Wellbeing and Technology: A Growing Workplace Partnership
August 31, 2022
After the efforts taken to maintain health during COVID-19 restrictions, employees are now facing increased levels of depression, anxiety and burnout.
The technological advances that allowed us to work and communicate during the pandemic can also help employees with their health and wellbeing problems. “E-health tech like apps and virtual care are creating a conversation for people to start to explore their emotional wellbeing and their mental health,” says Elisha Engelen, vice president of Health Transformation at Aon.
For workplace wellbeing technology to be effective, organizations must be aware of what these initiatives involve. “We need to make sure employers understand what they’re getting and what they’re not getting, and how to put them together in a way that works in the organization’s ecosystem,” says Stephanie Pronk, senior vice president and leader of the U.S. Health Transformation Team at Aon.
Though companies have an increasing number of options for supporting employee wellbeing and workforce resilience, they need to identify the tools and solutions that are right for their workers. A one-size-fits-all approach will not work.
“One thing we have to be a little bit cautious about is the explosion of new virtual options, apps and vendors coming into the space,” Pronk says. “Do they have the right kinds of expertise behind them? Are they sound in terms of prevention, risk reduction or treatment?”
New Resources for a New Working World
The pandemic sparked a move to virtual services in work and wellbeing, and e-health options have given employees flexibility in terms of planning. For employees working from home, virtual healthcare — where a healthcare professional can be consulted online — can eliminate time spent traveling and reduce the cost of certain other stressors such as childcare.
“Virtual capabilities are allowing people to think about wellbeing and mental health in more of a preventative manner,” Engelen says. “They’re able to reach out through different apps or tools when it’s the right time for them.”
In addition to the accessibility and flexibility benefits that come with virtual care, these initiatives have the potential to encourage proactive wellbeing practices. “There are a lot more options now for people to look at when taking care of their mental health or their emotional wellbeing,” Pronk says.
Employers Reevaluate Wellbeing Strategies
In addition to recognizing the changes in workforce needs, employers are also seeing the overall business value of supporting employee resilience with new technology and wellbeing initiatives.
“The C-suite understands the importance of making sure that people in the organization have what they need to be well so that they can have a productive workforce,” Pronk says. “But it’s more about a people and performance approach from a wellbeing perspective than it is about a tool, app or a program. Organizations know that no matter their product or service or what business they’re in, the people make the difference — and taking care of those people in different ways is highly important.”
Making people the center of a workplace strategy may require a creative approach to ensure employees feel connected and recognized as part of the company culture. “I’ve seen employers put great efforts into bringing people together, whether it’s virtually, through a 5K walk or face to face in a different type of setting to create a conversation,” Engelen explains. “As people start to share, they become more of themselves, thrive and be able to be great contributors to an organization.”
The growing world of hybrid work is also changing the face of employee wellbeing, and Pronk notes that employers are considering the effect of this on benefits design. Keeping workers engaged and incentivized in a remote or hybrid environment is a new challenge for many businesses — and to make these efforts effective, employers need to understand their employees’ motivations and needs.
Guided by Employee Preferences
Not every initiative will work for everyone, and employers must determine what will be the most beneficial for their workers. While some workers will enjoy resources like apps for tracking health metrics, even the employees most likely to embrace technology may need encouragement to use it. Leaders should provide their employees — including hard-to-reach worker populations — with positive reasons to engage with new wellbeing initiatives.
Though some employees might resist certain wellbeing initiatives due to wariness about new technology, useful approaches to employee wellbeing don’t always involve tech-enabled programs or apps. Flexible work hours, regular breaks throughout the day, promoting time off and encouraging employees to take care of their health can all help with workforce resilience. “Those are things that don’t necessarily cost the organization a lot of money, and employees are saying they would really like them in the workplace,” Pronk notes.
A Framework for Promoting Benefits
Employers need to be informed and intentional in their approach to wellbeing initiatives, and this level of attention can improve business performance as well as employee satisfaction. Research shows that workplace support for mental health can help employees while increasing productivity and reducing long-term costs.
Organizations should consider which resources will be most useful to their teams, and make sure employees know about them through focused marketing efforts and communication plans. For example, employees seeking mental health support may need additional context around the options available to them in terms of psychiatry, psychology and coaching.
Leading the Wellbeing Conversation
To help employees in difficult times, organizations are exploring solutions that are well-suited for remote workers, hybrid jobs and the challenges of today’s changing workplace and world. Many of these initiatives leverage the benefits of technology for employee wellbeing — though these products and processes work best when supported by engaged leaders.
The pandemic may have helped to encourage more employers to check in on their employees. Diligently gathering employee feedback — through surveys, focus groups and an open dialogue — can give leaders the insight they need to continue their wellbeing initiatives while strengthening company culture. “That shows a commitment from the organization to hear from people and have people’s voices be part of what brings them forward as an organization,” Engelen says.