(By Saad Imran)
Besides ravaging the business operations of many different industries and causing a rise in unemployment rates, the COVID-19 pandemic has also forced companies to change their existing culture and protocols.
Due to lockdowns and social distancing guidelines, employers took a lot of steps to keep the workplace safe, and that has also changed the expectations of employees towards their job benefits.
Let’s examine how workplace wellness looked like before COVID-19.
Workplace Wellness Pre-COVID-19
Before the shutdown of offices across the US due to COVID restrictions, workplace wellness programs included many perks and activities that focused on improving employees’ mental and physical health.
To design good wellness programs, extensive feedback was taken from employees by means of surveys and employee-based assessments. Employees then created a custom-made program to cater to the needs of their employees.
A well-designed workplace wellness program included on-site fitness centers, yoga classes, healthy lunch and snacks, wellness challenges, paramedical services, and smoking cessation plans.
To help their employees commute to work easily, different transit options were provided. Some companies went as far as to allow their employees to catch a quick nap while at work to help them improve their focus.
Different companies also offered some pretty cool perks that were popular among employees.
For example, PlayStation offered their employees perks like gaming areas, console discounts, vouchers, and some fun events like Happy hour, fruit Monday and game launch events at their studios.
Another company called Genentech had a campus community center, which included a health center and a rooftop garden. Their employees also had access to a visiting dentist’s office, childcare services, and concierge.
How COVID-19 affected Wellness Programs
Due to social distancing guidelines and lockdowns brought on by the COVID pandemic, employers had to shift towards virtual meetings and remote work options. With that, they also had to find unique ways to keep their employees connected and engaged.
Due to social isolation, the mental health of employees became a significant concern. According to a survey conducted by Aetna International, 74% of workers say that their poor mental health has had an impact on their productivity.
To help employees cope with increased stress and mental fatigue, employers have been offering access to telehealth services, usually through their employee assistance program.
Major health insurance providers will also cover telehealth services, enabling employers to include access to telehealth in their group health plan.
Telehealth services have been immensely popular during the pandemic. And the use of video telemedicine reached its peak in mid-2020. A 2020 Sykes telehealth survey showed that 60% of respondents are likely to continue using telemedicine services in the future due to COVID.
Apart from telehealth services, employers are also looking to offer free health screenings, access to nutrition programs, wellness challenges, and other virtual initiatives.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, a number of laws have been passed which ensure that employers support their employees in these difficult circumstances. One of these is the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, a federal law that requires employers covered under the act to provide 80 hours of paid sick leave to employees affected by the pandemic.
Employees can also get up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the expanded Family and Medical leave act, while it can be a paid leave if the employees are caring for their child who’s affected by COVID restrictions.
The Future of Workplace Wellness
Moving forward, it seems likely that mental health initiatives will become a major part of workplace wellness programs. Companies offering such incentives will undoubtedly attract talent and increase employee retention.
There may be an opportunity to customize wellness programs so that employees could choose benefits and wellness activities according to their needs.
After the rollout of the COVID vaccination program in the US, COVID vaccines may also be offered as a wellness option to keep the workplaces safe.
The COVID pandemic has caused employees great financial stress, which has a negative effect on their productivity. Employers could add some financial education opportunities in the workplace wellness program to manage and address this stress.