Wellness Programs Matter Now More Than Ever

Oracle and Workplace Intelligence research found that 2020 was reported as the most stressful year experienced by working people. The research reported that 78% of workers surveyed indicated that the pandemic had negatively affected their mental health and 76% felt their employers should be doing more to protect employees’ mental health. And, in perhaps the most telling of the employees’ sentiments, 85% said that new work-related stress was affecting their home lives.  

Women exercising on pink yoga mats in a gym

Effects of Mental Health Problems

Mental health issues impact employees on an individual level and employers on a company-wide level. Employees who are experiencing depression, anxiety or other mental health problems are likely to affect their co-workers’ state of mind and contribute to declining productivity and service quality. Ultimately, an employee suffering from especially pronounced mental health problems may be forced to leave his/her job or will be fired, thus leaving a position open and requiring a recruitment effort. Given today’s workforce shortages, filling the open position can be a daunting task.

To help offset the effects of employee mental health problems, employers are looking to enhance their wellness programs at a time when they matter most.

Addressing Today’s Mental Health Needs

Supporting employees during an especially stressful period such as ushered in by the pandemic starts with a better understanding of what many employees may be experiencing. Many employees have reported sleeping problems and poorer eating habits as a result of the pandemic. For those with access to wellness programs, many believe that these programs have helped them lower stress, improve their sleeping and eating habits, and boosted their exercise/fitness activities. In a survey conduced by UnitedHealth, over 50% of employees cited wellness programs as having helped their overall productivity.

A Wellness Disconnect between Employees and Employers

While many employers profess to understanding and trying to support their employees with wellness programs, it seems there may be a disconnect between what employees believe. A Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that:

– 31% of employers reported that improving mental illness treatment offerings was a priority, but 67% of employees reported that accessing mental illness care was a challenge.

– 32% of employers planned to increase their organization’s employees mental benefits prior to COVID-19, yet 49% of employees reported having less energy for non-work activities, 42% reported being less interested in socializing with friends, 42% were experiencing more sleeping difficulties, and there was a 33% increased in alcohol and substance abuse among employees.

For employers, it is important to assess the organization’s wellness program within the context of what their employees are experiencing and what they need. It is also important to see how work-related stresses can be reduced. Some of the ways that this can be accomplished is by initiating  new work-life balance programs, making sure that each employee is assigned a manageable workload, encouraging communication and socialization among employees either through employer-hosted events and/or regular virtual gatherings, and finally, canvassing employees on an ongoing basis to determine how they are feeling and if they need any additional support.

Risk Management and Wellness

Beyond these measures and incorporating into wellness programs foundational components such as nutritional counseling, exercise/fitness programs, mental health counseling, and work/life balance seminars, employers should consider health risk assessments to support employees in reaching their wellness goals. These can include better management of chronic diseases such as diabetes or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), weight loss, substance abuse, and/or prescription drug management. Through these activities, employers can significantly reduce their employees medical claims, workers compensation claims and related costs. It has been reported by U.S. Corporate Wellness that employee wellness programs contribute to a decrease in workers’ compensation and disability claims by as much as 30%; short-term sick leaves by as much s 32%, and savings ranging from $3 to $6 for every $1 invested in employee wellness.