How to support a culture of wellbeing in a hybrid work world

Happy millennial female employee holding video call negotiations meeting.
For employers only

Employee benefits and HR professionals recognise that hybrid models of working — some remotely, some in the office and some with a varied schedule — are here to stay. While this flexible approach is appealing to employees, it often poses a challenge for employers who wish to build and maintain a vibrant and productive workplace culture.

We know that culture plays a significant role in an employee's experience; in fact, a Glassdoor survey found that when searching for a new job, 77% of people surveyed said they'd evaluate a potential employer's culture before applying for a position there. At its core, an organisation's culture is about showing employees that your company cares about them — at work and beyond.

Today, with wellbeing playing such an important role within an organisation, employers have an opportunity to reinvent their cultures through a lens of workplace wellness and health.

Wellbeing programs are needed now more urgently than ever due to the physical, emotional and mental health challenges employees have faced since the coronavirus took hold. If your organisation is struggling to build and maintain a culture of wellbeing in this new hybrid, post-pandemic work environment, this article will offer you practical advice on how to establish, promote and support a wellbeing culture today and into the future.

Make it easy for employees to engage in their own wellbeing

Corporate leaders know that the biggest employee health concerns centre around sleep, stress, email overload and supporting employees with family needs. Top of mind for leaders is also engaging younger employees before health risks or behaviours evolve into chronic conditions. And finally, emotional and mental health is important across the board, especially among the younger employee demographics of Gen Z.

To successfully address these health, wellness and social issues, professionals must make it easy for employees to engage with a centralised wellbeing program. A seamless point of app-based access is key, regardless if an employee wants to locate a pediatrician, try a personal meditation app, or learn how to cope with family financial stress.

The best wellbeing programs today offer seamless accessibility that supports and connects workers no matter their physical location, and no matter where they are along their health and wellbeing continuum. Through a single platform, employees can now find healthy dinner recipes, connect with an EAP or health coach, access home workouts, meditation, Pilates or yoga sessions, and participate in a fitness challenge.

Trust in an employer leads to employee engagement

No employer can foster a culture of wellbeing without first establishing trust with and among employees, and the most effective way to do so is to communicate care and genuine interest about employees as people beyond just their job.

Yet, many employers miss this opportunity. And with employers now managing employees on-site and remotely, establishing and maintaining trust is more important than ever. Employers need to state their intention so employees don't project their own fears onto any organisational initiative. Introduce a wellness program within the context of caring and authenticity so employees don't think it's about saving money on health insurance premiums; Offer health screening programs or condition-specific resources that demonstrate you want all employees to live happy, healthy and fulfilling lives so they don't mistake the gesture as intrusive to their privacy.

After trust is established, ensure that supervisors are aware of wellness offerings and how to connect wellbeing to work to build employee engagement. Healthy eating, managing stress and physical activity (especially for sedentary office roles) are just a few facets of wellbeing linked to greater focus, productivity and emotional wellbeing overall. Often, when supervisors are aware and reminded of available wellbeing resources, they're more likely to share and promote them across their teams.

Wellbeing Champions or Ambassadors are an additional avenue for facilitating engagement from a trusted source within your organization. People that naturally gravitate toward wellness, or those interested in helping others, are authentic proponents of wellbeing programs that can organically promote your company's wellbeing initiatives.

Create alignment from the top down

For optimal impact, it's not enough for an employer to merely have a culture of wellbeing initiative in place, even with a Wellbeing Champions program. Culture must be integral to your organisation's mission with a recognised wellbeing philosophy that aligns from the policy level down to day-to-day practice at the department and individual employee level.

In today's hybrid work model, organisational alignment can be achieved with the help of digital tools that bring dispersed employees together, regardless of where they're working. Virtual town hall meetings, for example, can give senior leadership a platform to share a healthy workplace vision with all employees at the same time and encourage employees to engage in healthy behaviours together, no matter where they're located.

Supervisors can reinforce wellbeing messages delivered during digital town halls by addressing them regularly with their direct reports, by holding challenges with their teams (think: a step challenge, healthy habit challenge or a gratitude challenge). Again, employees don't all have to be in the same location for these challenges to work. Even better, this kind of alignment and sustained communication builds camaraderie and lets employees know they're valued regardless of where they work from.

Strike a balance between tech and the physical world

Not surprisingly, your employees need to get away from the blue light of mobile devices and virtual meetings and live in the physical world, too. Fortunately, today employees can enjoy the best of both worlds by using technology that motivates them to improve their health and wellbeing, keep their healthy habits fresh and interesting, and enhance their time away from the screen.

Incentives can help motivate and encourage employees to embrace healthy habits. From a company messaging and culture perspective, incentives show employees that the organization cares about them as an individual and wants them to make their health a priority. From a behavioural economics standpoint, quarterly incentives work well because employees continually work toward a goal while experiencing health achievements along the way. Money remains the most popular incentive because employees understand that it translates into other benefits in their life.

Your return on investment vs. value on investment

Many employers struggle to determine the return on investment (ROI) of their wellness programs. Most measure the ROI through factors such as reduced medical claims, absenteeism and presenteeism. However, there's a lag from the time a wellness initiative is launched until those measurements can be realised and, sometimes, employers unrealistically expect solid ROI within six to 12 months. Value on investment (VOI), on the other hand, refers to other metrics that are just as important as those of ROI, such as work engagement, how people feel about their employer, and presenting a clear picture of the health of an organisation's culture.

Both ROI and VOI need to be viewed together to determine the success of your wellbeing initiative, which is especially important when operating with a dispersed workforce.

A final word

All employees, regardless of whether working remote or onsite, expect empathy and their employer's support today to regain, maintain or sustain a healthy lifestyle. Support for health and wellbeing is valued by employees, and integral to your being perceived as an employer of choice. Regardless of where employees work — whether all of your employees are back together in the workplace or you've adopted a hybrid or all-remote model moving forward — a robust culture of wellbeing is critical for the success of your employees and your business alike.

Mary Marzec, PhD, an expert in social and environmental determinants of health, is a senior health strategy scientist with Virgin Pulse, leading the company's workplace culture initiatives. 

 

This article was written by Emily Payne from BenefitsPro and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.