After a turbulent year, talent leaders are honing in on health and wellness in particular. Over half of companies added new wellness benefits over the last twelve months, complementing traditional perks like gym stipends with offerings that speak to a broader definition of wellbeing. From on-demand access to greater personalization, here are the employee expectations influencing those decisions.
More Holistic Benefits Offerings
While “wellness” used to refer almost exclusively to physical activity and nutrition, today’s workers associate it with overall betterment, including mental and financial health. In a 2019 Optum Healthcare study, 2,000 employees were asked to rank the dimensions of wellness they valued the most. The overall breakdown was:
- Physical health (27%)
- Mental health (23%)
- Financial health (23%)
- Social health (15%)
- Community health (12%)
In the same study, nearly a third wished their employers invested more in mental and financial wellness. Employee assistance programs, family benefits, and even financial counseling have become part of what employees expect from holistic wellness benefits. But beyond meeting expectations, offering these programs can yield higher productivity, lower turnover, and provide other returns. HR experts also believe they’re vital to maintaining healthy relationships at work.
“Most employers overlook the need for offerings that support social or relational health. Workplace conflict is normal in almost every workplace, but in many, it is also toxic,” said Stacy Hirsch, a corporate wellness consultant. “You need offerings that help individuals see each other better, consider new perspectives, and decrease micro-aggressions, and become more aware of their unconscious bias,” Hirsch said.
On-Demand Access and Flexibility
Telehealth usage increased dramatically over the last twelve months, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, experts believe that several of telehealth’s unique perks — including shorter wait times and an average savings of $120 per appointment — are likely to keep adoption rates high in the future. Employees will expect the same level of convenience from other wellness benefits, ranging from mindfulness coaching to nutritional counseling.
“Companies should be incorporating as many on-demand resources into their benefits as possible, allowing employees to access the support needed when it makes the most sense for them,” said John Fawkes, a wellness program consultant. The easier your benefits are to access, the higher adoption rates will be, helping HR teams demonstrate value and earn additional budget. “It's a bit paradoxical to set up wellness perks only to have each come with tight restrictions and accessibility or scheduling problems, meaning employees end up never using them,” he said.
In addition to on-demand virtual services, HR experts recommended offering “location agnostic” services that are useful to employees wherever they are. Rather than provide a discount for a specific health club, for example, consider offering a stipend for in-home equipment or a gym of the employee’s choosing. As distributed and remote work transition into the mainstream, this flexibility may be key to staying competitive in the talent market.
Employees expect companies to prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Though most associate workplace inclusion with improved hiring practices and employee resource groups, wellness programs also play a critical role. Experts stressed the importance of crafting a package that applies to all employees, not just those who are young and physically active.
“Inclusivity also means addressing more disability education and opportunity in the workplace. One in four Americans has a disability, or one in four of your employees,” Fawkes said. Rather than organize a conventional 5K, participate in a “run-walk-roll” for a cause. While step challenges have become a standard part of most companies’ wellness programs, accessibility experts recommend experimenting with “movement challenges” that track percentage increases, not total steps.
“Always ask yourself — what physical, mental, and emotional support programs do you have in place better supporting disabled employees’ concerns?” he said.
Working parents, underserved by most wellness programs, also need support. That means incorporating schedule flexibility, return-to-work coaching, pediatric counseling, and other high-touch family benefits into your overall benefits package. Pre-parenthood offerings like fertility counseling and adoption assistance also support employees regardless of their gender, race, or sexual orientation — helping your company deliver on DEI goals. Read Maven’s Parents at the Best Workplaces report to learn how to better support working families.
Wellness is personal: it concerns confidentiality and also programming. According to a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), nearly 75% of employees rate customization and a “personal touch” as the most critical qualities of a corporate wellness program.
“What’s the must-have quality for a wellness benefit in 2021? Humanism,” said Saara Haapanen, a wellness consultant and member of the Colorado Governor's Council for Active and Healthy Lifestyles. Haapanen believes the key to making wellness benefits stick is for them to be relevant, personalized, and live — qualities that have made consumer programs like Peloton wildly popular.
“Employees want a real human. They want to be able to make requests, they want to interact and participate, they want to feel like they matter. They want accountability and to be entertained,” Haapanen said. After talking to her school district clients, she found that teachers really wanted mindfulness training mixed with neck and shoulder exercises. The reason? Transitioning to remote learning meant moving around less, grappling with Zoom fatigue, poor posture, and technological breakdowns. Haapanen wouldn’t have known how to adapt her programming without asking.
“Don't assume you think you know what your employees want. You have to ask them,” she said.
Employees aren’t the only ones with higher expectations. Though being a parent has changed, healthcare hasn’t. Offering parental leave is only the beginning.
Maven is the leading women’s and family healthcare company. We partner with employers and health plans to improve maternal outcomes, lower costs, and attract and retain more parents. Learn how we can help your company exceed working families’ expectations here.
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