Article: The new face of employee wellness: Thriving at work & life with tech

Life @ Work

The new face of employee wellness: Thriving at work & life with tech

Employee wellness is no longer only limited to helping teams unwind, but more about enabling them to have a balanced work-life. Can digital wellness solutions help? Let’s explore.
The new face of employee wellness: Thriving at work & life with tech

Diana logs in at 6:00 AM in the morning for a meeting with a global client. As the meeting gets over, she starts working on her to-do lists to sort out work for the day and looks at her tight calendar. She notices she barely has time to take breaks and have her meals in peace. She was just gasping for breath looking at a crazy day ahead, as a reminder for a yoga class pops up. But she has another meeting then. The company chatbot is also messaging her asking how she is feeling today. She wonders if she has the time to have that conversation. She drags through the day meeting after meeting and logs out at 8 PM. Before going to bed, as she pays a few bills, she realises how she is low on funds. She thinks to herself, “So much hard work and still not enough mental and financial stability. No time to meet friends. No time for self-development.” She dreads the next day at work. 

Diana’s firm is trying to take care of its employees with dedicated fitness sessions, an integrated AI system, and EAP in place. But she still seems to be struggling to strike that work-life balance and take care of her well-being. Does she seem to be on the verge of burnout? What’s missing in the organization’s employee wellness strategy?

Restricted to yoga & zumba sessions earlier, employee wellness now means so much more to the organizations. It has in fact become the Achilles heel of employee experience. However, in a workplace that no longer functions on human interaction, the only way HR professionals can ensure employees have a smooth experience is through the adoption of tech tools. These technologies and disruptive digital innovations may have a long-lasting impact beyond the pandemic. But the pandemic has blurred the lines between personal and professional, resulting in workplace stress, further impacting employees' efficiency. What can help combat this emerging employee wellness challenge? What role can tech play? What are HR leaders looking for in the digital wellness solutions? How can HR tech solutions providers lead meaningful innovation in the workplace wellness space including employee engagement tools, benefits platforms, and mental health offerings, among others?

Let’s explore:

Enhancing employee well-being: Top priority for HR leaders 

A WTW report shows a focus on health and wellbeing is a priority for HR leaders, with the majority of firms prioritizing enhancing well-being programs (40%), followed by healthcare benefits (23%), voluntary benefits, perks or discount schemes (17%) and annual leave (14%). 

HR leaders from Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines are looking to specifically focus more on mental health. In the last one year, it became obvious that people are the nerve center of business and organizations became more concerned about their employees’ health. Not only did they focus on keeping them safe and healthy during the pandemic but relooked at their various people policies to create a holistic wellness experience. Some organizations revamped their insurance and benefits strategy to make it more inclusive and also introduced new care packages. New leaves like Wellness Wednesdays, Recharge Week, and other new leaves were introduced to help employees take a mental break from work. 

Focusing on the larger picture to promote work life balance and make a positive impact on employee wellness, some companies are changing the entire approach to work. For instance, Deloitte’s “refreshed” approach to work, called the Deloitte Experience, will do away with core working hours and offer the firm’s staff a paid wellbeing day every year. KPMG, on the other hand, introduced a bouquet of new initiatives including boosted parental leave, offering flexible public holidays, Indigenous leave, and bringing forward an annual promotion scheme. 

Then, at UOB the focus has been majorly on Mental Health. “With the increase in remote working in the past 18 months, we have been driving more conversations on mental wellness given the heightened anxiety and isolation that people may be feeling,” shared Dean Tong, Head of Group Human Resources, UOB. 

Jyothi Menon, Head India Human Resources and Head HR Service Delivery at UBS BSC shared, “To support our employees in their remote working environment we expanded our holistic health and well-being initiative in 2020 to encompass mental, physical, financial and social well-being.” UBS invested in employee assistance programs and platforms like Headspace that are available for the employees without any cost and ensured the employees have on the go access to medical consultations. They also rolled out memberships to Practo 24/7 online consultation app along with an existing medical support helpline available through the week.

“Amongst all the talk about employee wellness, what’s most important for organizations and leaders is to have a humane approach and be empathetic and compassionate towards its employees. The last 18 months has shown that wellness is not only limited to one’s physical health-but also mental, social as well as financial health,” said Rajeev Bhardwaj, CHRO, Asia Service Centres, Sun Life. 

At Sun Life ASC, in April 2020, Guidance Resources® Online and Guidance Resources were made available as mobile apps ensuring help is just a click away. Under this program, employees and their family members were able to get support from professionals. It offers free, confidential services like:

  • Behavioral health counselling (about parenting, relationships, work life balance, and more)
  • Legal guidance
  • Financial guidance
  • Support during critical incidents

The company also arranged online sessions for employees to help them learn the importance of financial wellness as part of myWellness and educate them about the ways in which they can save for their future. There were sessions on saving tax and securing one’s future. Further it leveraged technology by providing multilingual access to certified medical professionals through the Doctor insta app. It also partnered with ComPsych and offered a digital toolkit to its employees to manage stress in the current crisis.

Even though we can observe companies adopt newer technologies to combat employee wellness challenges, how far they have been effective remains unknown. With the ongoing uncertainty, the mental, financial, and social stress continues to persist. There is a need for wellness solutions to further innovate and enable HR leaders to further enhance their initiatives. 

Wellness Paradox: Fighting online burnout with digital solutions

Technology fatigue is also detrimental to mental health. How does one avoid online burnout through virtual solutions is the big question?!

“We need to consider different aspects of Wellness when looking at HR Tech Solutions, be it emotional, physical, social or mental. The new-age digital solutions should be able to motivate, track participation, incentivize and deliver behaviors changing campaigns; in order for them to be transformative consistently and over a longer period,” said Rajeev. 

