Coronavirus (COVID-19), HR Management & Compliance

Freshman 15: Work-from-Home Edition

If you aren’t familiar with the freshman 15, it’s the average amount of weight a college freshman gains in his or her first year. Many attribute the weight gain to a combination of unprecedented freedom and the availability of copious amounts of food. The work-from-home situation has some parallels.

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Source: Erstudiostok / iStock / Getty Images

People are stuck in their homes with their pantries and, for those still working, a full load of work. With organizational priorities focusing on simply surviving the pandemic, employee wellness may have fallen through the cracks.

We recently spoke about the issue with Erika Zauner, CEO of HealthKick.

HR Daily Advisor: Keeping employees healthy when they are IN the office has been difficult enough. Now that they are at home, how much harder is it for employers to help their workers stay physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy?

Zauner: Although employees aren’t physically in the office, it’s even more critical for companies to support the physical, mental, and emotional health of their employees right now.

Rather than being prescriptive about what employees should or should not be doing, it’s essential employers meet employees where they are and provide the resources for employees to engage how and when best meets their needs in this moment; that might be a guided meditation, a nourishing meal, or a yoga class.

There are many digital and online resources that make this possible. We introduced HK@Home, a selection of 50 digital health and wellness brands—from streaming fitness apps like Peloton and Aaptiv to meal-kit services like HelloFresh and Blue Apron to mental health apps like Calm and Talkspace—to bring ease and convenience to healthy living with the tools to support employees’ physical and mental well-being.

HR Daily Advisor: These efforts tend to take a backseat under the best of circumstances. With many employers in emergency “stay afloat” mode, we imagine this focus has slipped further. Where do these efforts fit within the priority of an organization that is struggling to stay afloat?

Zauner: Maintaining morale and engagement in the face of crisis is essential to companies navigating these challenging times with creative solutions that will see them through it.

In fact, companies with high engagement are 21% more profitable. Staying active, eating nourishing food, getting enough sleep, and engaging in a mindfulness practice all help relieve stress and contribute to a more positive and focused mental state, which is why now more than ever, companies need to double down on supporting the well-being of their population.

HR Daily Advisor: What difficulties have employers had when it comes to promoting the physical health of employees?

Zauner: Catering to the individual preferences and needs of a diverse employee population. Different types of activities appeal to different people; the key to promoting physical health is providing a variety of options and flexibility to meet employees where they are—whether they are just building healthy habits or maintaining them.

Some might be of a mind-set in which they don’t like to exercise, but what they really mean is they don’t like running on the treadmill. Whether it’s yoga, a spin class, Zumba, walking outdoors, or weight training, helping employees discover a routine they can stick with that fits their lifestyle and preferences is the key to consistency.

HR Daily Advisor: What can employers do to help?

Zauner: Providing a variety of well-being resources that cater to employees’ diverse well-being needs and that are conveniently accessible anywhere is key. While an on-site gym or on-site classes are nice amenities, many employees don’t feel comfortable exercising in front of other coworkers.

Others might be traveling frequently, working off-site, or carrying out caretaking responsibilities and need the flexibility of remote options to fit physical activity into their routine when they can find 15 minutes.

HR Daily Advisor: What roadblocks complicate employers from supporting the mental and emotional health of their employees?

Zauner: What the crisis has highlighted more than anything is how unique the mental well-being needs of employees are; whether they are parents or caretakers who are overstretched, recent college grads dealing with isolation, or employees who already struggled with anxiety, mental health affects everyone in different ways and presents itself in different ways—it’s highly personalized to each individual, and this can make it difficult for employers to address it as a whole.

HR Daily Advisor: What can employers do differently?

Zauner: Having more flexibility with work hours, maintaining social interaction with regular team video calls, providing forums or resource groups for employees to share their challenges, and just knowing others are going through the same thing are often helpful.

Also, providing engaging mindfulness resources for employees that work for them can help. We are also seeing many companies introduce well-being webinars on topics like sleep health, emotional resilience, and parenting.

HR Daily Advisor: Time is a major problem now, with employees having to juggle child care and work. Who could expect them to have time to do things like take walks or meditate?

Zauner: Time is consistently cited as a top challenge employees face in maintaining a healthy lifestyle, even pre-COVID. But being healthy isn’t about the amount of time; it’s about consistency. This is a perfect situation to not let time be an excuse for why you can’t make healthy choices. Maybe you don’t have an hour to go to the gym, but commit to 15 minutes of activity or 5 minutes of a mindfulness practice (doing air squats while on a conference call counts!).

Building that muscle is what will set you up to consistently make healthy choices, rather than only making healthy choices in optimal circumstances, which are few and far between, and that is what sets you up for long-term success.

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