3 strategies to help you build a post-pandemic wellness program

The COVID-19 crisis has created a crisis of another sort for employers: wellbeing.

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The stats surrounding the pandemic’s impact on employee wellbeing over the last year are startling, said Georgia McDermott, head of consultant relations at Fitbit Health Solutions, during last week’s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference.

For instance, more than half of employees surveyed have increased their TV and video gaming time, while 48% are consuming more junk food. About half are more or significantly more sedentary today than before the pandemic.

Additionally, more than 40% lack the motivation to take care of their wellbeing, McDermott said.

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Fitbit health coaches have seen clients experience a range of new challenges impacting their mental health: a heightened sense of anxiety, a feeling that they’ve lost control, pressure to be doing more, struggling with demands on their time, more frequent changes in mood and the sense that they’re just “trying to get by,” McDermott said.

“We are definitely stressed out and more anxious than we were a year ago,” she said. “And our bad habits are affecting the way we work and live.”

That sets up a unique challenge for employers, who will already be navigating a host of new issues related to hybrid, remote or newly back in-person working arrangements.

McDermott offered three best practices for revamping wellness strategies in a post-pandemic world:

Focus on holistic health: The changes wrought by the pandemic mean that wellness programs need to be comprehensives, well-rounded and address whole-person health, she said. Traditional wellness programs focused more heavily on the physical aspect of health, although the concept of emotional wellness was gaining traction prior to COVID in wellness spaces–and has now exploded. With “new routines, new stressors, the blurred lines between work and home, the new realities of what it means to work with other people with no assurance of safety,” the case for supporting emotional wellness is clear, McDermott said. However, it should be looked at as just one piece of the wellness puzzle, as physical activity, sleep, stress management, nutrition and much more all work together to influence wellness–and very small changes in each of those areas can have biometric impacts that drive positive outcomes.

Offer support around the clock: Reimagined wellness strategies need to take into account the new workplace–which likely will have some remote workers, some on-site and some who work in hybrid arrangements. Remote workers may no longer have access to on-site gyms or a healthy eating clinic, so employers need to consider how to support all employees, all day–regardless of where they work.

See also: What this plane crash survivor wants HR to know about stress

Flexibility is key: As evidenced by the recent CDC recommendation on lifting mask mandates for vaccinated Americans, the pandemic is still a quickly evolving situation and employers need to build agility into their new wellness strategies. They need a “multi-faceted, adaptable solution” that can be scaled up or down easily over time, McDermott said. On this front, personalization–which employees are accustomed to through their other work and home experiences–is also essential, such as through nudges to take certain wellness-related steps.

Apart from these best practices, McDermott advised HR and benefits leaders to focus on reducing stigma around mental health, ensuring managers and leaders are trained to spot mental health challenges, build mental health days into company PTO programs and offer employees a range of ways to engage with their wellness in order to build modern, forward-thinking approaches to wellness.

Conference sessions will be available on-demand through June 11. Register here if you haven’t. Click here to view this entire session.

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected].