How Health & Wellness will Come into Focus in a Post-COVID World
Reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic, consumers around the world have become very conscious of their health. It became very clear how lives and entire cultures can become upended in the face of a health issues. For individuals who have typically swept their health under the rug or ignored warning signs may be more conscious on their overall wellness.
Owning one’s wellness is also not a one-size-fits all scenario – it can include mental, physical, spiritual and environmental elements to help better one’s life and overall wellbeing. And with employees returning to the workplace there is an added element of change that can impact wellness overall. So where does the employer come into play? Employers have a role to play to support their staff and have positive impacts in their community- both in and out of the office.
Exploring Effects of COVID-19
The dawn of the COVID-19 vaccine created a deep well of uncertainty that resulted in anxiety. This anxiety then turned into health strains (both mental and physical) for so many individuals. Though the immediate pandemic effects are (thankfully) waning there are impacts that will exist in the long-term and have shown a light on growing health and wellness needs.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken up nearly every consumer category, influencing new behaviors, stifling entire industries, while creating growth in others. The health and wellness sector are a key example of a ‘winner” from the pandemic.
The health and wellness industry, already a growing $4.5 trillion business, has seen particularly marked change as housebound consumers adapt to life without gyms, fitness studios or easily accessible doctors’ offices, and reconsider overall what it means to be well in the age of a pandemic.
What Consumers Demand
There’s a widespread acknowledgment that the workplace–and what employees expect from it–has changed forever. Looking at healthcare specifically, we can expect the pandemic-induced innovations – such as telehealth and patient-centered care—to continue to advance in the future. As companies determine how to keep employees engaged during remote and hybrid ‘work from home’ models for the foreseeable future, the boundaries between work and home are increasingly blurred, and employees are looking to their employers for resources that go beyond traditional benefit offerings.
There is a great deal of focus made about the impact of Gen Z employees – the way they work, dress, live and what they value – are all dictating workplace benefits and perks.
Benefits professionals need to be tuned into these changes moving forward. For the first time, mental wellness was defined as its very own ($121 billion) market. Meanwhile, younger workers are expressing that they want convenience beyond just virtual care, as they eye non-traditional care like retail clinics and digital engagement tools. Millennials and Gen Z are an empowered, resourceful generation, and that translates into taking control of their own health as well.
How Employers Play a Role
Employers can differentiate with versatile and innovative self-care and wellness programs. Millennials and Gen Z spend more money on self-care and wellness than any other generation. And these younger generations are influential and demanding. Having a workforce that prioritizes their physical and mental health outcomes and self-care is great news, as preventative health efforts can significantly reduce long-term costs. For employers developing innovative benefit programs, flexibility is key. Gone are the days of “setting and forgetting” benefits packages. Employees expect solutions that meet their needs and evolve with their lives and needs. Employers who stay ahead of this shift and offer the benefits their employees are looking for will earn their loyalty, better handle disruptive forces and ensure a more cohesive, resilient workforce.2
Beyond health and wellness there is also a need to revisit financial health for employees. As we know the pandemic also hit some consumer’s wallets; and financial strain can lead to mental strain and vice versa. There is a true ripple effect that can be felt, all steaming from one’s financial standing.
In a 2021 financial wellness survey from PwC, almost two-thirds of employees said their financial stress has increased since the start of the pandemic. Survey respondents who reported that their financial strain had escalated were nearly four times as likely to admit their finances have been a distraction at work.
Human resource leaders know that such concerns can impact employees' mental health as well. Some are introducing digital platforms to educate and advise workers as they repair their financial standing and plan for brighter financial futures. Digital financial literacy content, goal planning and decision-support tools particularly suit the preferences of Millennial and Generation Z employees, experts say.
Steps to Understand Employee Needs
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers sprung into action giving employees flexible work options, opening lines of communication, and securing that proper safety measures are in place. With vaccine rollouts in full swing and as we move farther away from the start of the pandemic, the employer still plays a key roll in ensuring that employees are happy, healthy, and productive as we work to move away from the pandemic.
Ensuring accountability doesn’t have to be complicated; it can be handled in a simple pulse survey done regularly to understand how people are doing now and over time. BlackRock, the global investment management firm, is one of many organizations that have conducted pulse surveys during the pandemic to understand the primary stressors and needs of staff.
This direct employee input has helped shape new programs, including remote management skill-building for managers, enhanced health and well-being support for employees, and increased work flexibility and time off. Where these pulse surveys may have been a staple even pre-pandemic, their value has increased as most of the nation found itself in a new work (and life) situation, left struggling to keep up.
Where employers may be tasked with tremendous responsibility in a time like this, they also have a great opportunity to help build stronger connections with their workforce and create new, innovative solutions to attract top talent. Building strong employee response programs today will have huge impacts for years to come as the world shifts and changes and life resets into the new normal.
 “Staying Healthy at Home: How COVID-19 Is Changing the Wellness Industry.” US Chamber of Commerce. 2021.  “How employers can meet demand for holistic health care benefits.” BenefitsPro. February 23, 2021.  “Employers Turn to Financial Wellness for Workers.” SHRM. July 12, 2021.  “8 Ways Managers Can Support Employees’ Mental Health.” HBR. August 7, 2020.