Why corporate wellness programs are more important than ever

With most employees quarantined to their homes, staying active and relieving stress can be particularly difficult, but company-run initiatives can help, experts say.

How different generations approach remote work during COVID-19

Half of organizations in a recent Gartner survey reported that at least 81% of their employees are working remotely during the coronavirus pandemic. Another 15% of those surveyed said that 61% to 80% of their employees are working remotely in current conditions. 

SEE: Coronavirus: Critical IT policies and tools every business needs (TechRepublic) 

Remote work is the new norm: Meetings are held via video conferences, conferences are hosted as webinars, conversations are conducted via email or collaboration tools. People are missing social interaction, resulting in new trends such as virtual happy hours and at-home workout classes
 
Employees are looking for an outlet, which is difficult during shelter-in-place orders, said Erika Zauner, CEO of Healthkick. 

"Now, more than ever, anxiety is running really high. People are very stressed-out—both over concern about their health and over the double duty in terms of parenting and schooling for their kids in addition to having a full-time job," Zauner said.

"There was a recent stat that employees are working three hours more on average during this quarantine period," Zauner said. "From a mental and emotional health standpoint, it is important for people to have an outlet to focus on their well-being, both in terms of their physical health and mental health." 

Corporate wellness programs can help employees find that balance. 

How corporate wellness programs are helpful 

"People are craving connection, collaboration, camaraderie, and the social dynamics of the office environment now more than ever," said Heather Smith, chief people officer and senior  account success manager at Flimp Communications. 
"Companies who are offering virtual wellness programs and virtual gatherings are seeing their employees staying productive, engaged and connected, despite working from a distance over the last several weeks," Smith said. 

These programs are beneficial in inspiring healthy behaviors, which is particularly important during a global pandemic, Zauner said.

"Having preventative measures in place not only focuses on employees that have chronic health conditions, but can act as preventive care and reinforce healthy behavior and habits," Zauner said. "So when you encounter a situation like this where the most vulnerable are those who have health conditions, people who have been engaging in healthy behavior are in a better place." 

Another key benefit of wellness programs is social, Zauner added. 

"Having all employees work remotely makes it more important than ever for companies to maintain culture, and having wellness initiatives in place can help to bring employees together around well-being," Zauner said. "It can be really critical to reinforcing company culture at a time when there's a lot of stress and uncertainty." 

What different programs look like 

Corporate wellness programs don't necessarily need to fit into any sort of template, but they do need to fit the interests and needs of the team, said Kay Perkinson, chief of staff and interim vice president of HR at Vecna Robotics.  

"Given today's work from home order, your corporate wellness program will likely look entirely different than it did before," Perkinson said. 

"The most effective programs now are well-rounded and include physical, mental health, meditation, kids exercises, and eating well programs," said Rosaline Raj, senior marketing manager of employee workflows at ServiceNow. "These programs take a holistic approach to employee care wherever they are, can improve engagement and the overall employee experience."  

Perkinson recommended the following initiatives for organizations struggling to brainstorm ways to help their remote workers: 

  • Support employees looking to make their space more conducive to productivity by offering reimbursements for home office equipment, like ergonomic chairs or monitors. 
  • Deliver care packages of healthy snacks to colleagues and their families.
  • Encourage regular video chats or happy hours that promote face-to-face communication.
  • Get team members moving by hosting a weekly virtual workout class that even their families can participate in.
  • Don't forget about the little ones either–consider introducing staggered hours or having story time for kids to help create a supportive environment for childcare.

"Corporate wellness programs are critical now more than ever. Before, these initiatives were often looked at as perks for team members," Perkinson said. "Now, they're making a considerable difference in helping teams become more of a community than a company."

For more, check out 3 ways to support your team's mental health during the coronavirus on TechRepublic. 

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