Perceptions of personal and community health and well-being have shifted dramatically since World Health Day 2020. For one thing, people are more aware of their personal health and the impact their decisions have on the broader community. And the options available for addressing health needs have transformed, possibly permanently.
This shift has necessitated a change in the way employers think about health and well-being benefits. To keep up with the evolving reality, employers must consider what their employees want, what they need, and how to most effectively and efficiently deliver benefits that make sense for this new era. Here are a few considerations to help employers create benefits that serve their full employee population this year and into the future.
Think Beyond the Gym
The COVID-19 pandemic hit gyms and fitness centers hard. Public health-related closures and uncertainty about working out in crowded spaces combined to cost the health club industry an estimated $13.9 billion from mid-March through August 31, 2020. Furthermore, with 83% of trainers saying they will work primarily online after the pandemic and 59% of Americans planning to let their gym memberships lapse after COVID-19, there is reason to believe behavior changes driven by the pandemic will linger long into the future.
Some of those changes may be related to concerns about health, but there is also evidence that Americans have simply discovered a more convenient, personalized way to exercise. Consider that as gyms closed, 40% of Americans were motivated to exercise at home for the first time. Perhaps more significantly, 66% say they prefer home workouts to the gym.
All of this suggests that Americans are interested in options and flexibility when it comes to staying active. As a result, employers that previously relied on gym reimbursements to support well-being will have to find new ways to engage employees in health and fitness. Doing so will require a solution that offers high-quality content users can complete from the comfort of home, enough variety to appeal to users with diverse interests and ability levels, and a clear progression that encourages individuals to continually challenge themselves and up the ante on their performance. Even better, there should be options for the entire family, allowing parents and children to motivate each other by working out together.
Mental Health Matters
COVID-19 has taken a toll on emotional and mental well-being, as well. Adjusting to work-at-home schedules, balancing work and home schooling, and simply navigating the uncertainty of life during a global pandemic are hard. Perhaps it’s no surprise that 41.1% of adults reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder in January 2021—up from 11% in the period from January to June 2019. This trend is even more pronounced among working adults, with 56.2% of adults aged 18–24 and 48.9% of adults aged 25–49 reporting such symptoms.
For employers that are committed to addressing the full scope of their employees’ well-being, this is a serious concern because poor mental health can also affect job performance and productivity, reduce engagement with work, and impact communication with coworkers. All told, depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion per year in lost productivity.
Employers have responded by enhancing mental and emotional health benefits. Fortunately, the options for providing mental health services have expanded in recent years. For example, telemental health visits were up 79% for men and 75% for women from January to October last year, and use of meditation and mindfulness apps has boomed in recent years. By encouraging employees to complete mindfulness exercises, take yoga classes, or focus on stretching, employers help employees reduce stress and focus on the task at hand, making them happier, more focused, and more productive.
Fueling a More Effective Workforce
Among the many disruptions caused by the pandemic, going out for dinner became difficult or impossible. And while many people turned to takeout to put food on their table and support local businesses, an estimated 54% of Americans also started cooking more during the pandemic. Many of these newly minted home cooks are making healthier meals the new norm.
To that end, video instruction has proved to be a uniquely powerful resource for engaging individuals with their meals. There is a reason, after all, that views of YouTube “cook with me” tutorials grew by 100% during the pandemic. By offering high-quality video instruction, employers can help broaden employees’ culinary horizons; help them discover easy, nutritious, and delicious meals; and keep their passion for cooking simmering even as cooking fatigue sets in for some.
Engagement Will Look Different
With many employees likely to continue working remotely or in a hybrid model well into the future, employers will have to find new strategies to engage employees in their well-being.
Fortunately, technology is becoming as integral to our fitness as it is to much of the rest of our lives. Modern fitness technology gives users the power to take their workout out of the gym and into their home or a nearby park. It can connect users to expert instructors to recreate the group fitness experience without the restrictive schedule. In some cases, users can even connect with friends to attend class together, even when they are miles apart.
By making smart use of these resources, employers can engage employees in their well-being even when they can’t be together in one place. They can continue to motivate a remote workforce and, with the use of incentive programs that tie participation to charitable donations, connect their workforce to the broader community.
Approaches to fitness were already evolving before March 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated change and highlighted challenges at a rate greater than anyone could have anticipated. In order to keep pace with this evolution, employers should look for innovative ways to engage employees with fitness resources that make sense for their new reality.
Jason Von Bank is president and CEO of Wellbeats, a scalable, affordable, and easy-to-use virtual fitness solution that empowers habit-forming physical and mental health for its more than 1.5 million members. As a pioneer of the virtual fitness space, the Wellbeats difference lies within the quality and variety of content, security, and innovation. With over 700 exercise, nutrition, and mindfulness classes, there is something for every age, interest, environment, and ability level. Contact Von Bank at email@example.com.