Workplace culture has been in flux for more than a year, and clarity might be further off than employers had hoped. A surge in COVID-19 cases has caused employers that made the transition to remote work last year to delay or reverse plans to return to the office. Meanwhile, large numbers of employees have chosen not to return at all.
Regardless of whether employees work remotely or on-site, it is important for employers to create a culture that engages employees in their work. And well-being is a powerful resource for bringing people together, even when in-person activities are uncertain at best and coworkers are more likely to interact on a computer screen than in the hallways.
That feeling of community is particularly important now, considering that more than half of employees who chose to leave their job this year said they did not feel like they belonged at their former workplace. Employers that want to attract and retain employees must find ways to make work about more than a paycheck. The following five tips can help employers put well-being and workplace culture to work to keep current employees engaged and attract top talent.
Consider the Whole Person
More than ever, nurturing employee well-being requires employers to address more than physical fitness. In fact, worry and stress were worse last year for employees who worked from home than for employees who remained in the office. That is perhaps not surprising given the number of parents trying to balance work with managing their child’s remote learning as COVID-related quarantines caused schools to close or struggling to keep kids active and build healthy habits.
In fact, as of December 2020, 47% of remote workers reported feeling worry for a significant portion of the day compared with 37% of employees who didn’t work from home. Similarly, 59% of home workers reported feeling stress compared with 51% of employees who continued going to the office.
Also important is offering support for other often-overlooked aspects of individual well-being, like nutrition. Consider that 71% of Americans say they plan to continue cooking more after the pandemic ends. Employers can support those efforts by sharing high-quality nutrition content that builds employees’ cooking skills while equipping them with the knowledge to prepare healthy meals.
Create Virtual Activities
Just because employees can’t be in the office together doesn’t mean interactions should end. In fact, there is plenty of evidence suggesting that relationships among coworkers have a positive impact on both employee well-being and the bottom line. It’s also been found that loneliness and isolation at work increase risk of mortality, and this concern is even more significant at a time when people may feel more isolated than usual. Furthermore, strong ties among employees facilitate innovative behavior, improving overall performance and productivity.
While some employees may be comfortable gathering outdoors, online gatherings may be a better bet for the time being. Employers can host virtual happy hours or game nights. Or, build on efforts to support better nutrition by hosting a virtual dinner party where everyone provides recipes and employees cook their own meals at home, then compare results.
Workplace wellness challenges have been a valuable tool for motivating employee behavior, and that hasn’t changed as a result of the pandemic. Rather, the format of those challenges has evolved. Challenges that require visits to the gym might be difficult when many employees are uncomfortable working out indoors in a group. Consider movement challenges to promote activity or healthy eating challenges that encourage employees to improve their nutrition habits. Or, to mix things up, consider introducing on-demand, virtual fitness and rewarding employees for participating in a certain number of workouts or completing a variety of classes.
Connect Participation to Community Service
Speaking of challenges, employers can build culture by rallying employees around a common goal. One way to accomplish that is by connecting participation to charitable contributions. For example, one Wellbeats client introduced on-demand, virtual wellness to employees with a challenge that tied class participation to a $5,000 corporate donation to the American Red Cross. The company saw 40% engagement in the first week after launch.
There are other benefits to community giving, particularly when it comes to attracting and retaining a younger generation of employees. When 55% of employees say they would choose to work for a socially responsible company even if the salary were lower and more than 50% of millennials were influenced to accept a job based on that company’s involvement with causes, it’s clear employers must take community involvement seriously. Furthermore, 71% of employees want their company to provide opportunities for them to make a positive impact on social and environmental issues.
Engage the Entire Family
The move to remote learning driven by the pandemic has given many parents a new appreciation for content that engages children of all ages in fitness and mindfulness. As parents struggled to find ways to help their students meet phys-ed requirements, many turned to on-demand, virtual fitness content. As a result, Wellbeats saw plays of child-focused content increase 2,067% from January through April 2020 and 1,052% on average throughout the year.
Beyond helping kids meet school requirements, however, content that engages the entire family can transform family bonding time from a sedentary movie night to a fun activity. Researchers have found that fitness runs in the family—that is, when parents are fit, their kids are more likely to be fit, too. This link works both ways. Parents can model healthy behavior for their children, and children can encourage their parents to be active. As an added bonus, studies have shown that employees are 38% more engaged in their work when they believe their employer cares about their health and wellness, and making well-being a family effort is a powerful way to demonstrate that commitment.
It’s hard to know when we will officially be past the pandemic, but it’s safe to say that work life won’t look like what we were used to in early 2020 and prior years. In such an uncertain environment, culture takes on new importance. Building a vibrant workplace culture may be difficult when remote work is an option for many more employees, but with a few simple changes, employers can increase engagement, improve satisfaction, and build a foundation for success.
Jason Campana is senior vice president of service delivery for Wellbeats, a scalable, affordable, and easy-to-use virtual fitness solution that empowers habit-forming physical and mental health for its more than 1.9 million members.