To ensure that even digital wellness solutions remain more humane, one of UOB’s key considerations is ensuring that their virtual initiatives nurture meaningful interaction and open dialogue among our colleagues rather than serve as a one-way communication channel. “Ultimately, our goal is to foster an open and supportive workplace culture at UOB in which our colleagues feel comfortable discussing the challenges they face and are compassionate about helping one another overcome their struggles,” shared Dean. UOB is dealing with the wellness paradox with initiatives like Mental Wellness Days, Workshops led by psychologists, and personal discussions to address mental distress, among other things. 

“Employee wellness is as complex as your workforce is and therefore we're constantly moving towards a more personalized and asynchronous environment that organizations should adjust to,” Rokham Fard, Founder & CEO, Psychology Compass shared with People Matters. 

Rokham believes that personalization is in the DNA of modern technology and technology is the answer to the employees need for creating real time solutions. 

“HR professionals should adopt solutions that provide their employees options rather than constraining them to an assumed curriculum. Furthermore, offering employees solutions that are more intertwined in their daily lives (in the form of micro-learnings) is something that has shown far more engagement by users compared to prior alternatives,” added Rokham. 

The emerging space of employee wellness: More digital yet human

As per a report, the corporate wellness market was valued at USD 51,120.4 Mn in 2020 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 9.5 percent from 2021 to 2030. Bolstered by the pandemic, the space is growing rapidly with major players scaling up and new startups also emerging. The report highlights that major market players operating in the global corporate wellness market include ComPsych, Wellness Corporate Solutions, Virgin Pulse, Provant Health Solutions, EXOS, Marino Wellness, Truworth Wellness, among others. 

While it is quite clear that the wellness industry is growing, where it is headed in terms of innovations is yet to be navigated. Let’s understand the changing employees’ wellness needs and industries' response to it. 

Sharing his experience of working with HR professionals, Abhishek Poddar, Co-founder, Plum said, “Talent leaders have moved beyond viewing wellness solutions as an afterthought. Today’s talent leaders expect comprehensive and high-quality health benefits for their teams. They know that the well-being of their team is critical at all levels. They expect wellness solutions like guided meditation sessions, fitness motivation programs, relaxing music concerts, stress counseling, light comedy sessions, and recently even grief therapy.” 

“Organizations are going beyond basic health insurance by setting up comprehensive wellness solutions for their employees like guided wellness events, mental wellness sessions, unlimited doctor consultations, regular health check-ups, and vaccination programs,” shared Abhishek based on his experience of working with the companies. 

Based on his experience, Rokham, Founder of a cognition coach app PsychologyCompass, shared the focus of the organizations they have worked with:

  • Engagement focused: They fundamentally want solutions that engage the user and make the user want to use the product. 
  • Wellness focused: They mainly want solutions that are rooted in science and measurably improve employee's mental wellness.
  • Bottom-line focused: These organizations fundamentally believe economic improvement in the company is a direct indication of employee performance. “The great news is that according to research done by companies such as Deloitte, there's a 3-6X return on investment when it comes to investing in employee mental wellness -- this is a direct impact on the bottom-line of the business,” added Rokham. 

The various discussions with HR leaders and wellness experts highlight how employee wellness is part of a larger scheme of things and a critical element of an organization's bigger goal to enhance employee experience. 

When asked about the expectations from the emerging wellness space, Kirthana Thomas, Global HRBP, Locus shared, “A one-stop solution that has wellness programs, as well as virtual activities, would be great! Something like an EAP(Employee Assistance Program) tool that has everything integrated- Games, gifts, wellness programs, and a marketplace for scheduling sessions with mental wellness coaches and so on.” 

A well integrated digital wellness solution that enhances and not replaces human interaction is the need of the hour. 

Way Forward

The randomized, controlled trial of a workplace wellness program found that after three years, observed no significant difference in health outcomes, healthcare spending or retention between employees who participated in the program and those who didn’t.

“Employees seemed to value the benefit, had heightened awareness of the importance of healthy behaviors and were trying to implement them. If employers are seeking to add benefits that workers value (or attract workers who value those benefits), the programs may be worth it,” wrote the study’s authors, Zirui Song at Harvard University and Katherine Baicker at the University of Chicago. “But if the goal is to save money by reducing health-care costs and absenteeism, or to improve chronic physical health conditions, the evidence so far is underwhelming.” 

With the pandemic as one of the latest and biggest disruptors one thing is clear: Employee wellness is no longer only limited to help teams unwind, but more about enabling them to have a balanced work-life. From a business perspective as well, it is not only about optimizing costs and reducing employee turnover. 

In fact, it is crucial that HR uses tech to deliver evidence-based solutions and services that actually work to make employees happier and more productive.

Alexander Kjerulf, Chief Happiness Officer, Woohoo Inc said, “Many companies used to think that the key to employee wellness was perks, promotions or monetary rewards. Are employees unhappy? Let’s build a gym in the office. Do we have high levels of stress? Let’s offer them yoga classes. Of course, experience and research shows that none of that works and one positive consequence of COVID-19 outbreak is that this fact has been exposed clearly.”

If you really want to increase employee wellness, Andrew suggests focusing on two things: Results and relationships. 

As for results, you must give employees the tools and support they need to do a great job and then give them positive feedback to show them that their work is meaningful and appreciated. As for relationships, it means showing that you value the employees as human beings, not just as resources. Connect with them, listen to them, take an interest in them and treat them well.

With more focus on building human connection and the extra effort put by HR leaders and managers, even Diana’s organization can save her from burnout and enable her to lead a more balanced work life. 

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Topics: Life @ Work, Technology, HR Technology

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