2020 is here and like everyone else we’ve been discussing what the New Year will bring for the well-being industry. It’s certainly an exciting time to be in this space as physical, mental, and financial well-being continues to be a huge priority for employers and health plans alike. Here are my annual five trends we have been closely watching and expect will impact our industry in the coming year. Some are continuations of what we saw emerge last year, but a few are brand new and we’ll be interested to see how they play out in 2020.
1. A reimagining of employee benefits.
In 2020, over half of the workforce will be comprised of millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996). Unlike other generations, these employees have a vastly different set of expectations when it comes to the benefits they want from their employers. And it’s not all ping-pong tables and happy hours. Millennials are looking to employers to help them smooth the edges between work and life and address their personal health and wellness. This might mean paid parental leave (for moms and dads), flexible scheduling, caregiving benefits, access to onsite wellness facilities, student loan debt assistance, and increased mental health benefits (see also #2).
Insight: With a tight labor market, benefits that address the whole employee (both at home and at work) will become a huge differentiator for employers seeking to retain and attract the best talent.
2. Increased emphasis on mental and behavior health…and the advent of “holistic benefits.”
In 2019, the World Health Organization recognized “burnout syndrome” as an official medical diagnosis. Scores of articles were written on the rise of depression and anxiety in our society, especially among millennials. A former U.S. Surgeon General characterizes loneliness as an epidemic and claims “the reduction in life span is similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and it’s greater than the impact on life span of obesity.”1
The typical employee health benefits package will thus expand to address not just physical but also mental, emotional and behavior needs. In fact, a survey conducted by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans found that most organizations (68 percent) planned to increase their emphasis on mental health offerings over the next two years.2 These are likely to include counseling via phone or video; meditation and mindfulness sessions; yoga; and no-cost access to popular well-being apps to help with stress and sleep issues.
Insight: It’s no secret that a stressed-out employee is not a productive employee. And that emotional health is tightly linked to costly physical conditions down the road. Health plans and benefits managers will be making sure the C-suite understands just how critical it is to attend to the emotional needs of the workforce. If they don’t millennials surely will. This generation is, thankfully, more likely to open up about and advocate for mental health.
3. Simplifying the consumer well-being experience.
Seemingly overnight our devices are chock-full of well-being apps. There’s the app we use to fall asleep, the app that monitors our screen time, and the app that reminds us to get our steps in. While some of these apps are integrated with our devices like (Fitbit or AppleWatch), consumers are starting to get overwhelmed. They want digital solutions that are smarter, integrated, Bluetooth-enabled, and personalized.
Increasingly, consumers expect to be able to carry out well-being transactions just as they might book a hotel—without ever speaking to a human being. We expect digital coaching to continue to be prevalent as well as behavioral “nudges” that encourage healthy habits throughout the day.
We also predict that Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Advanced Analytics (AA) will continue to evolve in our industry as a way to predict participant needs, recommend the right programs, and improve personalization and relevancy.
Insight: This theme of convenience and customer service will challenge the well-being industry to be more integrated and seamless. We need to design our products to be as easy to use, comprehensive, fun, and empowering as those of other digital industries.
4. Engagement as a well-being program success metric.
As we’ve written about in previous blogs, well-being programs not only benefit individuals, but also have the ability to bring an organization together around a common goal. According to Optum’s Wellness in the Workplace study, 76% of employers surveyed use well-being programs to improve and maintain employee morale. Through workplace challenges and a constant drumbeat of wellness communications, we have seen clients enjoy increased retention and engagement, which can have a tangible impact on productivity and the bottom line.
Insight: We predict the industry will continue to push back on the definition of well-being program success measured purely through clicks and specific, isolated health risks—and include the very real impact on sustained behavior change as well as employee morale and engagement.
5. The evolution of self-care.
This summer, a New York Times article notified the shift away from “self-help” towards “self-care.” Valuing and prioritizing our well-being and happiness is starting to edge out previous wellness efforts which were all about “labor and self-denial, punishing exercise classes, cleanses, detoxes, and restrictive diets.”3
We’ve seen companies like Weight Watchers completely rebrand to focus on well-being versus dieting using the tagline “Wellness that Works.” Peloton markets itself as “empowering people to be the best version of themselves anywhere, anytime.” The Mirror home fitness system is “revolutionizing the way people work out by bringing the boutique studio experience in-home.” (And, not going to lie, it’s definitely something I’ve put on my Christmas list.)
The importance of sleep, proper nutrition, and exercise form the basis of self-care, but this movement goes beyond the physical to include care for our mental state. Actively managing stress, practicing self-compassion, or engaging in mindfulness or meditation is no longer considered “fluff” or selfish indulgence. Caregivers are realizing that in order to care for others—be they children or elderly parents—they need take care of themselves first.
Insight: The well-being industry will continue to focus on personalization and ensuring that the “power of me” is reflected in its offerings. Instead of asking individuals to complete a specific form of exercise, programs must focus on providing relevant recommendations in a manner that is appropriate for their interests and skill levels. It’s going to be a whole new game for behavior change.