A New Demand for Workplace Wellness Programs As Employees Struggle

Workers faced new or heightened challenges to their physical, mental and financial well-being over the COVID-19 pandemic, and many of those challenges are still lingering. Workplace wellness benefits were forced to evolve from time-tested offerings like physical fitness, nutrition and health screening initiatives to those with a greater emphasis on mental health, financial health, and work-life balance.

A new International Foundation study, Workplace Wellness and Financial Education Programs: 2022 Survey Results, reveals details about current initiatives and insights into the changing needs of workers and the growing importance of wellbeing, personal growth and purpose.

Mental Health

Employee mental wellbeing was greatly impacted during the pandemic, and employers responded by expanding mental health benefits.

Top issues impacting workforce productivity:

  • Stress – 65%
  • COVID-19 specific issues – 39%
  • Difficulty recruiting new workers – 29%
  • Poor work-life balance – 27%
  • Morale – 25%

Employee assistance programs (EAPs) are offered by 90% of employers, 86% of employers provide mental health coverage, and 67% cover substance use disorder benefits. Other common offerings include access to mental health mobile apps (41%) and educational/informational sessions hosted at the workplace (40%).

In the past two years, an overwhelming 73% of responding organizations have increased their communication emphasis on mental and behavioral health offerings—another indicator of current challenges.

Costly Conditions

I spoke with Julie Stich, CEBS, Vice President of Content at the International Foundation. She said that during the pandemic, many workers postponed their regular or preventive care doctor visits and did not go to their preventive screenings. Organizations that switched to remote work were also not as likely to offer annual heath screening and assessments. In many cases, more costly conditions could have been detected and treated earlier.”

When asked which conditions had the most significant impact on health plan costs, respondents most frequently cited cancer and musculoskeletal disease.

Workforce conditions with the largest impact on overall health care costs:

  • Cancer – 49%
  • Musculoskeletal disease (including arthritis/back) – 48%
  • Diabetes/metabolic syndrome – 46%
  • Hypertension/high blood pressure – 32%
  • Cardiovascular/heart disease/COPD – 31%

A Changing Workforce

To attract and retain talent in our current landscape, organizations are reexamining and reworking their benefits packages. A major offering is flexible work arrangements, with 64% of workplaces providing this option to employees. Though workplace wellness programs are a big piece of the puzzle for building and developing talent, organizations face major barriers, including:

  • Difficulty for workers to find time to participate (37%)
  • Prohibitive costs (30%)
  • Lack of worker interest (28%)
  • Difficulty in keeping momentum going (25%)
  • Dispersed population due to the COVID-19 pandemic (21%)

The pandemic caused an upheaval in wellness as in all other aspects of life. Both employers and employees had to learn together what worked and where there were gaps in wellness. We saw a renewed focus on mental health, including telehealth and mobile apps, EAPs, mindfulness, resiliency and peer support. We’re now emerging and looking ahead to what is needed.

For more information on Workplace Wellness and Financial Education Programs: 2022 Survey Results, visit www.ifebp.org/workplacewellness22.

Anne Patterson
Marketing Communications Manager

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