The events of the past year have altered many aspects of daily life, with none more jarring than the switch from in-person to remote work. As organizations of every size and industry have pivoted to accommodate this “new normal”, they and their workforce have come to intimately understand the benefits and drawbacks of a remote working environment. Whether your organization chooses to adopt this practice in perpetuity, or offer remote work as an option to your employees after it’s safe to return to the office, your organization should consider altering its benefits package to meet the health-related changes presented by a remote work setting.
With a new environment come new challenges, and your employee benefits should both reflect and seek to address those new challenges in order to retain your current talent, entice new talent, and save on healthcare costs at both the individual and organizational level.
In this post, we’ll cover:
- New difficulties to employee health presented by a remote work setting
- Benefit adjustments that address these difficulties
- How to meaningfully implement these changes
New Environment, New Challenges
While there are many advantages to working from home, there are also several critical obstacles that can negatively impact employees. The most immediate threat is, namely, stress. Workers are currently inundated with uncertainty, from concerns about their own health and the health of loved ones to unexpected financial strain. Employees may also be feeling alienated from their coworkers, friends, and family, causing a decrease in both happiness and productivity in multiple areas of their lives. According to recent research emanating from the CDC, Americans reporting feelings of anxiety, depression, and loneliness in 2020 have tripled in comparison to the previous year.
While some of these feelings may eventually be alleviated by the widespread adoption of a vaccine for the virus that causes Covid-19, remote work environments still present many obstacles that can lead to increased emotional and mental strain. A lack of social interaction with coworkers and misunderstandings stemming from inadequate or poor communication are just some of the hindrances that can increase feelings of anxiety, estrangement, and hurt job performance.
There are numerous studies outlining the direct, negative impact that emotional and mental stress can have on one’s physical health, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and abnormal cholesterol levels. Better mental health advocacy and the increasing amount of evidence that directly links mental and physical health are leading many organizations to offer additional or better benefits that seek to address mental and emotional health in order to drive down healthcare costs now and in the future.
Adjusting Benefits to Meet New Needs
Remote work environments, while convenient, can be mentally and emotionally isolating. These feelings of isolation can often progress into chronic health conditions that can be expensive to both the employee and the employer provided health plan. Mental and physical health are inextricably linked, and the effects of the pandemic have only accelerated the acceptance of this fact and the adoption of programs to address it. As more and more organizations are making the partial or full switch to an entirely remote workforce, employers are simultaneously beefing up their benefits that address the mind-body connection.
One of the simplest, most cost-effective ways to redesign your benefits to include mental and emotional health resources is to adopt a single solution that combines mental wellbeing and chronic condition management through preventative wellness. According to recent research, employee wellness programs provide a 6:1 return on investment in healthcare cost savings.
Chronic diseases often emerge through poor preventative care, costing employers millions of dollars every year. By refocusing your benefits to be employee-centric and encouraging your employees to adopt healthier mental and physical lifestyle habits, employers can achieve monumental cost savings now and in the future. Some examples of wellness programs are those that incentivize employees to keep track their own health data through general physical assessments and friendly competitions. Stimulate your employees to discover and improve their body mass index by offering them a financial reward or paid time off if they complete an annual physical each year. Additionally, creating some friendly competition between employees to engage in healthy habits in exchange for a prize is another great way to engender adoption of good lifestyle choices. By incentivizing employees to participate in preventative care, they may discover they are at risk for certain chronic conditions early enough to redirect the path they’re on.
Support the Transition to Yield Best Results
Open and honest communication is always important in the workplace, but it is especially critical in a remote environment. Most employees are currently working remotely, and there is an increasing likelihood that many companies will decide to go fully remote for the foreseeable future.
One of the most important things that your HR team and organizational leaders can do during the adoption of new benefits programs in any setting is to maintain transparency and open lines of communication between themselves and their employees. Providing employees with the freedom and safety to discuss the obstacles they may be struggling against can help employers to understand the needs of their employees and the resources they may need to be connected to, such as mental health counseling or a one-on-one meeting with your company’s benefits specialist. In addition, open and authentic lines of communication between employees and leaders helps to engender a deeper level of trust. Getting on your employees’ level and being receptive to their needs will increase the likelihood that employees will take advantage of new wellness programs that your organization will offer.
Remote working environments present unique challenges, but these challenges also offer new opportunities to encourage employee self-care that can save everyone time, effort, and money. Employees that understand and use the resources available to them are more likely to be productive, long-term members of your team-and will act as great ambassadors to new prospective talent. By offering employee-centric benefits that address both the mind and the body, employers can ensure the wellbeing of their employees. Remember:
- Employers should acknowledge the new challenges to employees presented by remote work environments and adjust their benefits packages accordingly to meet these challenges.
- Employer benefits packages should include wellness programs that offer incentivized programs and resources for those struggling with mental and emotional health issues, as these issues often manifest as chronic physical conditions. Studies have shown that preventative care programs save employers millions of dollars healthcare costs.
- Facilitate and encourage the regular use of the wellness program and other new employee resources through open and honest communication between leaders and employees.