There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has changed the business world, including how companies look to deliver future workplace wellness programs. But even in this new normal, the old adage “not one size fits all” continues to ring true.
A few companies and industries may have done well as a result of the global pandemic. But the financial benefits generated could be hiding an exhausted workforce due to the relentless pace and greater pressures placed on employees to meet this increased demand. On the flip side, a lot of businesses have been hit hard and may be struggling from the financial impact. Some businesses may even be downsizing, letting staff go, or working out how they can re-build after the impact of COVID-19. While most companies understand the importance of workplace wellness, some will need to carefully consider where to spend, and on what. This is especially true as most companies are now managing a more dispersed workforce which makes it a lot hard to keep a “finger on the pulse” and know what employees really do, feel and need.
So how can businesses in these situations reset their employee wellness programs to ensure that they continue to reap and expand on the benefits workplace wellness programs bring?
What support employees will need?
Clues can be found by looking at the type of workers organisations employ, along with the influence of current global events.
By 2025, its predicted that millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) will make up around 75% of the Australian workforce. This generation is more open to and aware of the importance of physical health, mental health, and work/life balance and will therefore value workplace wellness programs that align with these values. In addition, 87% of millennials believe that an engaging company culture was the top consideration in selecting their next employer, after pay conditions, which means that in order to attract and retain staff, creating a positive work culture will be key.
Interestingly as a result of COVID-19, experts predict that the biggest support employees need now and over the next few years, are the very things that millennials value in a workplace. These include:
- Mental health support
- Fitness and exercise programs
- Healthy eating and nutrition
- Greater use of technology to deliver programs
Mental health support
Extra mental health support will be one of the biggest needs for workplaces post COVID-19. With more employees working at home as a result of the pandemic, employers have focused on helping them cope with stress and promoted wellbeing. These initiatives are likely to continue as businesses return to a more ‘normal’ environment, and the mental health fallout from COVID continues for a number of years. At particular risk are those aged 16-34 who are more vulnerable to impacts of loneliness, and lack of social engagement. Offering mental health support in the workplace will lead to a happier, more positive workforce, and better employee morale.
Fitness and exercise programs
Improving health and fitness, including weight loss is likely to be high on the agenda. With closures of services such as gyms, fitness centres, and sporting clubs, many Australians have reduced their physical activity. This combined with overeating and alcohol consumption as a way to relieve stress, has contributed to reduced fitness and weight gain, which will have knock-on effects in terms of increased sick days, poorer mental health, and decreased performance.
Healthy eating and nutrition
Workers post-COVID-19 are likely to welcome healthy eating and nutrition programs, as they work to shedding any extra kilos they have put on during the pandemic, and seek to improve their overall sense of health and wellbeing. Benefits for them include feeling physically and mentally healthier, while benefits for the employers include improved health markers, and higher productivity and performance in the workplace.
Greater use of technology to deliver programs
If COVID-19 has shown us anything, it’s how to do things online. Telehealth has been one of those areas that has seen tremendous growth with great success. Businesses can make the most of this technology to deliver workplace wellness programs that can be accessed by anyone, anywhere. These may include live-streaming exercise classes, webinars, or even virtual yoga sessions, in place of the more traditional on-site models of working out. In addition, mental health support, wellness challenges, or even nutritional support can all be provided online through training programs, apps and telemedicine-type arrangements. Not only will this meet the needs of employees, but it will also allow for greater flexibility in when and how workers access these programs.
What to deliver?
The first step in deciding what aspects of a workplace wellness program to invest in, is to understand what the employee needs are. This can be a complex and involved process, particularly if the majority of employees have been off-site for several months, and experienced changes in their physical and mental health as a result.
The Wellbeing 360 is a rigorous assessment tool that takes all aspects of wellbeing into account, to determine which areas to focus on for real improvements. This assessment measures five key areas – mental wellbeing, physical wellbeing, social wellbeing, work wellbeing and financial wellbeing. It’s a program that will give employers an idea on how their workforce is going overall, risk and areas for improvement, and recommendations on how to make these improvements.
For any business looking to develop workplace wellness programs that will make the biggest impact, getting a base-level awareness of key needs is an absolute must.
The future of workplace wellness programs isn’t just about saving money for the employer. In a digital world where we’re connected all the time, life has integrated with work and vice versa. Work life influences personal life, and personal life influences work life – it is more a work/life harmony. Businesses that wish to continue to thrive in the post-COVID world, must pause, listen to their workforce and reset their employee wellness programs to meet the needs of their workers, which go far beyond the traditional, old-school Work Health and Safety model.
 Haworth, Raising the bar: Australian Millennials in the Workplace
 Australian Medical Association, Joint Statement, COVID-19 impact likely to lead to increased rates of suicide and mental illness, 7 May 2020
 PWC Australia, Mental health in the age of COVID-19, 6 July 2020
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