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Enterprises May Need a Reset on Wellness Programs


Photo of workers getting all zen in the office
Image: georgerudy -
Employee well-being has become one of the hot topics in the wake of the pandemic, but this seems like one of those terms that’s tailor-made for becoming a buzzword that nobody really pays enough attention to, implements well, or follows up on.
A new survey from The Conference Board shows some specific areas of concern. The think tank found that employers believe they’re prioritizing employee well-being, but they acknowledge that programs aren’t being used as widely as they should be. Meantime, workers say they’re using most well-being programs less than they previously had.
More than three-quarters of the employers that The Conference Board surveyed believe that “holistic well-being is a strategic business priority,” and almost two-thirds say “executive leaders understand the business case” for well-being programs. However, just a bare majority (51%) say they “understand the wellness needs of our people.”
When asked about the top barriers to successful wellness programs, 45% of employers cited “limited participation or uptake.”
From the employee side, the pandemic itself hampered participation in most types of wellness programs. The Conference Board found the biggest decreases came in programs focused on environmental and community well-being; incentives for healthy habits; career and professional well-being; and financial well-being initiatives. Not surprisingly, the two areas where employees increased their participation were in online platforms and social wellness and belonging.
In their report on the results, The Conference Board survey authors blame “heavy workloads and time constraints” for the declines in wellness program participation, and they offer five suggestions for strengthening these efforts within an enterprise:
  • Start with the Work Culture — Many enterprises are already doing this kind of basic review, centering on how corporate culture and work habits tend to hamper well-being by, for example, driving burnout instead of encouraging breaks and time off.
  • Offer a Wide Range of Offerings — The authors note that their survey showed employees give more weight to social and community well-being over programs aimed at their own financial well-being. They recommend that employers be aware of what employees value most, and also how several different types of well-being are likely to be interconnected.
  • Engage Stakeholders Throughout the Organization — This means HR partnering with business leaders as well as teams dedicated to initiatives like diversity and inclusion, so that the messages around well-being and the programs that support it percolate through the workforce.
  • Use Surveys and Other Tools to Understand Specific Needs — This includes being able to break down responses by categories such as gender, age/generation, etc.
  • Consider New Offerings to Address Pressing Concerns — Most well-being programs pre-date the pandemic, so it’s important to make sure what you’re doing now addresses the new reality, according to The Conference Board authors. This could include targeting parents or frontline workers who may have borne the brunt of in-person interactions during the most severe periods of the pandemic.
The message is clear: Well-being initiatives are more important than ever, especially as employees return to offices. But you can’t just pick up where you left off, or where you were during the depths of the pandemic. The last 15 months likely changed your workforce, so how you address their well-being has to keep up.