Bringing it Home: Workplace Wellness for Remote Employees and Beneficiaries
By Laura Neuffer
Of all the images conjured up by the phrase “workplace wellness,” the most endearing may be that of friends and family joining together to better their health and well-being. But is this scenario still feasible in the current reality of remote and hybrid workforces?
Leading wellness technology companies say it is: employee wellness has adapted to reach remote workers and beneficiaries, no matter where they’re located, via web portals and fully integrated, interactive apps. Leading well-being technology companies are providing ways for wellness programming to be accessed by all employees, and their loved ones, to bring health back home.
Fully digital well-being programs are becoming the new norm in many industries where an increasing percentage of employees continue to work from home, with no intention of returning to the workplace. Engaging remote workers in wellness can be a problem for worksite wellness programs that are still geared for pre-pandemic working conditions and rely heavily on in-person elements. But adapting to create fully digital programs for distance workers creates an opportunity: better access for families and others covered by an employee’s benefits.
Companies Can Benefit when Beneficiaries Engage in Wellness
In the US, where employers are typically responsible for providing health insurance for employees and their dependents, it makes financial sense to extend wellness programming to spouses, children, etc: a dollar saved on an employee’s health is just as valuable as money saved on their spouse.
There’s also the more human side, where providing wellness resources to all beneficiaries shows that a company cares and supports all those within its reach. Additionally, research supports the idea that a program is more effective with social reinforcement, e.g. participation of family and friends as well as coworkers.
We know now that an individual’s health outcomes are strongly correlated to their social support. For example, one study found a significant association between social environment and health, stating that:
- When one spouse becomes obese, the likelihood that the other spouse will become obese increases by 37%
- If a person becomes obese, the likelihood of their siblings becoming obese increases by 40%
- If a person becomes obese, the chance of their close friends becoming obese increases by 57%
The considerable influence that a person’s social network has on health outcomes provides an opportunity for employee wellness initiatives. If a well-being program is effective in improving one family member’s health, it seems likely that it will benefit another family member’s health as well. There’s also research that suggests these stats extend to other factors and conditions, like blood pressure, Type II Diabetes, anxiety and more. Offering well-being programming to beneficiaries is a win-win.
Involving Beneficiaries can Make Wellness Programming More Effective
Responsibilities for loved ones at home remain a top priority for many employees outside of working hours. Workers with others depending on them, whether they be children, spouse, aging parents, multigenerational households and others they take care of may not have time for a well-being program that takes them away from their home responsibilities.
For example, suggesting that a caretaker spend their Saturday morning exercising alone just isn’t realistic in many situations. What may be more manageable is suggesting that the employee involve their family in well-being activities. Could a parent go on a bike ride after dinner with their children? Could someone go on a walk with an elderly parent instead of going to the movie theatre? When a well-being program reaches beyond employees to their beneficiaries, the program becomes reinforced with social support.
How to Engage Remote Workers and Beneficiaries in Wellness
When it comes to reaching remote workers and their beneficiaries, the key lies in fully digital programming. When all aspects of a wellness platform are available online, fully remote and hybrid employees can participate. Rather than writing off those who are not in the office, reaching out to remote employees can make them an asset to boosting participation and program effectiveness, rather than a hinderance.
Reaching out to beneficiaries can increase participation as well. Extending invitations to info sessions, sending reminders about signing up, and providing them with individual accounts on the wellness portal or in the company app are just the first steps. To retain beneficiaries as well-being program users, the program needs to provide content that is relevant, such as group or team challenges, information on topics that are meaningful (perhaps based on health assessment data), and more. This creates an opportunity for users to connect, participate, and benefit.
Employees who are also caretakers, whether for young children, aging parents, or others, may benefit from programming that is geared toward their own specific needs, like self-care and stress management. A thoughtfully constructed wellness plan can help employee-caretakers create healthy habits to avoid burnout and facilitate success in both their personal and professional roles.
Are In-Person Employee Wellness Events a Thing of the Past?
Does this mean that organizations should eliminate all in-person wellness programming? No; but by inviting distance employees to participate in a digital wellness program, and therefore allowing them to get to know their colleagues better and improve their overall well-being, employees may be more likely to participate in a manageable number of in-person wellness events.
These face-to-face well-being activities could be as serious as an annual biometric screening or as fun as a company summer picnic or annual staff basketball championship. It comes down to creating an inclusive, inviting wellbeing program that offers employees and beneficiaries realistic and sustainable ways to participate, no matter where they’re located.
How Do Fully Digital Employee Wellness Programs Work?
Employee wellness programs that are fully virtual are normally accessed by an app or web portal, with a single user login. Once in the app or portal, all aspects of a wellness program are accessible, including:
- Medical records
- Prescription documents
- Total health assessments focusing on biometrics, lifestyle, psychological, organizational, financial well-being, and more
- Access to medical professionals and well-being coaches
- Interactive wellness challenges
- Engaging discussion boards
- Personalized health education content
- Individual screening reminders
- and more
Interactive well-being challenges can include step / activity tracking competitions (done either on a team, with a buddy/partner, or individually), and wellness challenges in which participants earn points by completing healthy habits related to a certain topic, like healthy eating, stress reduction, better sleep, etc.
These challenges zero in on a certain aspect of health that a population may need, based on information gathered in health assessments. And while remote, this kind of programming helps connect coworkers, beneficiaries, and medical professionals to strengthen relationships and boost morale, despite geographical distance.
Employee well-being programs have adapted to reach remote workers and beneficiaries, and frequently, the effect is improved health outcomes and greater program participation by employees around the globe. Research suggests that wellness programming is more effective when combined with social support, and many employers now understand that for wellness to work, families and loved ones need to get involved.
In the case of employees who are also caregivers, wellness programs that involve those they are responsible for, in addition to programs that support the employee through stress management and self-care content, can help lighten difficult burdens and boost mental and physical health.
The right well-being program technology can help employees and beneficiaries engage in wellness no matter where they’re located, using fully integrated web portals and interactive apps. Leading well-being technology companies are providing ways for wellness programming to be accessed by all employees and their loved ones, to bring health back home.
Laura Neuffer, M.S., has 10 years of experience in corporate wellness. After earning a bachelor’s degree in Public Health and Health Education at Oregon State University, she began working with a corporate wellness company as an account manager, working directly with on-site staff to plan, deliver, and analyze worksite health programs. She went on to earn a master’s degree in Communication Management from the University of Southern California. Laura now works at Carebook Technologies to help create technology and programming that is used in worksite wellness programs around the world. Laura is also a registered yoga instructor and a former university adjunct professor of communications.