Kathryn Mayer: Why the shift toward employee wellbeing matters

It wasn’t long ago that employee wellness was the big buzzword among benefits managers: You know, the Biggest Loser-type contests, the step challenges, the subsidized gym memberships–one-size-fits-all programs that tried to get employees moving, shed a few pounds and maybe slightly improve their biometric score.

We’ve come a long way since then. The focus now is on employee wellbeing–not only addressing and improving physical health, but also taking into account workers’ emotional, mental, social and financial health. It all comes from the realization that stress, job burnout and financial concerns can be just as damaging–or even as deadly–as carrying extra weight. It’s a move from thinking about health very narrowly to taking a holistic, all-encompassing view.

Along with the shift comes another realization: Smart employers should address their employees’ health holistically–both for their own good and for the good of their company.

But the revolution is not without its challenges.

“We all understand the value,” Brian Marcotte, the National Business Group on Health’s CEO and president, told a group of HR and benefits leaders during the group’s Workforce Strategy conference last month in San Diego. “Our challenge is getting the people outside this room to understand the advantage of wellbeing. It’s hard, and it takes time.”

Convincing the C-suite and other employers to introduce a comprehensive wellbeing strategy isn’t easy, to be sure, but it’s a worthy fight. And it’s one many employers have taken head-on.

The percentage of employers that see healthcare as “integral” to their workforce strategy is up 9% this year, according to NBGH (36% say investments in health and wellbeing are considered “key to deploying the most engaged, productive and competitive workforce possible to boost business performance,” up from 27% last year).

Research from Willis Towers Watson shows even more optimism on the wellbeing front. When asked about their highest priorities, 80% of the 400 employers surveyed by the consulting firm cited incorporating employee wellbeing into their benefit programs.

Employers everywhere are making strides. There’s Starbucks, which recently announced plans to improve its mental-health benefits. There are companies like the Hartford, Sotheby’s and New York hospital Montefiore St. Luke’s Cornwall, which have rolled out student-loan benefits to address one of employees’ biggest financial concerns. Other companies are adding caregiving benefits that provide resources to employees who are caring for a family member.

Elsewhere, companies like Buzzfeed, SAP and Unum are helping employees along the parenting journey so they can better balance work and life. That means not only generous paid-time-off policies for new parents, but other resources that help employees transition back to work after the child’s arrival and continue to assist them as the child grows up.

See also: How 3 companies are helping employees on their parenting journey

“Parenting is a defining moment for employees. Anyone who becomes a parent knows it’s life-changing,” Jason Russell, director of North America total rewards at SAP America, said during the NBGH conference. “We think about, as an employer, how we help them become better parents and better employees.”

Then there is the growing number of employers–Walmart and Noodles & Co. among them–that are setting their sights on financial-wellness programs. In fact, according to new research from Bank of America, more than twice as many companies offer workplace financial-wellness programs to employees today compared to four years ago (53% today versus 24% in 2015).

And those are just a few examples.

The most important thing to realize about this shift to employee wellbeing is that companies can–and should–cover a heck of a lot in their benefits. And while healthcare is vital, it’s not the only must-have benefit anymore. What it really comes down to is showing your employees you care about them–their concerns, their individual pain points and their own life journey.

And yes, it’s a win-win. Having a comprehensive benefits package that includes robust and generous wellbeing initiatives will not only benefit employees; it’s going to benefit the company as well. Employees who feel better are more productive, take less time off and so on. But they also are more likely to think their company cares about them. That’s going to keep them at your company longer. It’s going to make them more likely to tell others they enjoy working at your company.

So, what are you waiting for?


Avatar photo
Kathryn Mayer
Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s former benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver.