The New Face of Workplace Wellness

The New Face of Workplace Wellness

Gone are the days of 'bring your dog to work' as a braggable corporate perk. Today, a company’s wellness plan needs to support employees on and off the clock.
Contributors
Jeannie Tomlinson Photo
Jeannie Tomlinson, Head of Corporate Health and Wellness, The Hartford
Bring your dog to work, gym reimbursement, on-site yoga and quiet rooms – pre-pandemic, these wellness incentives were top-flight perks that companies bragged about. Now, they seem quaint and woefully lacking.
 
As we head into 2022, the face of workplace wellness has officially changed. Employees are going through difficult times and their struggles are real. If you want proof, simply look at the great resignation currently in progress. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 4.3 million American workers quit their jobs in August 2021, representing 3% of the workforce.
 
People are leaving companies for various reasons: Burnout, toxic culture, lack of childcare, rigid work schedules, mental health and the burden of caregiving for children or elderly parents in a pandemic.
 

Rethinking the Value of Wellness

“Ten or fifteen years ago, it might have been all about your health plan and maybe your 401(k), but now, increasingly, employees are looking for support services in our wellness programs," says Jeannie Tomlinson, head of corporate health and wellness at The Hartford.
 
Support services in this case may address an employee's physical, social, emotional and financial wellbeing.
 
Eli Doster, chief talent officer at Insight Global, a national staffing company with offices across 33 states, offers up a powerful anecdote. Last spring, Insight Global held a lean-in campaign on mental health, offering employees access to Headspace and Peloton. They also provided leaders training on how to recognize signs of stress, burnout or mental health vulnerabilities within their teams.
 
“One of our leaders noticed something going on with one of his employees coming in late, not producing as well and being erratic with his behavior," Doster says. “The leader approached the employee in a safe, supportive way, only to find out he struggled with substance misuse and suicidal ideations. The manager immediately directed the employee to the right wellness support where he entered an external program.” Today, Doster shares that the employee, an ambassador in the company’s Peer Support Network program, credits his manager with saving his life.
Managers play a key role in “occupational outcomes.” Inappropriate responses or inaction by management can take a massive toll on an employee’s mental health.
 
Source: Workplace Mental Health study, The Lancet
Giving managers the tools they need to help support their employees is a crucial element of workplace wellness. And it’s not a new concept. A 2017 study found that managers play a key role in “occupational outcomes.” Inappropriate responses or inaction by management can take a massive toll on an employee’s mental health.2
 
“We certainly have seen an uptick in utilization for our employee assistance program (EAP) services, as well as other support services for the stressors people have been facing with the pandemic," says Tomlinson, who noted The Hartford has provided mental health training to its managers.
 
The Hartford has leveraged its partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness to provide webinars to its employees, including a conversation about mental health between NAMI’s Dr. Christine Crawford and The Hartford’s Chairman and CEO Christopher Swift. He has been on the forefront of CEOs discussing the need for public-private partnerships to address mental health and addiction in the workplace.
 
“People are still struggling with COVID’s massive impact. We have increased anxiety, depression and anger,” says Ranee Alison, MA, CCWC, a corporate and community health educator and programs chair at Professionals in Human Resources Association (PIHRA) in Long Beach, California. “Parents have new challenges, and many families are navigating grief from the loss of a loved one. Society forgets mental health is tied to physical health and vice versa. You cannot separate the two."
Wellness programs can lead to 25% cost savings for employers.
 
Source: CDC3
It’s a fact backed by data. Emotional health and off-the-clock wellbeing impact employee performance and attendance. The CDC estimates “well-implemented” wellness programs can lead to 25% savings for employers on absenteeism, healthcare costs, workers’ compensation and disability management claims costs.3
 
“Health and wellness programs really are a win-win scenario for employees and employers, because if somebody is healthier, in a better state of mind and has a better handle on their commitments, they are free to spend more of their energy in support of the company's mission,” Tomlinson says. “If your employee feels that investment, they will give you more discretionary energy and will be more committed to your mission and your company."
 
Meditation apps, free virtual counseling sessions and mindfulness training are becoming the new normal of workplace wellness plans, as is cultivating a stigma-free workplace and financial literacy tools including personalized coaching and online courses on everything from debt to retirement.
“If it's not easy to find your way online, you're not going to get adoption.”
 
– Jeannie Tomlinson, head of corporate health and wellness at The Hartford
Thus, demand is booming for apps and all-in-one digital platforms which allow employers to seamlessly provide these benefits. In 2021 alone, corporations have spent an estimated $599 billion on enterprise software.4
 
“If it's not easy to find your way online, you're not going to get adoption," Tomlinson says.
 
Digital access is a necessity for ease as well as engagement, Tomlinson adds. “We've turned our EAP relationship into a much more proactive tool for us and The Hartford's employees.” Instead of employees being limited to calling an EAP number with a problem, they can also access one-on-one virtual coaching, EAP webinars and education services.
$559 billion: The amount corporations have spent in 2021 on workplace wellness enterprise software
 
Source: Enterprise Software: Statistics & Facts, Statista4

Tailoring Benefits to Your Team

"There are all types of innovative and positive wellness benefits in numerous workplaces. However, to be effective for employers, one should realize that the benefits that are invaluable to some employees [won’t be] to others," says Chester S. Spell, PhD, professor of management at Rutgers University School of Business with a focus on wellbeing in organizations. The key, he advises, is for companies to “align their portfolio of wellness offerings to the desires and needs of their employees.”
 
To effectively implement a workplace wellness plan, Spell advises companies to conduct health surveys, employ external companies to assess wellness concerns, track engagement and review data on usage rates.
 
"This is not as easy as ‘do a survey,’ but really learning and considering what are the key wellness needs in your particular workplace," Spell says.
 
With in-depth surveys and honest manager-to-employee conversations comes new terrain in which employees are being asked to be more vulnerable than ever. This allows them to open up on topics such as mental health, substance use and financial insecurity without fear of reprisal. And employers are tasked with listening and adapting.
 
“The goal is to strengthen the bones of the company,” says Alison. “And the bones of a company are its workforce."
 
 
1 Job Openings and Labor Turnover, U.S. Dept. of Labor, October 12, 2021
 
2 Workplace Mental Health Training for Managers and Its Effect on Sick Leave in Employees, Milligan-Saville, et al, The Lancet, October 11, 2017
 
3 Control Health Care Costs: Workplace Health Programs Can Impact Health Care Costs, CDC.gov, December 4, 2015
 
4 Enterprise Software: Statistics & Facts, Shanhong Liu, June 28, 2021, Statista
 
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Jennifer Nelson
Jennifer Nelson
Jennifer Nelson is a writer specializing in workplace issues, mental health and personal finance. Her work has appeared in Fast Company, Business Insider and Real Simple, among other publications.