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Employee Wellness and the Global COVID-19 Pandemic
Good health is always good practice. Staying healthy physically, mentally, and emotionally can lead to a more fulfilling life and a more fulfilling career. Keeping employees healthy in every way is a priority for any company worth its salt, but things have changed dramatically. Old employee wellness programs may not be working so well or may not be applicable at all. How can employers adapt to the new normal and still maintain their focus on encouraging employee health?
What Are Wellness Programs in the Workplace?
Before we get to the specifics of employee wellness programs during COVID, let's lay a little groundwork. What ARE wellness programs in the workplace? Whether your workplace is at an office or at home, your wellness is (or at least should be!) on the mind of your employer. Most organizations offer wellness programs that include some of the following:
- Health insurance. The most basic form of an employee wellness program is helping out with health-related expenses. Most companies offer benefits in the form of health insurance, and if your company doesn't, you probably need to sit down and have a chat about it.
- Healthy snacks. Not every workplace offers foodstuffs to snack on while at work, but if you're one of those that does, consider offering healthy options to your employees. Sometimes all it takes to make a healthier choice is to be given the option.
- Activity competitions. Holding competitions to see who can get the most steps over a period of time, or which team members can be the most active by doing a certain thing, is a great way to get people involved in their own health. Nothing like a little friendly competition to spark a change in lifestyle!
- Mental health days. Mental health is just as important as physical health. Making sure your employees are given the freedom to take a day off every once in a while to recharge their mental health is a great way to be preventative about burnout and other physical health related costs.
- Incentive programs. Not everyone is naturally inclined to be healthy, so many workplaces offer incentives such as extra PTO, swag, or experiences to those that earn them through healthy incentive programs.
The purpose of employee wellness programs is to help your employees lead healthier lives. The foundation of this idea is that when your employees are healthier, they'll be happier and more productive. When people feel cared for, they'll care more—and there's no better way to show you care than by caring for employee's health. But how do you do that if some or all of your workforce is remote?
Finding a New Normal
Things have changed quite dramatically since the COVID-19 pandemic, and many aspects of health outside of the obvious dangers of the virus have been impacted. What are these challenges we face, and what can employers do to ensure their employees still feel supported with employee wellness programs?
Working From Home
Remote work has become the norm for many of us, and with that comes some specific challenges:
Work/life Boundaries Are Blurred
The blurring of work/life boundaries is not a new thing, but the pandemic has certainly accelerated what was already happening. Working from home can, in some cases, impact stress levels because work and life are no longer as separate as they were before. There are ways to mitigate this, however. Encourage your remote employees to have a separate workstation from the rest of their living space (as much as possible) and to have a start and end time to their workday. Setting these boundaries will help keep the necessary delineation between work and home more clear, and reduce the stress employees feel.
Work Hours Are Increasing, but Productivity Isn’t
Working from home means many of us are working longer hours. It is much easier now to sit at home while working and get lost in projects. During the pandemic, the average employee is working nearly an hour longer every day. Longer hours aren’t always bad, but sustained longer hours can lead to burnout, stress, and a drop in productivity. Setting up programs to encourage employees to get out or try something new will help revitalize employee outlook and morale. Setting up such a program doesn’t have to be hard, either. It can be as simple as offering a stipend for outdoor gear, or a program for additional time off.
Home Gym? You’re Lucky
Working from home, especially when so much of normal life is shut down, can lead to less physical activity than before. On-site gyms are closed, and working from home might mean your only exercise is getting up to use the restroom, or maybe grabbing something from the fridge. Setting up company-wide activity programs by creating physical activity contests and rewarding them with items that will encourage further activity is a great way to keep remote employees active.
Emotional and Mental Health
Many of us are under stressors we may not even realize, but there are ways employers can help combat that for their employees:
Keep Connected to Social Groups
Social distancing has robbed many of us of normalcy, including getting together with people we care about. Just like we’re encouraged to get up from our desks at least once an hour to move about for physical health, we should also strive to encourage employees to connect with people outside of work-related topics on a regular basis. Providing flex time, virtual get-togethers, virtual office yoga sessions, and more are all things you might consider to help employees stay connected to others as much as possible.
Strengthen Engagement at Work
The pandemic has caused a lot of uncertainty in the economy. Many people may feel a general sense of unease as economic turmoil seems to be part of this new world—in fact, only 40% of employees feel well-equipped to do their jobs since the pandemic hit. Helping steady the ship is imperative to your workforce’s emotional and overall stability, and there’s no better way to do that than with recognition. Employees that feel recognized, valued, and appreciated no matter where they are working that day will be employees that continue to work hard for the organization.
Encourage Time Off
Taking time off during a pandemic can seem counterproductive—after all, why take time off just to sit around your house and stay quarantined? Americans have never been great at taking needed time off, but the pandemic stress has made workers take even less time off. Encouraging employees to take time off is a crucial part of keeping mental and emotional health vibrant, especially during a pandemic. Even if they don’t have a grand vacation planned, provide options and encouragement for your employees to take time off. You’ll be grateful you did.
Supporting Your People
No matter what your workforce is dealing with during uncertain times, these few key principles will help you positively influence the lives of your employees. Consider implementing what programs and practices you can, even if they’re seemingly minuscule, in order to ensure the holistic fitness of your organization and the overall health of your people. After all, at its core every organization is powered by people, and people is what it should be all about.