Employee wellness is here to stay. An $8 billion industry in its own right, the concept has become a central pillar for many successful businesses, both large and small. However, formerly “novel” perks such as standing desks, fresh fruit in meetings and leisure discounts will no longer cut it when it comes to meeting the rising expectations of today’s top talent.
As Assistant Vice President Global Wellbeing & Health Management at Colonial Life, I’m keen to share my thoughts on the workplace health and wellbeing trends set for growth in 2018 and give advice on how business leaders can use these to get ahead of the curve.
#1 Financial health
A recent PwC report found 30 percent of employees are distracted by their finances at work and the productivity impact of those distractions is estimated to cost large businesses $3.3 million a year.
With the potentially huge impact financial stress can have on the workforce, the concept of financial wellness will continue to move well beyond its roots of financial literacy to more significant ways to measure and encourage financial security. These programs can help create a culture that supports financial independence, strengthens the use of employee benefits and links to strategic business objectives.
For example, one of the ways businesses can offer employee financial support is by providing assistance with student loan repayment. Aon Hewitt found 51 percent of workers repaying their loans think the debt is ruining their quality of life, yet less than 5 percent of companies offer repayment assistance. In a competitive market for Millennial talent, businesses can attract the best leaders of tomorrow with assistance paying off their debts and providing peace of mind.
Equipping staff with the confidence and knowledge they need to maintain their own financial health is also an effective strategy. Access to professional financial advice will become more widely available, through online hubs, one-to-one meetings and money management workshops, as well as better education about financial protection benefits such disability, accident and critical illness insurance.
#2 Mind tracking
A recent report from Mental Health America revealed 1 in 5 U.S. adults are suffering from a mental health condition - that’s more than 40 million people across the country. We’ve all heard of activity trackers, to help promote physical activity, but the next big thing will be wearable tech specifically designed to monitor employee mental health.
While mental states aren’t always visible, our bodies give off vital clues when we’re stressed —or happy. Companies such as Affectech and VINAYA are already developing innovative wearable systems that capture data on emotions and measure mood fluctuations during the working day.
These wearable devices use machine-learning algorithms to collate data on heart rate, perspiration and temperature to spot the early signs that something may need attention. This is a significant shift from wearable technology that requires interpretation by health professionals to a new self-help technology which employees can use to understand and take control of their own wellbeing.
Spotting signs or triggers early enough can prompt employees to work with their employer to determine how best to regulate the stress response, whether through decreasing workload, working remotely or taking advantage of support through a resilience program or employee assistance program.
Sleep deprivation costs the U.S. economy $411 billion a year, so it’s no wonder, the spotlight will fall on sleep - or more precisely, the lack of it occurring across our workplaces. Business leaders may think this falls outside their jurisdiction, but sleep quality and quantity have a huge impact on employee mood and productivity during working hours.
More employers will focus on educating staff on ways to achieve better sleep. LinkedIn is leading the way in sleep awareness, as it hosts “sleep fairs” dedicated to informing staff about the value of a good night’s sleep and how to ensure you get one.
Other options to encourage better sleep could include banning late-night emails or inviting sleep experts to in-house workshops to give advice to employees struggling to get some shut-eye.
There’s a genetic revolution taking place in health care and the business world should take note. By analyzing our genetic makeup, scientists can now accurately measure our chances of developing a range of acute health conditions including cancer, dementia and heart disease. If used effectively, genomics could offer at least part of the answer to reducing health care costs, which are rising for 79 percent of employers.
In 2018, expect to see more organizations starting to research and navigate this previously uncharted territory, following in the footsteps of trailblazers such as Visa, Slack and SurveyMonkey who are offering employees genetic testing benefits to head off health risks.
At the same time, I expect the debate over employer-sponsored genomic testing will deepen as concerns over discrimination, data protection and employee privacy will continue to be key topics of discussions amongst business leaders and HR professionals until viable solutions can be reached.
#5 Wellness architecture
More businesses will continue to buy into the concept of “wellness architecture.” Identified as a key trend at this year’s Global Wellness Summit, according to this doctrine, office spaces should be designed around key “Well Building Standards” - the principle of designing buildings to support employee health.
For example, a business might start to prioritize good office lighting to stimulate the cortisol hormone in the body for energy and melatonin for sleep.
One of the most famous “well buildings” is The Edge in Amsterdam which holds the title of the world’s most sustainable office building. Acting in a similar way to a digital personal assistant, the building uses tracking sensors hooked up to employees’ smartphones to recommend the best workspaces for their schedules and remembers individual preferences for light and temperature.
It’s an exciting time for workplace wellbeing and 2018 will see businesses continue to develop programs that focus on financial, physical and mental health. There’s no silver bullet, but any company putting its employees’ health at the top of its agenda can expect to experience the benefits of a happier, more productive workforce and reap the long-term rewards.
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