The post-Covid employee wellness market is booming, driven, among other factors, by the prevalence of chronic lifestyle diseases and mental health problems caused by sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy lifestyle choices, as well as unrelenting stress and anxiety. When it comes to holistic wellbeing, two of the resources that organisations can make available to their employees are an employer-sponsored Employee Wellness Programme (EWP) and Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). While there is a growing interrelation and people may use these terms interchangeably, there are certain differences between these two types of programmes.
“When it comes to holistic wellbeing, two of the resources that organisations can make available to their employees are an employer-sponsored Employee Wellness Programme (EWP) and Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).”
What is an Employee Wellness Programme?
An employee wellness programme includes any activity designed to support better health and improve health outcomes. They can take a variety of forms, such as smoking cessation programmes or weight loss initiatives. They often include activities that promote wellbeing like resilience training, yoga, meditation, emotional and psychological wellbeing webinars , stress management and life satisfaction workshops. Wellness programmes are not designed to take the place of health insurance, but they can contribute to physical health by providing health screenings and education. By promoting healthy behaviour among their employees, employers also benefit in terms of a healthier and more productive workforce.
What is an EAP?
An Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) is a confidential in-house programme that assists specific employees in overcoming various life difficulties that may negatively impact job performance, health, or personal wellbeing. These personal and work-related concerns can include financial, legal and family issues, along with workplace conflicts, and alcohol or substance use disorders. EAP services primarily include assessments, short-term counselling, and referrals to appropriate professionals or resources that help individuals with mental health challenges and work issues in the longer term. EAP support is usually available not only to an employee, but also to their spouse and dependents.
In addition, EAP practitioners frequently collaborate with upper management and team leaders to provide upfront planning for organisational changes, legal issues, crisis preparedness and traumatic event reaction to maximize an organisation’s success in navigating these potentially overwhelming events.
“Today, organisations are more conscious of the importance of maintaining a psychologically and physically healthy workforce both inside and outside of work.”
Corporate employee wellness is a growing market
Today, organisations are more conscious of the importance of maintaining a psychologically and physically healthy workforce both inside and outside of work. Research and Markets’ Global Corporate Wellness Market Analysis Report 2022 estimates that by 2030 it will be a $75+ Billion market. The following factors are among the contributors to market growth:
- Growing focus on proactively improving employee wellbeing
- The increase in stress and anxiety among employees
- The rise of the information economy
- A broad shift in terms of employee wellness perspectives – by both employers and employees
Innovative approaches are needed to support a changing workforce
Workplaces in 2023 will be more diverse, wider spread in terms of remote employees, and more virtual than ever before. New behavioural trends among employees – this includes the great resignation prevalent in first world countries due to Covid – have been added to, for example, by the even newer “quiet quitting” movement that refers employees meeting the minimum requirements of their job and putting in no more time, effort, or enthusiasm than is absolutely necessary. Akin to presenteeism, research has found that the main cause of quiet quitting is despondency born of low pay, lack of opportunities for advancement, feeling disrespected at work, childcare issues, lack of flexible hours and not having good benefits. Corporations and smaller organisations will have to learn to adapt in order to cater for shifting employee expectations in the wake of the ever changing “next normal”.
“Workplaces in 2023 will be more diverse, wider spread in terms of remote employees, and more virtual than ever before.”
Here are four ways employee wellness will need to keep pace with the times:
1. Stress management will take the lead in employee wellness programming
The prevailing trend of investing in proactive mental health programming will continue to shape the future of corporate wellness programmes. In their Corporate Wellness Market 2022 report, Research and Markets finds that the stress management segment is likely to showcase the fastest growth rate from 2021 to 2030, owing to the rising prevalence of depression and anxiety triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Along with the positive effect of employee wellness programmes, generally, research shows that learning mindfulness can reduce employee-stress, enhance cognitive performance, improve work performance, help improve peer relationships and boost overall wellbeing. This involves a series of attention-training practices and cognitive strategies that can help employees unhook from unproductive thought patterns and behaviours. It involves learning to pay attention to the present moment rather than worrying or dwelling in the past. And, it involves developing an attitude of kindness toward oneself, as opposed to criticism or judgement.
2. Broad-range employee benefits will become more important
Since Covid landed, the list of “must-have” benefits desired by employees has grown – with holistic, broad-spectrum employee health and wellness benefits finding their way onto the hotlist of employee benefits as an incentive for accepting a new position.
A new type of employee benefit that is gaining traction in the US is called a Lifestyle Spending Account (LSA). This is an employer-funded benefit that provides employees with funds for specific categories of services, or goods, that are generally outside of the scope of what is typically covered under a group medical health plan. LSAs may cover fitness memberships, the cost of athletic equipment, home office expenses or child care. Employers control the amount of funding they contribute and what types of expenses the funds can be spent on.
3. The definition of DEI will expand to include currently underrepresented groups
Recent commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in the workplace have endeavoured to address inequities by implementing policies to level the playing field for employees across different ages, ethnicities, abilities, genders, religions, cultures and sexual orientations.
But while the application of DEI initiatives is already broad, the future will see even further expansion to other underrepresented groups, especially with regard to corporate wellness and healthcare.
Deskless employees often have a very structured workday, and may not be able to easily schedule medical or EAP appointments. Consider a retail employee who works on a busy shop floor for most of the day, squeezing in a short lunch break in the canteen at a stipulated time. This employee’s flexibility to schedule an in-person doctor or counselling appointment is limited. Such appointments during a shift, will result in not getting paid for that time and impact on their personnel record as being absent. Even the flexibility to participate in a video telehealth consultation is limited because these require a scheduled appointment, Internet connectivity and a private environment.
4. Planning for natural disasters will become the norm
Climate change concerns are growing. It cannot be ignored that natural disasters, including extreme weather, will be disruptive to businesses in 2023 and beyond. Climate change will increase the frequency and impact of climate-sensitive hazards, such as extreme weather events and infectious diseases bringing socioeconomic tensions in their wake.
To be successful, organisations will have to be proactive in disaster planning. Step one is creating a robust, flexible plan that identifies the key threats to their workforce—both while working from an office or while working remotely. Step two is communicating that plan to staff so they’re confident in the support being offered. This is essential to creating a resilient work environment.
Research by Gartner shows that if a comprehensive, well devised wellbeing programme is provided and taken up, it will increase the commitment and motivation of the employees by 21%. It makes sense that organisations should develop methods for spotting mental health issues in workers and give them the tools and support they need to manage them.
- Photo by Elina Fairytale