Prioritizing employee wellness means focusing on three areas: physical, mental, and financial health. Within each category, companies have an overwhelming variety of options to choose from.
For HR professionals, it can almost feel like too much of a good thing. Though wellness budgets continue increasing every year, knowing what to invest in isn’t intuitive. Whether you’re just getting started with your company’s program or revisiting its offerings, here are the most popular benefits to consider.
Physical Wellness Benefits
Of all the wellness offerings employers can choose from, few are as essential as health insurance. According to Glassdoor, healthcare coverage ranks as a top priority among employees and job seekers, and is the benefit most correlated with workplace satisfaction.
Depending on the plan, your health insurance might include coverage for services that employees aren’t aware of, including therapy, acupuncture, and even hypnotherapy. Coverage also varies by city and state—for example, over a dozen states require insurance companies to cover in vitro fertilization (IVF). Because healthcare plans vary so much, providing employees with as much information as possible during open enrollment is essential.
“In the past, employee benefits trainers talked mostly about benefits like doctor's visits and prescriptions,” said Laura Handrick, an HR consultant with Choosing Therapy. “Now they're talking about therapy visits and family counseling, which have been included in health insurance packages but haven't been talked about so openly.”
While most of the benefits listed in this article are elective, note that your business may be required to offer health insurance. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandates that companies with 50 or more full-time employees provide coverage.
Telemedicine refers to the use of a computer, tablet, or smartphone to access healthcare services remotely. Patients use telemedicine apps to schedule video calls with their doctors or submit questions through a secure messaging chat for even faster care. From there, providers can transmit prescription details to a local pharmacy or, if needed, set up an in-person follow-up. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), patient use of telemedicine increased 154% from 2019 to 2020, primarily due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Convenience, safety, and cost savings make telemedicine popular among employees, especially those in rural areas underserved by health providers—for example, less than half of U.S. counties have only one OB-GYN. By eliminating travel and wait times, telehealth also saves patients time and money, amounting to $120 of savings per visit, or $1,500 in cases where it diverts them away from emergency rooms.
If your business is looking to offer telemedicine benefits, check with your carrier to see what’s included in your current healthcare plan. A growing number of startups offer standalone telemedicine services, some tailored to specific needs like women’s and children’s healthcare. Others include informational quizzes, articles, and virtual classes that go beyond what major carriers offer.
Preconception, Fertility, and Family Benefits
One-in-eight couples struggle with infertility and, on average, 43% of women leave the workforce within a year of giving birth. Sobering statistics like these have businesses looking for new ways to support employees before, during, and after pregnancy. By partnering with comprehensive care platforms like Maven, employers are empowered to do just that.
In conjunction with their existing health plans, maternity and fertility benefits allow companies to offer coverage and guidance for a suite of services, including:
- Adoption assistance
- Breast milk shipping
- Egg freezing
- Specialized mental health services
- Negotiated discounts and priority scheduling at high-quality clinics
- Return-to-work career coaching
- Specialized pediatric care
- Surrogacy support and navigation
- Video consultations
If you’re looking to earn the C-suite’s buy-in, there’s plenty of data to point to. First, there’s a clear link to retention: 90% of Maven members return to work after paid leave, compared with the 57% national average. There are also recruiting benefits, as employees are 1.5 times more likely to recommend their employers for offering fertility benefits. Providing equal support through all paths to parenthood also broadens your appeal to LGBT+ applicants.
Need harder data to convince finance? There are additional cost savings, as employers with these benefits stand to save on healthcare, with up to 3x return on fertility investment and 6x return on maternity investment.
“Infertility causes physical, mental, and emotional distress. Companies should be working to meet the needs of their employees who want to start building a family,” said James Pearson, CEO of eVenturing, a small business advisory. “Alleviating that will create a more engaged and productive employee—an engaged and productive employee that drives your organization to success.”
Gym and Yoga Programs
Taking care of employees’ physical health doesn’t require heavy lifting—except for in their gym routines.
Today, many associate wellness programs with gym reimbursements and onsite yoga classes. That popularity is due to the well-documented link between exercise and better health and business outcomes. Studies show that even just 30 minutes of moderate activity per day can improve memory, productivity, and even satisfaction with your job. In addition to happier and healthier workers, gym and yoga classes carry additional benefits for employers. First, they’re considered tax-deductible expenses if conducted on-site. What’s more, they come with healthcare savings for employers, as insurance utilization rates are lower among active employees.
While companies may choose to partner with specific gyms or instructors, they can also give employees more choice by offering a stipend. For example, Microsoft offers an annual $800 “StayFit” stipend that employees can use to cover a gym membership or exercise equipment costs. Eventbrite offers a similar, $60 per month stipend for its employees. Whatever direction you choose, try to make things collaborative by encouraging employees to participate in group classes or events.
“Since the pandemic, yoga and workout offerings are focusing more on the social aspects of wellness, since so many people are feeling more isolated and alone,” said Stacy Scheel Hirsch, an organizational wellness consultant. “This was the direction the industry needed to move because loneliness and isolation was an epidemic even before COVID-19,” Scheel said.
