9 Workplace Wellness Trends to Watch Out for in 2021

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The ongoing pandemic is changing many things for employers and employees alike, including workplace wellness trends. Free healthy food in the office fridge and on-site fitness classes might not be the most relevant benefits to offer this year. So then what are the workplace wellness trends to watch out for in 2021?

What’s in?
1. Mental health benefits
2. Telehealth
3. Personalized wellness
4. Stress management/resilience
5. Focus on prevention
6. Financial wellness
7. Adapted workplace design
8. Family wellness programs
9. Expanded employee assistance
On a final note

1. Mental health benefits 

According to Wellable’s 2021 Employee Wellness Industry Trends Report, mental health is at the top of everyone’s mind this year. Nine out of ten employers plan to invest more in this area so that they are well-equipped to address this part of well-being for their employees.   

Even before the pandemic struck, the vast majority of especially Gen Z and Millennial employees – respectively 91% and 85% – already said that employers should have a mental health work policy in place, according to a survey commissioned by Zapier.

Unsurprisingly, the interest in employees’ mental health increased even further this year. The pandemic has had a big impact on people’s working conditions, often creating a lot of additional stress and/or anxiety. 

For knowledge workers, the fact that they found themselves working from home full-time caused feelings of loneliness and, as the pandemic lingered, sometimes even depression.

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Working from home also blurred the lines between our personal and professional lives with many of us (unconsciously) working longer hours, never fully switching off, and hence opening the door for burnouts.     

For key workers (people working in healthcare, but also those working in for example supermarkets), the covid crisis meant that they were being confronted with disease and their own mortality on a daily basis all of a sudden.   

In other words, stress levels went up big time for the vast majority of the workforce putting pressure on people’s mental health. 

What do mental health benefits look like?

There are plenty of possibilities here but we’ll give a few examples. Options vary from:

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  • Giving your people access to a 24/7 confidential helpline and free sessions with a qualified therapist. 
  • To a holistic mental wellbeing solution that combines employee assistance programs and wellbeing apps with fitness and self-care.   
  • Mental health coaching. Starbucks, for instance, initiated a training program called Starbucks Mental Health Fundamentals for its employees. This adds to the company’s existing efforts to fight the stigma around mental health.
Workplace Wellness Trends 2021
Mental health, telemedicine, and stress management are top three wellness solutions employers will invest more in in 2021.

2. Telehealth

Put simply, telehealth is the delivery of health care, health education, and health information services via remote technologies. This includes, among other things, remote patient-clinician contact, care, advice, monitoring, and remote admissions.   

This is another one of those workplace wellness trends that doesn’t come as a surprise. According to the same Wellable report, 87% of employers – including 90% of small companies – plan to invest more in telehealth this year. 

With the pandemic still around in many countries, telehealth can be a great solution for both health care providers and patients. Instead of having to wear a mask, social distancing rules and travel limitations to take into account, and constant hand sanitizing, people can simply make a virtual appointment with their health care provider.   

What do telehealth benefits look like? 

Again, there are various options here too, but this is what offering telehealth benefits can look like:

  • When you offer telehealth services to your employees, they have 24/7 access to everything they need to stay informed about their health.
  • They can make virtual appointments with their doctor at a time that suits them and their busy lives;
  • As well as get answers to their health queries out of hours when their physical health center is closed.
  • Citigroup, Bank of America, and other banks are examples of organizations that are already pushing telehealth options.

3. Personalized wellness

Across various aspects of the employee wellbeing spectrum we see an increased focus on personalization. Examples include health coaching, on-demand fitness classes, and self-care subscription services.

Personalization already made sense before Covid-19 hit but now, with many employees working remotely, it has become even more of a no-brainer. 

Let’s look at on-demand fitness classes and self-care subscriptions for example. More than 53% of employers plan to invest more in these types of employee benefits this year.

Both options give employees the possibility to choose which health and well-being initiative best suits their interests and needs as well as the flexibility to engage with the service where and when it works best for them. 

What do personalized health and wellbeing benefits look like?   

