this mission will be well-positioned for the future of workplace well-being.