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Supporting employee efforts to become healthier post-pandemic

The year 2020 will be one to go down in the history books. People worldwide have experienced upheaval to a degree not seen in decades. As we begin to return to a more normal pattern of life, the long-term effects of this experience are becoming known.

One trend report indicates that employers will have a greater role to play post-pandemic in supporting employee wellbeing. Many Americans are not feeling good about themselves after more than a year of social isolation, restricting such commonplace activities as attending a concert or going to the gym. In fact, a survey by biotechnology company Gelesis reveals that approximately 71 percent of people responded they gained weight in 2020, which also led to reported lower self-esteem and greater mental stress and fatigue.

There may be an upside to this experience. Many people have developed an increased awareness of the need to take care of their health. Employers are also more aware of their role in helping employees live healthier lives and the importance of well-being to an employee’s success.

Now is the time for change

As the pandemic begins to wane and people feel motivated to make changes in their lives, employers can be critical to their success. Sixty percent of Gelesis survey respondents reported they want to feel healthier in 2021.

Healthier employees are more productive employees, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They are less likely to call in sick, says the CDC, and companies that support workplace health have a higher percentage of employees reporting to work. The same applies for behavioral health. For every US $1 invested in treatment for common mental disorders, there is a return of US $4 in improved health and productivity, according to the World Health Organization. Indeed, the cost of poor mental health among employees is not insignificant. Depression alone costs the US economy approximately $210.5 billion annually.

You can support employee health

Here are some suggestions on how employers can create a positive workplace to support both mental and physical health.

  • Offer opportunities that provide value to employees, such as meditation to improve burnout or volunteer work to promote community engagement. For employees interested in lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, consider offering weight loss programs through work or organizing lunchtime walks, even if they have to be virtual.
  • Create an atmosphere of openness and ensure that managers model behavior that they expect from their employees. Promote being ethical, honest, non-manipulative, proactive, responsible, concerned about quality and correctness (accuracy), going beyond minimum obligations, etc.
  • Mentor staff. Help them develop the skills they need to work more effectively. Encourage them (and allow for the latitude) to redesign their jobs to be more meaningful, and to make their accomplishments more profitable for the company.
  • Foster a workplace that develops trust and honesty among staff. Create an open environment that allows employees to disclose and seek help. The universal stress experienced by everyone allows employers to address and discuss employee well-being in a way that is not stigmatizing. Corporate initiatives such as hiring a diverse workforce and addressing equity across all employee levels can be helpful.
  • Make resources available to staff. If your organization has an employee assistance program, for example, be sure to remind your employees of its availability and its value.
  • Encourage managers to reach out to employees. Managers can be critical in opening communication and creating an atmosphere where addressing well-being is accepted. Training and encouraging managers to do this with their reports can be vital to success.
  • Learn and be aware of the needs of individual employees. The universal nature of the pandemic made us more aware of childcare needs and other challenges that employees struggle with daily. Encourage continued openness and discussions with employees about these challenges. The need for schedule flexibility and other supports will help employees be their most productive.
  • Create a culture that supports work/life balance, such as offering wellness benefits (gym memberships, healthy snacks etc.), flexible hours, telecommuting (even after the pandemic), and more.

As we transition to a post-pandemic time, employers can be critical in helping employees make the transition they are craving to be better, live better, and be healthier.

2 Comments. Leave new

I am a LCSW -R in private practice and encourage clients to take better care of themselves, including exercise and cutting out sweets, which many turn to for soothing. Also many have sleep problems, including unpleasant dreams. Encourage better sleep habits while acknowledging the stress clients – and myself- are under due to COVID.

Allen Kaplan
March 25, 2021 8:11 pm

Now is the time for change: Make telehealth permanent.


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