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There are workplace wellness apps for virtually everything. Solutions vary from single apps to entire workplace wellness platforms that cover physical and mental health. Here are a few examples:

  • Elevate. Our brain needs exercise too and that’s exactly what Elevate is here for. The app gives personalized brain training that happens in a game-like format.
  • Power Nap App. As a result of the coronavirus, insomnia may be on the rise. This app lets employees enjoy ‘the power of the power nap.’ It lets users set a timer for up to 30 minutes, provides relaxing sounds to fall asleep to, and has various alarm sounds that are pleasant to wake up to. 
  • Health and wellbeing platforms such as Wellspace and Wellable.   

4. Stress management/resilience

While stress management could be categorized as a mental health-related benefit, we believe it deserves its own spot on this year’s list of workplace wellness trends. 

Sadly, workplace stress has been something many employees were already familiar with before the pandemic. In the US alone, nearly two-thirds of employees say they are stressed all or most of the time at work.    

As for the effects of workplace stress on people’s health and eventually their work, a report from Ginger found that 81% of workers said that symptoms range from fatigue and anxiety to physical ailments causing them to miss work.  

With the arrival of Covid-19, stress levels have reached unprecedented levels which is probably why no less than 81% of companies are planning to invest more in stress management and resilience this year.

Since stress can cause many health issues, both mentally as well as physically, it makes total sense for organizations to offer this type of benefit to their employees. 

What do stress management and resilience benefits look like? 

Examples of what companies can do to help their employees better cope with stress and increase their resilience include:

  • Offering them stress management training. LinkedIn, for example, created six new courses on topics like enhancing resilience and dealing with grief and loss. 
  • A digital helpdesk for stressed employees 
  • A guided meditation platform like Headspace
  • A voice analysis app to monitor employee stress such as Nemesyco 
  • Offer dedicated resilience training  

5. Focus on prevention 

This one should be on top of every organization’s list of workplace wellness trends to implement really. Rather than offering employees a range of wellness benefits for when it is effectively too late – i.e. when people experience a lot of stress, have an aching back, their eyes hurting from staring at a screen, etc. – companies should focus on prevention. 

Because when done well, prevention results in employees that are well in the broadest sense of the word. Physically, mentally and even financially they are healthy and, by extension, happy. 

Prevention, therefore, should be the starting point for employee wellbeing. 

Instead of sending their people to the awesome company massage therapist to relieve their tense muscles as a result of work-related stress, managers should, for example, strive to create a work environment where employees don’t find themselves working under so much stress to begin with. 

What do preventative benefits look like?

Here too, there are countless preventative benefits employers can offer their people. Here’s just a small selection: 

  • Train managers to identify (mental) health challenges
  • Adaptive workplace design (see also below)
  • Regular health check-ups and immunizations
  • Ways to encourage people to be more active such as offering standing desks or activity trackers to raise awareness of physical activity 
  • Workshops and/or counseling about for example healthy eating, quitting smoking, reducing alcohol use etc.  

A word on the role of the manager is in order here. Apart from the above-mentioned, mostly healthcare-related, preventative benefits managers play an important role when it comes to prevention too. 

After all, they are the ones able to check in with their team members regularly to ask them how they are doing, both mentally and physically. As such, they are probably also the first ones to notice when one of their people isn’t feeling well – and to help them take action straight away.   

6. Financial wellness 

Employee financial wellness has been on the agenda of employers for a while now. Financial wellness refers to a person’s overall financial health and the absence of money-related stress. 

According to SHRM, financial stress results in a 34% increase in absenteeism and tardiness. Employees who worry about their finances also miss almost twice as many days per year compared to their colleagues who are money-worry-free. 

The current covid situation isn’t always helping people’s financial wellness either. Some of us may have a partner who’s lost their job, or perhaps the company we work for is struggling financially and unable to increase pay or make bonus payments.  

All in all, companies lose a lot of money due to their employees’ financial stress. In the US alone, businesses miss out on $500 billion a year because of this. So why not implement benefits that help relieve this stress?

What do financial wellness benefits look like? 

