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Employee Expectations in Workplace Wellness Programs

As an employee well-being services provider, we’ve always stressed how important it is for employers to support employees across multiple dimensions of well-being. And now, employees themselves are making it clear that they expect this type of support from corporate well-being programs. In this week’s blog, we share examples of employee well-being that workers increasingly expect organizations to help with.

Even before the pandemic, we saw signs that employees wanted employers to be more proactive in helping improve their quality of life. Now, the pandemic’s challenges and stressors have only strengthened these expectations.

Research conducted by Paychex and Future Workforce revealed that 60% of employees say well-being benefits will be a top priority when applying for their next job. Our own research conducted mid-way through 2020 found that employees across all generations now expect more from employers when it comes to ensuring well-being. For example:

  • 70% believe employers should offer a mental and emotional health program.
  • 54% feel caregiving support should be an employee benefit.
  • 40% say it’s an employer’s role to help foster social connections.
  • 42% feel that companies should provide at-home fitness benefits.

Our research also showed that, across all programs, there was a large gap between what people expect employers to provide and what they currently have access to. A December 2021 survey by Achievers Workforce Institute (AWI) reinforces this notion: nearly half of HR leaders said their company supports workers’ well-being, but only 24% of employees shared that sentiment.

So it’s clear that there’s more work to do to align employee expectations with offerings. As we speak with employees across multiple industries, roles, and levels within the organization through our health coaching services, we’ve gleaned insight into what employees want and expect from employers. Here’s what employees are expecting from a company-provided well-being program:

Less stigma surrounding mental health and easy-to-access resources.

We’ve made some great strides as a country when it comes to raising awareness of the importance of mental health in the workplace. But many employees—particularly younger workers—still feel uncomfortable discussing mental health concerns with their manager or asking for a mental health day. Last year, a study by Ginger noted that while 70% of CEOs say they’re accepting of emotional and mental health issues in the workplace, only 35% of employees believe this is true.

Workers expect leaders and managers to talk openly about mental health—in one-on-ones, team meetings, and town halls. They also want to see their superiors modeling good mental health behaviors themselves—like setting work-life boundaries, taking time for self-care, and establishing norms around working hours and email response time.

When it comes to mental health resources, employees expect a user-friendly experience that is similar to how they interact with other services in their lives. This means apps that connect them instantly to a mental health provider via chat or video; on-demand access to a mental health podcast; and help with meditation and sleep at their fingertips.

Acknowledgment of and real help for financial stress.

Employers have traditionally limited their involvement in the financial aspects of employees’ lives to compensation and helping them prepare for retirement, but today it’s clear that employees expect more. In fact, a 2019 MetLife Financial Wellness Programs report found that 68% of millennials and 66% of Gen Z feel it’s an employer’s responsibility to help with financial wellness. Help for financial concerns can come in many forms, including:

  • Budgeting tools and education
  • Connecting with a financial expert
  • Payday loans
  • Pay programs that give employees instant access to earned wages
  • Tax-favored health spending accounts
  • Childcare subsidies
  • And more

But in addition to programs, employees appreciate the simple acknowledgment that even though they receive a fair wage, it’s still a struggle for many to make ends meet.

The ability to work when and where it suits them best.

After decades of conforming to a standard 9 to 5 workday in the office, employees now want to call the shots on hours and where work gets done. Those who were able to work remotely during the pandemic proved that they could be just as, if not more, productive at home. Many people also had to adjust their working hours to accommodate family responsibilities. And now, they’re not willing to give up that flexibility. Employers who don’t offer choice will likely pay the price. A ManpowerGroup Solutions survey found that “nearly 40 percent of global candidates report that schedule flexibility is now among the top three factors they consider when making career decisions.”

Recognition of and support for the challenges of caregiving.

It took a pandemic and a forced experiment in remote work to break down barriers between work and home life. Employees juggling child or elder care and Zoom calls could no longer hide their parenting or caregiving responsibilities. When schools and daycares closed, employers were forced to get creative, offering learning pods in the office, increased backup daycare options, and more caregiving leave. Employees have now come to expect this kind of on-the-ground and financial support from private employers, and we don’t expect it to go away anytime soon.

A work culture that places a high priority on well-being.

It’s no secret that the pandemic gave people time to think about what’s really important—like spending more time with family, pursuing a passion, or getting serious about health and well-being. And now, they are asking employers to support them in these endeavors. They want to feel permission to lean into their passions, exercise or meditate during the workday, and truly disconnect from work on days off. They expect more reasonable demands on their time and others to respect their boundaries. And, as I mentioned in the mental health section, employees expect leaders to walk the talk of a true culture of well-being.

More time off.

Employees are increasingly asking for more time off to recharge and support their well-being. In a Paychex/Future Workforce study, 35% of respondents cited additional time off as the number one action that would improve their well-being. We’re seeing new types of paid time off, including mental health days and unlimited time off programs. What’s important here is to ensure that the organization’s culture encourages people to take the time they need to reset and recharge. In that vein, leaders and managers should empower employees to fully disengage from their work during time off—in other words, people shouldn’t feel expected to check in or do any work while they’re on PTO.

There’s no longer any doubt that employees need more support to be productive and healthy at work and at home. And they expect their employers to step in to provide it—even in areas that were once considered the employee’s responsibility. Each day we see statistics about employees who are willing to change jobs to get the support they need. As a result, it’s crystal clear that employers who want to recruit and retain the best talent will need to close the gap between what employees expect and the human-centered, holistic well-being support they provide.

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