Mental Wellness Benefits
Employee Assistance Programs
Health and wellness go beyond what’s immediately visible—your team may be grappling with loneliness, postpartum depression, adult ADHD, anxiety, and more. Employee assistance programs (EAPs) are employer-sponsored services designed to help your team navigate those challenges. While EAP services are sometimes bundled under your existing healthcare or disability coverage, standalone programs are also available. By law, EAPs are required to protect participants’ confidentiality unless they’re causing physical harm to themselves or others.
Though companies have struggled with EAP utilization in the past, HR and benefits experts are noticing a spike in interest. This year alone, Maven experienced a 300% increase in mental health provider bookings.
“Mental health benefits are growing in popularity for two reasons. One is that it's all over the news about how mental illness is up due to the pandemic. Two is that mental illness is finally being de-stigmatized,” Handrick said. “In past years, an employee might have been fearful of using the employee assistance program. This year, they're asking for the brochure.”
Offering an EAP isn’t just doing right by your employees, it makes business sense. There’s a well-documented link between employee mental health and productivity, decision-making, and other measures of performance. Some of the most telling data points include:
- Over 200 million workdays are lost due to mental health conditions every year, amounting to $16.8 billion in productivity
- Half of Millennials and 75% of Gen Z employees have left jobs because of mental health
- Those with poor mental health exhibit more than double the rate of absenteeism
- Investing in mental health support yields $4 for every $1 spent
- Depression disrupts the ability to perform job tasks 20% of the time and lowers cognitive functioning 35% of the time
Today, practicing mindfulness is hardly a fringe or novel concept. According to the CDC, meditation’s popularity among Americans more than tripled over the past five years, as doctors increasingly prescribe it instead of drugs for certain conditions. The ancient practice has been clinically shown to reduce stress, boost compassion, and improve mental focus, making it a habit worth picking up in our personal and professional lives.
Steve Jobs, one of the first proponents of meditating at work, made Apple’s program the example to follow. The company gives employees 30 minutes to meditate each day, either in designated mindfulness rooms or wherever they choose. While an external coach may lead group meditation sessions, employees can also volunteer to lead them. Additionally, HR teams can use mindfulness apps like Headspace and Calm to include remote employees.
Flexibility for Working Parents
Of all the employees in need of support from HR teams right now, working parents may rank at the top. Maven survey data shows that nearly 60% of parents don’t feel supported by their employers as they navigate childcare challenges. This isn’t representative of a small workforce segment, either: Working parents account for nearly half of U.S. households.
Offering greater flexibility may be the first step. Companies need to provide employees with greater autonomy with respect to their physical location and scheduling—two things that became abundantly clear during the coronavirus pandemic. Working parents especially need it, whether to facilitate virtual learning, care for a child due to daycare closure, or see a pediatrician during the workday. In one survey, working parents even indicated that they’d accept more flexibility over a pay increase or promotion.
Beyond flexibility, companies can offer childcare stipends, return-to-work coaching, lactation support, and other types of support. Download Maven’s checklist for supporting working parents to learn what your business can do to help.
Financial Wellness Benefits
Financial Literacy and Counseling
While the link between wellness and personal finance might not be obvious, it’s a critical and overlooked part of overall health. Economic uncertainty, debt, and other financial hardships can take their toll, wracking individuals with anxiety and doubling their risk for heart disease and other serious illnesses. Over 80% of businesses say that concerns about finances have affected employees’ engagement and productivity.
“In particular, 2020 served up way more than its fair share of financial turbulence,” said Jim Pendergast, Senior Vice President of altLINE Sobanco. Today, employees are worried about paying rent, potential layoffs, and covering medical bills. “Financial health is still an underserved area of employee wellness, particularly education around savings, healthcare expenses, and debt management,” Pendergast said.
Recognizing this, employers are partnering with financial counseling and education services like SoFi. Potential offerings to consider include:
- Automated investing
- Credit card debt counseling
- Financial planning advice
- Housing and mortgage counseling
- Student loan refinancing
Of all the ways to invest in employees’ futures, few are as literal as offering retirement benefits. Questions about Social Security’s long-term solvency and the fact that only half of Americans have any retirement savings at all make it an especially important benefit to consider.
While companies can choose from a wide variety of retirement plan offerings, the most common is the traditional 401(k) plan. These allow employees to defer money for retirement on a pre-tax basis—meaning contributions come out of their paychecks before payroll taxes do. This allows their savings to accumulate faster and, thanks to compound interest, grow faster.
Companies can play a more active role by extending an employer match, or contribution to participants’ accounts based on how much they defer. Among companies that offer retirement benefits, a large share (over three-quarters) offer some kind of employer match. Some employers leverage their match as a retention tool by tying eligibility to a vesting schedule.
The definition of wellness has evolved—and so have the ways companies can support employees and their families. Stay current with the latest trends in workplace health and wellness by subscribing to Maven’s newsletter.
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