Financial wellness benefits can go from a couple of standalone perks to a complete financial wellness program, or anything in-between. Here are some examples:

  • Workshops. A simple and relatively low-cost way to create a basic financial wellness program. You can invite regular guest speakers to run a workshop on topics such as budget planning, reducing (student) debt, or savings tactics. If you’re in a larger organization, you can also ask someone from your finance department to do a session. 
  • Dedicated partnerships. Build a partnership with a company that specializes in employee financial planning.  
  • Financial wellness tools. Options go from tools that provide on-demand financial advising to custom training and e-learning to improve people’s financial knowledge and much more. LearnLux and MySecureAdvantage are just two examples of these kinds of tools. 
  • Perks. Tuition fee reimbursements, contributions to employees’ student loan debt, fertility assistance, anything is possible here.
Reasons to implement workplace wellness trends

7. Adapted workplace design 

There’s no doubt that the pandemic has had a big impact on everybody’s workplace. For key workers in customer-facing roles, for instance, face masks and plexiglass became an indispensable part of their new workplace reality. 

For knowledge workers, their kitchen table or children’s bedroom morphed into a makeshift office. Sooner or later though, most office workers will return to their former workplace even if it’s only for a few days a week. 

It’s thus no surprise that ‘adapted workplace design’ is one of the top workplace wellness trends to watch out for this year. Organizations are rethinking their workplace design to ensure the safety of their employees. 

And, according to a recent study, rightly so. 68% of employees globally do not feel completely safe working in their employer’s buildings. This number is even higher for those working remotely, namely 75%.

What’s more, nearly one in four of those remote workers (23%) said they would rather start looking for a new job than return to a workplace that didn’t implement the necessary safety measures. 

Since for many people, their homes have indeed become a part of the workplace, it’s important for organizations to look at how to better – and safely – facilitate their employees’ remote workplace. 

What does adaptive workplace design look like? 

Examples include: 

  • Workplace design that helps ensure social distancing
  • Ensuring physical comfort and safety at the workplace
  • Shifting to an activity based working (ABW) environment
  • Allocated budget for people to fit out a home office
  • In customer-facing industries, the workplace will welcome devices such as the Aura Aware to ensure a safe distance between employees and customers. 

8. Family wellness programs

Family wellness programs, you say? Yes! This is a trend that isn’t necessarily on the workplace wellness trends radar of many companies yet, but it may very well get there this year. 

Family wellness is especially relevant now with a lot of parents working from home and schools and daycares being closed for longer periods of time in a lot of countries. 

Apart from Covid-related challenges, a person’s family tends to have a big impact on their health and wellness. Research shows for instance that 67% of men were likely to become more active if their partner also became active. 

In other words, if an employee’s home life is healthy, happy, supportive, etc. this will positively affect their work-life (and vice versa). As an added bonus, extending wellness benefits to your employees’ families shows them that you care about their well-being beyond the walls of the office. 

What does including family in wellness programs look like? 

Here are some of the things you can do to include family members in your employee wellness program

  • Help with childcare arrangements. For instance, a childcare referral program.
  • Allowing flexible working arrangements. If an employee is homeschooling their kid during the day, let them do their work in the evenings or early mornings, or split their working time, for example.
  • Add family-friendly challenges. Think of decreasing the amount of waste the family gathers or organizing family game nights.  
  • Organize (online) events for families and their kids. At Spotify, for example, they organize kids’ music experiences for their employees’ kids every two weeks.

9. Expanded employee assistance

One thing that almost naturally follows from the workplace wellness trends we discussed in this article is a trend in itself: expanded employee assistance. 

For more and more companies, employee assistance now also includes helping people with their non-working needs. Organizations have come to understand that if people are happy in their lives – that means both their personal and professional life – that they are more engaged and productive (as we mentioned in the previous trend).  

What does expanded employee assistance look like? 

Expanded employee assistance programs can include: 

  • The possibility for employees to connect with counsellors to help them in areas such as financial services;
  • Or legal-related assistance 
  • Offering people help when it comes to working from home with young children
  • Or providing employees support with major life events  

On a final note

When it comes to employee wellbeing, these are the workplace wellness trends to watch out for this year. And while these trends are certainly being shaped by both last year’s and this year’s events, they are here to stay. They clearly illustrate how intertwined mental, physical, financial, and family wellness are and, by extension, how important a holistic approach to employee wellbeing is.

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