The physical and emotional wellbeing of employees is being challenged in ways none of us anticipated at the start of 2020. In addition to dealing with the threat of COVID-19 itself, most employees are facing unprecedented workplace stress as they continue to adapt to changes onsite, in the field or working from home.
A recent survey found that stress caused by the pandemic and its social and economic ramifications has had a detrimental impact on health-related behaviors. Even among people who are not concerned about losing their jobs, nearly 30% are getting less exercise, nearly 25% are eating less healthy, and more than 20% are losing sleep.1 Another 11% say that they are drinking more alcohol.2 Meanwhile, nearly 30% have postponed or canceled one or more medical appointments.3 In total, 45% said the pandemic has “impacted their ability to manage their health care in some way.”4
Prior to the pandemic, inactivity was already a significant issue, with only about half of all Americans getting the recommended amount of exercise.5 Inactivity alone was responsible for $117 billion in healthcare expenses.6 Corporate wellness programs and initiatives have proven to be great tools for encouraging exercise and other healthy habits and for improving the wellbeing and productivity of the workforce while also helping minimize increases in an employer’s group health insurance costs.
At the same time, COVID-19 has spurred an increase in unhealthy behaviors. It has also made it more difficult for employees to get the exercise and rest needed to maintain physical and emotional wellness. Companies offering onsite exercise, yoga, meditation and other wellness offerings have had to discontinue those programs. Employees who took advantage of company-offered health club memberships, discounts, or reimbursements might be unable or reluctant to resume their former routines.
With the challenges to employee wellness greater than ever, it’s essential that companies and organizations innovate and adapt to the new normal. Fortunately, options to traditional wellness programs and incentives are out there thanks largely to online and digital tools. Some are available free of charge. Others offer premium features for a flat fee or subscription. Here are some thought-starters for retooling your company’s wellness offering.
Many gyms, health clubs and fitness centers now offer online instruction for members who want to stay home for their safety. See if the ones your company works with offer those options and, if so, promote them to your employees. If you don’t have established affiliations or your fitness partners aren’t offering online instruction, YouTube has a wealth of exercise and yoga content employees can access, often at no charge. Examples include “YMCA 360 on Demand,” and the “Katie Austin App.” A little searching will reveal everything from cardio and yoga instruction to strength training, Pilates and dance.
Steering employees toward these might be all the incentive they need to improve their self-care. You can also recommend—and help subsidize, if you choose—paid subscription services like ClassPass, which hosts live, bookable classes from more than 500 boutique fitness establishments. Another paid service called Obe offers both live classes and thousands of on-demand recorded classes, and has recently introduced exercise content for children in collaboration with KidzBop. Many other options exist in the form of fitness apps for a smartphone or personal fitness trackers such as Fitbit and Apple Watch. Some of these include “My Fitness Pal,” “Zones for Training” (Apple Watch), “Fooducate” (for healthy eating), “Glo” (yoga), “JEFIT Workout Planner Gym Log” (for weight training), and “The 7 Minute Workout.”
Don’t forget emotional wellbeing. Smartphone and tablet apps include “Moodfit” (help with stress, anxiety, depression), “Headspace” (meditation and mindfulness), and “Happify” (build emotional resilience and overcome negative thoughts).
Encouraging wellness and providing options like these in your employee communications are key to maintaining a happy, healthy workforce during these trying times. There’s another upside as well. Showing concern can help build employee loyalty and boost retention. One way to “make a statement” to your workforce about your organization’s commitment to wellness is by offering a Wellness Reimbursement Arrangement (WRA). You determine a dollar amount the company will offer to help individual employees exercise, eat well, de-stress, etc., and then you reimburse them for qualified and substantiated wellness expenses. Traditionally, a WRA has been used to help pay for things like gym and fitness center memberships. But you can expand your offering to include all of the alternatives discussed above, including fitness trackers, apps, and online and digital fitness and emotional wellness tools. If you’re interested, TASC can tell you more.
In a recent survey, nearly half of employers reported they are broadening wellbeing programs to address the increased need and lack of access to traditional options.7 By joining them, you’ll be helping your employees in the near term and your company in the long run.
Editor’s Note: TASC offers a Wellness Reimbursement Arrangement benefit from more than 50 benefit offerings that can be instantly configured into custom plans that meet employee needs – where they are in life.
1 “Dropping the Ball on Employee Wellness Now Will Cost You Big Later,” HR Daily Advisor, June 2020: https://hrdailyadvisor.blr.com/2020/06/03/dropping-the-ball-on-employee-wellness-now-will-cost-you-big-later/
5 “COVID-19 Response Linked to Decrease in Physical Activity Levels,” Wellable, July 2020: https://blog.wellable.co/covid-19-response-linked-to-decrease-in-physical-activity-levels
7 “Here’s how employer are changing benefits due to COVID-19,” Human Resource Executive, May 2020: https://hrexecutive.com/heres-how-employers-are-changing-benefits-due-to-covid-19/