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How COVID-19 Has Changed Corporate Wellness

Before face masks and social distancing became a societal norm, corporate wellness involved a combination of on-site and digital services. These core wellness services include on-site biometric screenings, lunch and learns, health fairs, wellness challenges, and social gatherings.

These programs were effective since employees were on-site and could step away from their responsibilities to get a health screening or participate in a wellness event. COVID-19, however, has changed the business landscape from primarily on-site to majority remote.

As the business landscape changes in response to COVID, so does corporate wellness. Demand for corporate wellness programs has increased as more employers see the urgent need to maintain employee health to protect their workforce. How wellness is administered has also shifted to a need for more virtual services. Those with existing wellness platforms are requesting more robust digital programming through their wellness platform to meet the needs of a remote and varied workforce.

Tori Tomlinson, Founder of US Wellness, states: “We are seeing more employers interested in making long term investments in employee health and wellness in response to the pandemic. Core wellness services including online wellness portals and online communications of wellness will continue and need to continue. Based on what we are seeing, wellness portals and media platforms will proliferate and become more robust in the months and years ahead.”

Corporate Wellness Shifts Towards Mental Wellness & Financial Education

The economic fallout from the pandemic has led to furloughs, job loss, reduced hours, and salary reduction in many industries. Such drastic changes have caused financial uncertainty and stress that has affected employees across industries and job functions.

Wellness platforms offering virtual financial counseling, 401k education, and classes on money management help employers address this urgent need.

The pandemic also brought increased employee anxiety. In fact, according to one survey,  the mental health of almost 42 percent of respondents had declined since the outbreak began. Wellness experts suggest corporate wellness programs include webinars about stress and anxiety reduction methods, resilience training, and how to find and access available local and national mental health resources. Another proposed strategy involves providing supervisors virtual training on how to recognize acute and chronic anxiety in their staff and connecting employees to virtual preventative support resources.

Mental Wellness As a New Market

The Global Wellness Institute (GWI) recently published research highlighting mental wellness as a new and rapidly growing market. Uniquely distinct from mental health, The GWI defines mental wellness as “an internal resource that helps us think, feel, connect, and function. It is an active process that helps us to build resilience, grow, and flourish.”

This market segment encompasses new wellness and product offerings in four categories of mental wellness:

  • Sleep, Senses & Spaces
  • Nutraceuticals & Botanicals
  • Self Help
  • Meditation & Mindfulness

Alyssa Williamson, Chief Operating Officer of US Wellness states, “Historically providing wellness programming addressing mental health has been challenging because mental health is so clinical and requires close coordination with managed care organizations and physicians.  We see the development and focus on mental wellness services as a great opportunity for employers to provide employees mental health support that promotes resilience and growth.”

The Growing Need For Mental Health Support

In their August, 2020 article in the Harvard Business Review, Kelly Greenwood and Natasha Krol of Mind Share Partners stated the following:

“As we navigate various transitions over the coming months and years, leaders are likely to see employees struggle with anxiety, depression, burnout, trauma, and PTSD. Those mental health experiences will differ according to race, economic opportunity, citizenship status, job type, parenting and caregiving responsibilities, and many other variables.” 

How can managers leverage their wellness program to mitigate the current and potential future mental health struggles of their employees?

  1. Be vulnerable and share their own struggles.
  2. Model healthy behaviors such as taking a walk during the workday to alleviate stress.
  3. Create a culture of checking in with employees through regular pulse surveys. The implementation of regular pulse surveys at BlackRock, a global investment management firm, led to the development of remote management skill-building programs, improved health and well-being support for employees, and increased time off.
  4. Offer flexibility and be inclusive. For Basecamp CEO Jason Fried, this meant allowing his employees to set their own schedules based on childcare and other unique needs.
  5. Communicate more than you think you need to.
  6. Invest in training. Proactively training supervisors and employees about mental health and reducing the stigma of seeking help will improve employee overall health.

Employee Wellness and Genetic Testing

Another area predicted to have substantial growth in the wellness field in the years to come involves genetic testing. Historically wellness screening and testing has focused solely on measuring biometric outcomes such as cholesterol levels, glucose, blood pressure.  

As wellness continues to focus more on prevention versus symptom and disease management, advanced genetic testing allows for even greater precision at managing and monitoring each individual's unique risk factors for chronic and catastrophic diseases like cancer, heart disease, and stroke very early on even before biometric screenings show indication of disease progression. 

Genetic testing shows the potential to reduce healthcare costs. If an employee’s genetic test is positive for a mutation that’s associated with cancer or another disease, he or she may be more proactive about screening for the disease and may make lifestyle changes that may lower the risk of developing the disease. For example, by some estimates, the cost for treating early stage breast cancer is more than 50 percent less than the cost to treat the same cancer at an advanced stage.

Alyssa Williamson, COO at US Wellness states, “We see more employers offering genetic testing to their employees in the years ahead. This service offering should be combined with access to genetic health counselors to ensure risks and results are delivered safely to employees and that they have resources and support to navigate future implications of their results.”

Remote Work and the Future of Corporate Wellness

In fact, a survey conducted by global research company Gartner with 317 business leaders found that 74 percent plan to move their previously on-site workforce to permanently remote positions post-COVID-19.

With conference calls, project management boards, workflows, water cooler chats, and happy hours all successfully transitioning to the virtual world, the benefits for many businesses to remain virtual or continue to implement virtual aspects to their practices is significant. 

All these predictions indicate the need for more robust wellness platforms with some on-site support and a shift in wellness programming to financial and mental health support.

The demand for employee wellness platforms will continue to increase in the months and years ahead. Technology will play a critical role with more sophisticated virtual programs and e-learning services built into wellness platforms to accommodate a more remote workforce. 

More resources will be dedicated to financial wellness and particularly mental wellness and mental health in direct response to the pandemic. Maintaining good health has become the zeitgeist of our time and more employers are seeing the value in investing in long term employee health and wellness through advanced genetic testing, and wellness programming to maintain business continuity and reduce long term health care costs.

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