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Opinion: Wellness programs fall flat if not meeting needs

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The Wellness Council of America has a mantra, “We do wellness with and for people, never to them,” and it is a mantra that I believe creates the correct tone. In today’s society, individuals have little desire to be told what to do and when to do it, but offering options and resources in a supportive environment is something that almost everybody can get behind.

I say almost everybody because, despite what you may have heard or choose to believe, not everybody in your workforce loves and appreciates everything your organization offers. The good news, however, is that according to the Society of Human Resource Management, “Among large companies (those with 200 or more employees), 81% offered some type of workplace wellness program in 2020.”

Here’s the question: Are organizations offering programs that truly benefit their employees?

Wellness is an ever-evolving landscape and, like many things due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this has been accelerated. The mainstays of traditional wellness programs remain exercise and nutrition, but many additional programs are now required to meet the needs of the workforce.

Financial literacy
Arguably, the major area of focus for employee wellness programs should be financial literacy. A study by Willis Towers Watson PLC revealed that, “37% of employees live paycheck to paycheck, with 57% of those people saying they are struggling financially.” Providing employees with tools to access financial coaching, online budgeting apps and even making rainy day funds available are some of the strategies organizations are implementing.

Why is offering these types of programs important to your organization? A 2021 PwC survey concluded that, “72% of workers who reported facing increased financial setbacks during the pandemic said they would be more attracted to another company that cared more about financial well-being than their current employer.” In this labor market, attracting and, more importantly, retaining employees is critical, so offering a financial wellness component may just keep your employees in place.

Mental health
A robust mental health component is a must for any high-impact wellness program. The stress of everyday life, 24-hour access and social media overload added to the residual impact of the pandemic has created a nationwide issue for employees. According to Wellable’s 2021 Employee Wellness Industry Trends Report, “mental health is at the top of everyone’s mind this year. Nine out of 10 employers plan to invest more in this area so that they are well-equipped to address this part of well-being for their employees.” Employers are providing multiple resources for their employees in this area. Many have chosen to introduce employee assistance programs or enhance existing offerings to deliver additional support. For instance, organizations may provide employees access to a 24/7 confidential help line with a qualified therapist or offer to pay for wellness apps that can assist employees. These are numerous in the marketplace and include Headspace, Moodkit and Calm.

Preventative care
A third priority for organizations who care for the health of their employees is a strong focus on preventative care. Like many things in life, being aware, being prepared and acting before a problem occurs is half the battle. There are several ways in which employers can encourage their employees to remain focused on their health, not all of which involve great expense or large incentives. A simple starting point is to encourage employees to do their regular health checkups, including dental visits. Employers can offer on-the-clock time for these visits. The workspace itself is very important, creating a welcoming environment through furnishings and decor that can be very therapeutic. Offering opportunities to employees dealing with addictions, such as alcohol, tobacco or prescription drugs, can also be highly impactful. The importance of focusing on preventative care is summed up in a statistic from a Becker’s Clinical Leadership study: “93% of millennials forgo preventive visits, even with health insurance.” These millennials represent your workforce. Instilling correct behaviors regarding preventative care now will help your organization avoid many issues down the line.

Wellness programs are an important piece of the overall employee benefits package. Offering a wellness program is first and foremost the right thing to do. They improve individual health as well as the overall health of the group. This in turns leads to an improved culture and can positively impact your insurance renewals. Most importantly, a well-structured program that meets the needs of the employees leads to a higher level of satisfied and dedicated employees. Which organization doesn’t desire that?

Cameron Black is an adviser and director of corporate wellness consulting for Ollis/Akers/Arney. He can be reached at cameron.black@ollisaa.com.

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