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17 Tips for Improving Employee Wellness in the Workplace

The pandemic gave us the unique opportunity to learn more about the kind of well-being support employees need from their workplaces, which includes help for all aspects of well-being, not just physical health. So as we emerge from the more acute phase of the pandemic, it’s important to not leave those lessons behind. In this week’s blog, we share ideas for how employers can continue to embed well-being into their workplaces to ensure that employees are engaged, healthy, and productive.

The benefits of having a workplace well-being program are well-documented. Improved employee engagement, greater productivity, lower healthcare costs, better retention, and generally happier employees top the list. In fact, a recent survey by Aon found that improving employee well-being can boost company performance by 11% to 55%.1 There’s also data that shows the costs of not focusing on employee well-being, namely the $322 billion every year in lost productivity due to burnout.2

Statistics like these, combined with research that shows employees now expect employers to be involved in multiple aspects of their well-being, means a robust well-being program should be at the top of the priority list. If you are looking to incorporate more ways to support employees’ mental, physical, social, financial, and clinical health, you’ll find some great employee well-being ideas here.

Mental health.

Mental health continues to rank high in importance when it comes to improving employee well-being. According to 2022 research by SHRM, 78% of organizations currently offer workplace mental health resources or plan to offer such resources in the next year.3 Here are some traditional and not-so-traditional ways to improve mental health at work.

1. Examine leadership culture.

Research by UKG Workforce Institute shows that managers have a greater impact on our mental health than do doctors or therapists, and equal to that of spouses.4 Urge leaders to examine the workplace practices that might be contributing to poor mental health – examples include the expectation to be always “on,” lack of support for taking time off, and not getting to know employees on a more personal level. Also urge leaders to ‘walk the talk’ by maintaining healthy work-life boundaries themselves and openly discussing mental health so employees feel more comfortable bringing up concerns.

2. Acknowledge caregiving stress.

There is a real childcare crisis in the U.S. and it’s leading to increased stress for working parents.5 The most tangible form of help is to establish an onsite daycare center. Short of that, benefits like backup daycare, flexible work hours, paid family leave, and EAP childcare locator services can help. These kinds of services can also help employees who are struggling with elder care.

3. Outline exactly what the EAP provides.

Most EAPs offer access to free mental health counseling for employees and their families. Testimonials from other employees who have used the services are helpful and can help set expectations for exactly how the EAP can help. Also be sure to promote all of the services the EAP can provide to handle life’s stressors in additional to counseling – like help with finances, navigating life transitions, increasing resilience, and more.

4. Offer a variety of ways to get help for mental health.

With four different generations in the workforce, a one-size-fits-all approach to mental health won’t work. Make sure to offer both in-person and tele-mental health support, text/chat apps, mental health podcasts, and mental health-focused Employee Resource Groups.

Physical health.

Exercise and a healthy diet can help prevent disease, improve sleep, boost moods, and much more. It’s also a great way to reduce cortisol that increases due to chronic stress. Consider incorporating these ideas into your program:

5. Access to fitness programs and apps—and permission to engage in exercise during the workday.

Gym and fitness equipment discounts, virtual fitness classes, and onsite fitness offerings are still popular with employees. Progressive workplaces also now acknowledge that physical activity isn’t something that must take place before or after work, but rather should be incorporated into the flow of business. This might take the form of walking meetings or encouraging employees to spend 10-20 minutes per day using walking trails or paths.

6. Help with nutrition.

Health coaches, weight management programs, and digital tools all provide nutritional support based on an individual’s needs and interests. Coaches are particularly helpful for reviewing healthy food options, starting weight loss programs, and even talking through behaviors and barriers that can help change the way people think about food.

7. A culture of wellness.

Whether virtual or in-person, an organization can demonstrate it cares about employees’ health by creating a culture of wellness. Some ways to show you have a culture that cares about well-being include offering steps competitions, encouraging walking meetings, providing healthy cafeteria options or a weekly healthy meal planner, and ensuring employees know it’s OK to block time on their calendars for daily physical activity.

Clinical management.

Staying on top of chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure is key to preventing full-blown health crises in the long-term. Here are some things you can do to help improve your employees’ health while potentially reducing healthcare costs:

8. Offer a condition management program as part of your well-being solution.

A program that offers multiple modalities to support condition management is a great way to ensure you empower the right individuals at the right time. Condition management coaching, digital reminders, goal-setting, and educational content are important to keeping higher-risk individuals engaged.

9. Keep offering a health assessment.

A yearly health assessment continues to be a great tool for making employees aware of their current and future health risks. Once the health assessment results are in, a good well-being program will provide employees with immediate, actionable recommendations for improving their overall well-being.

Social connections.

The National Institutes of Health research shows that lack of social connections caused by the pandemic has had a negative effect on our mental health at work.6 Gallup, who has long-maintained that having a “best friend” at work is linked to higher engagement and retention, reports that just two in 10 employees now say they have this.7 And so, it’s incumbent upon employers to cultivate connections and friendships at work to boost mental health and improve culture in the workplace.

10. Lean into Employee Resource Groups (ERGs).

Like a lot of items on this list, ERGs were around before the pandemic. However, our experiences over the past three years have made them even more valuable for fostering connections and raising awareness of the need for diversity, equity, and inclusion in our organizations.

11. Volunteer together.

Plan an event that gives the team a chance to bond while doing good, whether in person or virtual. Organize activities that match your company’s mission or sustainability goals, or find a local organization you can develop an ongoing relationship with.

12. Carve out time during meetings to connect.

During 1:1s, urge managers to spend time getting to know the non-work side of team members. Devote the first five minutes of group meetings to a quick catch-up. And, continue to inquire about how people are doing. It’s essential to recognize workers as humans first, employees second, and that there is no longer a need to leave our personal lives at the door.

13. Offer a variety of in-person and virtual social events to connect people.

Workers returning to the office have been clear that they want their in-person time to offer valuable social connections. So take advantage of days when employees are in the office to schedule some much-needed social time. This might be a catered lunch, after-work meet-up, or a trivia happy hour. And, of course, if your organization has remained remote, there are lots of options for virtual events, including book clubs, trivia, cooking demonstrations, and more.

Employee financial wellness.

Employers traditionally offered support for retirement, but that’s typically where financial wellness in the workplace ended. Now, companies realize that financial stress may make employees less productive and even affect their health. Some popular ways to add financial wellness initiatives to your well-being program include:

14. Financial education.

Teaching finance fundamentals can help alleviate some stress and empower your employees to set financial goals. Topics like how to set up and stick to a budget, how to create a long-term savings plan, concepts like interest rates and the time value of money, and other finance-related topics are all important to teach.

15. Debt counseling. 

This could include assistance with consolidating debt, establishing a plan to pay it down, and education on interest rates and budgeting to help employees avoid future debt. It also helps employees cope with the stigma and stress of being in debt.

16. Financial coaching.

Financial coaching helps employees experiencing an immediate financial crisis set goals for the future and improve their current financial situation. Sessions could be in-person, over the phone, or via video with a financial professional. If you have a 401(k) program, ask if they have a resource for these kinds of sessions.

17. Student loan debt assistance.

Organizational tools that pull in and consolidate all student loan data in one place can be a huge relief for your employees. You may also want to make loan consolidation services available so employees can look into lowering their monthly payments.

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Focusing on the holistic health of employees is no longer a nice-to-have. It’s essential for keeping employees healthy and engaged and recruiting talent in the future. If you’d like help with more wellness ideas for the workplace that support all the dimensions of employee well-being, visit our website or contact us at connect@webmd.net.

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