The good news: Most countries are beginning to see more light than dark at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel – as mask mandates and social restrictions get lifted. 

The bad news: It may be easy to forget how abruptly employees were forced to deal with such a mumentous change to their lives. 

Just because people can come together once again around the office water cooler, it’s important to remember that the impacts of a year of forced social isolation, economic uncertainty, and few options for escape have left so many of the world’s workforce feeling overwhelmed and fatigued by extreme stress, work-life imbalance, and financial anxiety.

At Gympass, we’re constantly checking the pulse of employee health and wellbeing around the world. With an extensive database of over 150 million employee survey responses and over 30 million comments (gathered and analysed by Peakon, a Workday company), our latest report gives clear insight into how COVID-19 has changed attitudes toward employee health and wellbeing (for organisations and employees) and what to look for going forward.

For starters, it’s clear that COVID-19 has brought mental health to the forefront, resulting in a greater need for broader access to wellness resources, according to the report. Here, we share seven key takeaways from that report, Supporting Employee Health and Wellbeing in the Wake of COVID-19.

 

1. Some industries have suffered more than others.

Among 11 industry sectors the report identified, the most significant differences appear in the education sector, where 59% of all employee comments were mental health support. Teachers have a difficult job during the best of times, but it’s clear that the increased hours, additional in-class precautions, and exposure to COVID-19 have taken their toll.

Financial wellbeing is a concern across all industries and is most pronounced among transportation workers.

 

2. Company support during 2020 didn’t meet employee expectations.

Every year, we ask employees if their company provides them with “information and support to manage (their) health and wellbeing.” The share who said yes fell across most industries over the last year.

Industries that rely largely on frontline employees – healthcare, manufacturing, transportation, and energy and utilities – saw the biggest declines. The drop in employee scores for organisational support for health and wellbeing illustrates that companies need to:

  • Invest time and resources into understanding what their employees really need to feel supported
  • Take a more proactive and ongoing approach to health and wellbeing

3. Organisational commitment to employee health and wellbeing is not a universal given.

Gympass surveyed over 2,700 benefit managers and HR leaders around the world to establish a better understanding of how organisations are approaching employee health and wellbeing today. When asked if they agree that employee wellbeing is “a true commitment” in their organisation, different trends boldly emerged. 

  • HR leaders in Mexico and the U.S. strongly agree about their commitment to wellbeing (although the numbers are still low – at 35% and 33%, respectively). 
  • In Brazil, only 14% of HR leaders agree that their companies have a “true commitment”  to employee health and wellbeing.

4. Wellness apps are in, but what else are companies doing now?

The most interesting trend in response to employee health and wellbeing is the growing popularity of wellness apps. They now outrank most other forms of wellbeing support. What hasn’t materialised, however, is dedicated support for mental health.

On the plus side, wellness apps can help organisations deliver a more varied health and wellbeing offering. But here, too, mental health is absent from the mix – despite being a top employee concern over the last year and certainly expected to be a challenge in the post-COVID-19 world.

5. Measuring the impact of wellbeing initiatives is equally uneven around the world.

Just under 1 in 3 respondents in the U.S. (29%) strongly agree that they rely on data to measure the impact of wellbeing initiatives. In Brazil, the number is less than half of that (13%). What’s sadly striking overall, however, is that 1 in 4 respondents positioned their companies as neutral about using data for this goal.

Those who do use data to measure the impact of their wellbeing programmes have clear expectations about the business outcomes they’re looking for. Among six categories of business outcomes, the most important was improving employee performance or productivity, followed very closely by increasing employee retention or reducing turnover.

6. The measurement disconnect is real: KPIs tell the story.

Of five options stated in our survey, the KPI that got the largest response was “increased productivity.” This makes sense, considering improving employee performance was the top desired business result of wellbeing initiatives.

Then comes the disconnect: Healthcare costs were the second KPI noted, followed by absenteeism levels, and finally retention. Retention is the No. 2 desired business outcome and KPI No. 4. 

It’s unfortunate that the commitment organisations are making to employee health and wellbeing is falling down when they try to establish a clear link between employee needs, individual offerings, and business outcomes.

7. What 2021 and beyond looks like.

The survey shows what may seem to be common sense: Employee health and wellbeing is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Employers need to build a solid foundation of health and wellbeing that supports their business goals, is adaptable to their population and demographics, and is able to evolve with the needs of their people.

The approach needs to be twofold:

  1. Ensure you have accurate and ongoing feedback about employee health and wellbeing
  2. Implement a complete corporate wellness platform that encompasses thousands of virtual and in-person opportunities for fitness, nutrition, 1:1 therapy sessions, and much, much more.

As our report concludes, only by equipping employees with the appropriate tools and resources can organisations greatly enhance overall employee health and wellbeing. This in turn will contribute to the high levels of performance and productivity that will be needed to succeed in the years ahead.