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Wellness trends in the 2018 workplace

January 1, 2018

By Mary Corrado, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

Years ago, wellness in the workplace, for the most part, focused on weight loss programs and smoking cessation.  In today’s workplace it considers the total wellbeing of each employee.  Wellness today encompasses the mental aspect as well as physical.  

As employers are competing with one another for talent, wellness has resurfaced as a top issue for attracting and retraining employees.  A recent article in Forbes listed some trends that employers may want to think about as they head into 2018:

  1. A Shift in the Focus of Wellness Programs – I think we’ve already seen this in the past year or two, but experts expect the focus to shift even more in 2018.  While wellness programs still encompass aspects of physical health and wellbeing, they also will begin to include career development, including learning and development, employee recognition, and workplace design.  The goal is to create the best overall employee experience resulting in happier employees.
  2. More Personalized Experiences – Each employee has different needs, so a one size fits all approach may no longer work.  What’s important to one employee may not have much an affect on another employee.  Expect to see new technology in the workplace that will utilize a digital platform to host an organization’s wellness programs.  Employees can log in and set their own personal goals.  Some platforms can even incorporate data from one’s fitness tracker, such as a Fitbit. Interactive programs can also help employees find others with similar goals to create a support group.
  3. An Increased Focus on Mental Health – As mentioned in previous blog, employers need to recognize the importance of mental health.  The negative stigma around mental health has diminished.  Employers are even starting to offer “mental health days” to employees and praise them when they use it.  A recent study by Deloitte shows that 84% of employees have experienced physical, psychological, or behavioral symptoms of poor mental health where work was a contributing factor.  Employers need to recognize that mental health is a large component of an employees’ wellbeing.
  4. Keep it Simple – A reason often cited by employees for not participating in an organization’s wellness program is that it is too complicated.  In 2018 expect to see a trend of simplifying these programs. Employers can simplify their programs by focusing on five key factors: accessibility, communication, health assessments, screenings, and health education.
  5. Focus on Sleep –  A 2016 study from RAND Corporation estimated that sleep deprivation costs U.S. employers approximately $411 billion annually. They also found that sleep deprivation leads to lower productivity levels, along with a higher risk of mortality.  Employers are beginning to realize this and are likely to add a sleep component to their wellness programs.  Some organizations have gone as far as to add sleep rooms, nap pods, or onsite resting areas.  Flexible working hours are another way to work around and promote individual sleep patterns and needs.  On the flip side, employers may want to caution against promoting or rewarding employees for consistently pulling late hours.
  6. Healthy Snack Choices – The newest vending machine or MicroMarket options for employers include healthy snacks like veggies, fruit, mixed nuts, and healthy drinks.  While at work employees are limited to what is brought from home or is available in the kitchen or break area.  Providing healthy snacks can help to promote a healthy lifestyle.

As for the financial impact, ASE’s 2017 Healthcare Insurance Benefits Survey found that 31% of Michigan employers plan to implement or expand wellness programs as a cost containment strategy in 2018. Another ASE survey, the 2017/2018 National Policies and Benefits Survey, shows that nearly 40% of respondents attach a wellness incentive to their medical plan with approximately two thirds (66-67%) offering a reduction in employee premiums as an incentive.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics U.S. workers spend more time working than sleeping.   Many workers struggle to maintain a healthy work-life balance.  Employers are recognizing this and are taking a dynamic approach to the “whole” employee including physical, emotional, social, psychological, and even financial aspects of wellbeing.  With healthcare costs rising, a shortage on talent, and productivity waning, 2018 should see an increased focus on workplace wellness programs geared to engage and retain healthy employees.

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