No matter what stage of growth your business is at, creating a supportive environment that solves for employee wellness should be a priority. A focus on wellness will ensure your company remains competitive for top talent, and enables your team to perform their best work.
After the pandemic forced many people to shift to remote work, it became clear there’s a need for a more holistic approach toward wellness. As an entrepreneur, the health of your employees — in every aspect — should be top of mind as you run your company.
Wellness challenges at work
In December 2021, a survey by the American Psychological Association found that “79% of employees had experienced work-related stress in the month before the survey… Meanwhile, 36% reported cognitive weariness, 32% reported emotional exhaustion, and an astounding 44% reported physical fatigue — a 38% increase since 2019.”
And no wonder. Major issues brought on by the pandemic include isolation, work-life balance, and anxiety, as people adjusted to working from home without the camaraderie of colleagues. Other stress factors include being stuck indoors for long periods of time, helping young children navigate remote learning, and worrying about one’s own health and the health of family and friends.
Even as the world begins to put covid in the rearview mirror, other wellness challenges remain, from overworking and burnout, to lack of support for adverse life events (e.g., an illness in the family), to the emotional toll brought on by negative practices like favoritism and gaslighting.
What is a wellness program?
Employee wellness programs offer a variety of benefits that are designed to improve the physical and mental health of workers. Common features include fitness reimbursements, support for family planning and caretaking, and mental health offerings. A good program should be accessible to employees whether they’re working remotely, on a hybrid schedule, or from the office.
“One of the most important components to offering a successful well-being program is to provide flexibility and choice. We are not always able to predict the future needs of our employees, so it is critical that they have the ability to select the benefits that are right for them,” advises Shweta Vohra, vice president of people at Lacework.
To make wellness offerings accessible to everyone, Lacework’s program features a quarterly stipend. Employees can use it on benefits like fitness, food services, financial well-being, family support (such as adoption and surrogacy fees or egg/sperm freezing), pet care, home office equipment, and more.
Lacework employees have the ability to change how they use this “Wellness Wallet” on a monthly or quarterly basis, depending on their needs. “One month they may want to use the money toward paying a tax advisor, and the next month they could use it for home office equipment. It is a solution for all employees globally,” says Vohra.
At software firm FullContact, in-office perks were transitioned to help remote employees set up new home office spaces. The company leaders also stress the importance of time off by offering unlimited vacation, 26 paid company holidays, and a bonus to encourage employees to go on vacation.
Ideas for a wellness program
These days, employees are looking for more than just a solid 401(k) and a dental plan. A strong employee wellness program must address these main categories: mental health, emotional health, physical well-being, and financial wellness.
Employers should offer specific benefits that embrace all facets of their employees’ lives and reflect an awareness and understanding of current needs.
- Provide four or more weeks of gender-neutral paid parental leave for new parents.
- Give several weeks of paid leave to employees who need to care for an aging or ill family member.
- Create your own courses or offer an educational stipend to workers who are looking to upskill.
- Partner with fitness companies, such as gym chains or virtual workout providers, to give employees subsidized access.
- Hold workshops for financial planning, like saving for retirement or managing personal debt.
- Include mental health offerings with health benefits, such as access to therapists and mindfulness programs.
While salaried employees often receive a wider array of benefits, companies can also create more options for hourly workers. One idea would be giving them more paid days off for each year they work at the company, which may also aid in employee retention.
Instead of starting every program from scratch, partnering with another service provider can be valuable. At Papa, a senior care startup, the equal access fertility care program run by Carrot is particularly popular with employees. Solutions offered by Carrot include egg and sperm freezing, IVF, donor and gestational carrier services, adoption, and help with pregnancy, menopause, and low testosterone.
In the age of remote work, connecting employees is another important wellness feature. For example, Papa offers virtual and in-person events and workshops, such as a webinar for Pride month that unpacks gender, sexual orientation, and the importance of identity. It also hosts ongoing “Mindfulness in the Workplace” workshops, where employees learn new skills to manage stress and increase self-awareness.
Similarly, Lacework invested in BetterUp, an AI-driven, mobile-based professional coaching platform that provides workshops and expert-guided group experiences in a variety of topics, such as transforming difficult conversations, going through a digital detox, and building purpose in your life.
Listen to your employees
Communication is the cornerstone of any relationship. To get feedback on your current program, take surveys frequently and find out what employees feel is lacking, and try to see if there are patterns to their comments.
Another way the management at Papa takes the pulse of employee needs is by monitoring health care claims and utilization rates of its wellness offerings. The practice allows the company to see where they could make changes or expand existing coverage.
It’s also important to research what else is out there. What do similar-sized companies offer? Do any of those benefits make sense for your employees and your budget?
As the way people work evolves, companies must continuously update their wellness offerings to keep up. For founders, ensuring your business’s program covers your workers’ needs holistically will be the key to maintaining a happy and productive workplace.