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Employee Wellbeing

The Future of Workplace Wellness: From “Programs” to Some Get-Real Wellness

mental health-burnout-great resignation-wellness programs
mental health-burnout-great resignation-wellness programs
Courtesy of Holly Mandarich

These three approaches that any company can do will create healthier, less burned out, more engaged employees.

We’re two years into a pandemic and remote work — the biggest disruption in work in generations — and we’re all familiar with the mental health and burnout fallout. Gallup recently found that 57 percent of North American workers are now experiencing high daily stress levels and lower engagement at work. So, we’re in the throes of the “Great Resignation,” with millions of employees quitting companies that they perceive as not authentically caring about their well-being. In fact, 44 percent of U.S. workers intend to find a new job.

These unprecedented realities are creating a seismic shift in what “workplace wellness” means. Employers are recognizing that the old compartmentalized, programmatic approach (all those isolated wellness “perks” such as gym memberships and yoga classes) are not very effective at tackling the now triage-level issues of stress, burnout, and work-life imbalance. Employees are keenly aware that workplace wellness programs are often a cynical band-aid for an unwell company culture. We’re entering a new era for the employee well-being concept that expands beyond the program to more meaningful, “get real” approaches: a new focus on offering employees flexible work, fair compensation, paid time off and family leave, professional development opportunities, financial wellness coaching, and building stronger social connections between in-house and remote employees.

Many of the new, meaningful approaches — from flexible work to financial wellness — have been well-covered. Here are three approaches that any company can embrace to create healthier, less burned out, more engaged employees:

1. Restore a hard line between work and life

The digital age eroded the line between “life” and work, and remote work has only decimated it further — think the 24/7 emails, Zoom calls at crazy hours, and people juggling caregiving at home. Forward-thinking companies and countries are reinstating a very hard line between day and night, workweek and weekend, to tackle burnout and restore what people crave most: their time. France and Portugal have enacted legislation banning employers from contacting staff outside work hours, and more companies will adopt such a disciplined, company-wide policy. The four-day work week has serious momentum, as countries such as Iceland, Finland, New Zealand, and Japan are reporting eye-opening outcomes: vastly improved work-life balance and employee happiness while maintaining the same productivity levels. Rethink your entire company through the lens of employee “time” — from experimenting with a reduced workweek to scheduling Zoom meetings at times fair to all.

2. Become a nature-forward company

The pandemic revealed the power of nature to everyone, and hundreds of studies concur that spending time in nature is one of the easiest ways to improve mental and physical health. Offering employees subscriptions to digital wellness solutions such as meditation apps and fitness platforms can be helpful, but it’s throwing more digital time at digital burnout. Innovative companies are thinking outdoor not indoor wellness — from walking meetings to outdoor fitness classes to biophilic office spaces that are more “outside” than in.

3. Put purpose at the center of your workplace wellness culture

The pandemic has made people soul-searchers that seek more meaning in their lives. They value purpose, diversity, equity, and inclusion in companies as never before, and they’re leaving organizations that only care about making money and not making a difference. Experts are pegging the Chief Purpose Officer as the next important C-level role. Identify your company’s core values and what community issues your employees are passionate about, and do something more tangible than mere donations. Create programs that are like “wellness duty,” where employees are paid to actively and continuously give back. Tech firms can send engineers out to STEM programs for minority students. Restaurants can feed the homeless.

Work has changed forever, and more companies are thinking outside the check-the-box wellness programs, experimenting with creative ways to keep people healthy and engaged. There is no one right solution; for leaders it must come from a place of empathy and common sense. What would you want in a workplace?

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