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Increasing Benefits Engagement in the New Hybrid Environment

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Geber86 / iStock


With the arrival of the coronavirus, the switch to remote work was almost instantaneous, and wasn’t really a matter of choice.

 

The shift back to working from offices, however, will continue to be a much slower and more controlled process. There is a lot of gray area surrounding the future of work environments, but two things are abundantly clear: it will not be same as it was before the pandemic, and it will vary from employee to employee to company to company.

 

Some companies began going back into their offices as quickly as this past summer, as individuals began getting vaccinated and social distancing restrictions were carefully being lifted. Others with larger and geographically dispersed offices are still holding off on making any final announcements.


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The one common option evolving through this is a new hybrid work environment, where employees have flexibility in how and where they will work.

 

There will be employees who want to work a couple of days in the office and other days at home, while others will want to come into the office all the time and others may stay remote permanently. While employees figure out whether they are excited to go back into the office or if they’re dreading the day they might have to report in-person, employers have a lot of work to do to reevaluate what is best for the business, including their benefits strategy to compete in this new environment for talent.

 

For many, the nearly two years of the pandemic have been a time of tremendous stress, loneliness, health scares and economic strains. Within any given organization, the impact of the pandemic was not the same for all employees. Some lost close family members and friends, while others experienced financial hardships and emotional stress unlike anything they had seen before.

 

Prudential reported that workers are now putting an increased value on the benefits offered by their employers because of the pandemic. Businesses are ramping up efforts and employees are reconsidering their careers and where they want to work. According to research from the Achievers Workforce Institute, 52% of adults are looking to switch jobs and 35% cited benefits and compensation was the biggest reason they were looking for a job change.   

 

Employees who are engaged in company culture and benefits, are more likely to remain with the company. When employee wellness programs help them feel supported and valued, everyone wins. For example, MetLife reported that an analysis of pre-coronavirus data from late 2019, compared to data from April 2020, shows that employees were more likely to believe their employers have a responsibility to address their health and well-being.

 

As employees adjust to some version of hybrid work environment. employers should address and reconfigure their approach to employee engagement around their benefits and wellness programs to best support employees and their families.

 

The goal of a sound benefits strategy is to look holistically at all the needs of your employees. Employers have to expand their view of what traditional programs look like to support employees as they now place a greater emphasis on health. By helping promote a healthier lifestyle, employers themselves gain many advantages, including increased retention, lower health care costs, improved productivity, decreased absenteeism and presenteeism and more.

 

To drive employee engagement with health and wellness, employers need to assess their goals, strategy, communications and programs that today’s employees are looking to have. Focusing on relevant resources such as programs that target emotional wellness as well as telehealth, digital coaching, employee assistance programs (EAP) and more will generate employee interest. However, interest itself is not enough to lead to engagement.

 

Having a strong strategy in place for a multi-generational workforce that supports them in their new hybrid work environment is the best way to drive engagement. This leads to increased awareness and usage of health and wellness resources. There are many tactics employers can take to increase and drive employee engagement:

 

  • Reduce obstacles to adoption. Employees in the office and at home want quick access benefit information, but they most likely do not want to go to three different websites to view each individual resource, whether it is their HSA accounts or to participate in a wellness challenge and earn rewards. Aggregating all resources into one area can greatly decrease obstacles to adoption of services and benefits. Additionally, using one service that works with existing company credentials and has single sign on capabilities can take away from the many traditional pain points felt with HR and wellness resources.
  • Reach employees where they are. Almost everyone has easy access to their phone. It is time to tap into that and offer a mobile-first approach to company resources and employee engagement.
  • Family engagement. Health and wellness goals are better achieved when done so with family. An employee looking to become healthier usually isn’t as successful if they are doing it by themselves, versus if they are doing it with family. Allowing family members of employees to gain access into the company’s wellness resources allows for greater and consistent use to make behavioral changes.
  • Communication. It is the battle of attention nowadays. Employers are competing against a variety of other brands and content that is also trying to get in front of employees. Making sure there is a well-defined approached that is executed with proper communication is key to employee engagement. 
    • Make sure the right messages are reaching the right people: Employees at home and employees at work might need a different message. It is important to reach those accordingly and be able to segment out different populations. Additionally, addressing a multi-generational workforce and crafting specific messages for Millennials or, for instance, individuals with chronic conditions can increase your open rate and engagement.
    • Allow for open communication: Wellness and HR services can be an area of major confusion. Having two-way, one-to-one communication between the employer and the employees can decrease any stress-related factors and give employees a safe and efficient way to get their questions answered. In this method employees can use their single platform to send and receive secure messages to/from message boxes that are configured by the employer. For example, employees can send messages to HR, payroll or benefits message boxes directly with queries related to those and the owners of those message boxes, designated by the employer, can reply to those messages.
    • Incorporating enterprise level engagement: Incorporating total reward incentives, a bulletin board for people to post and share along with their results, etc. can develop community camaraderie.
  • Personalized programming. Not every employee is the same, so not every employee should be offered the same resources to help them reach their unique goals. Having each employee take a wellness assessment is a good way to get the baseline health of an employee and then figure out how to move forward. Incorporating mini challenges can work with some employees who are already motivated or need a little push to health. Others might need digital coaching to get the one-on-one training and education they need to reach their goals. Individuals with chronic conditions might need additional support as well in managing their conditions on a day-to-day basis.

Incorporating a few or all of these tactics emphasizes to employees that their health and wellness is a priority for their employer. As employees look to adjust to their long-term working environment, whether that is in person, remote or hybrid, making sure all employees feel that they are supported with proper resources is paramount.

 

Incorporating wellness initiatives on a day-to-day basis can help make sure employees are staying healthy. For employers it is a win-win situation because when employees are engaged in wellness resources, studies have shown they have higher productivity levels, reduced healthcare costs and they have higher company loyalty.

 

AutoZone is an example of this concept at work. The Memphis, Tennessee-based auto parts retailer has a geographically dispersed workforce of more than 100,000 employees. Since the start of the pandemic, AutoZone’s workforce has been split, with some employees working remotely while others were considered essential employees. Having a single platform of resources and communication has helped greatly, as AutoZone has been able to engage employees and share COVID updates, return to work policies, safety tips and more. The company was able to emphasize the focus on health and safety, and AutoZone noticed a 90% increase in health engagement in the past two years.

 

While the days ahead will continue to look different from company to company, it is important to address and focus efforts on total rewards and wellness programs. These can bring long-term benefits to the company and ensure employees are engaged, healthy and productive.

 
About the Author

 

Dinesh Sheth is the CEO of Green Circle Life.


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