Curating the week in wellness October 18–22, 2021: How to fuel workplace happiness, 7 essential vaccine questions, and more

This week’s wrap-up of essential content for those dedicated to employee well-being.

By Robby Brumberg      @robbybrumberg      

Greetings, wellness, HR and comms pros!

Here’s this week’s collection of thought-provoking articles, savvy tips and relevant takeaways.

1. Pursuing genuine ‘happiness’ at work.

As “The Great Resignation” continues to roil Corporate America, companies are desperate to find ways to keep their workers happy. However, as CNBC notes, there’s a fundamental misconception on what constitutes and builds meaningful “workplace happiness”—and it’s a misunderstanding that could be fueling turnover.

CNBC writes:

“Too often when companies try to create a supportive, happy or fun company culture, they do so by offering extra amenities or perks, like free lunches in the office or a monthly wellness stipend. This can make the work environment more enjoyable,” Lim says, “but only creates a happier workplace at a very surface level.”

The piece also relates that the largest misconception about workplace happiness “is taking extrinsic things and thinking that’s what people are really interested in.”

In other words, perks alone don’t work. To fuel and foster more substantive employee “happiness,” companies must dig a bit deeper to offer more meaningful support. This is especially crucial when so many workers are remote. CNBC explains:

“… employers have still fallen into the same trap when they try to figure out how to engage and support employees outside of a traditional office space, such as by offering employees access to mental health apps instead of doing the work of figuring out what’s really keeping people from feeling motivated in their jobs.”

This boils down to treating people more like, well, people. The piece says leaders should consider:

  • Where are their employees mentally?
  • Where are they emotionally?
  • Where are they physically?
  • Where are they relationally?
  • How do they relate to the purpose and values of the company, and is the company doing enough to help them build that connection?

You can’t create workplace happiness out of thin air. But considering employees’ deeper, more holistic desires and needs is a great start.    

2. Seven essential vaccine questions to ponder.

It’s OK if your vaccine policies haven’t yet been etched in stone. As the pandemic lurches forward and guidance shifts accordingly, keep these questions in mind as you formulate and augment your own protocols:

  • Why encourage vaccination now?
  • Which employees should be considered “fully” vaccinated?
  • What documentation will be required?
  • How will you handle employee requests for exemptions?
  • What timeline is needed for implementing a vaccine mandate?
  • What testing strategy should be deployed for unvaccinated employees?
  • What other actions can help keep employees safe?

3. Which benefits and perks do employees crave?

Comparably’s research into the matter reveals:

  • Competitive benefits packages entice workers to stay with their employers. Seventy-nine percent of workers from the top-rated large companies and 83% of employees from top-rated small and medium organizations said benefits compel them to remain in their roles. Fifty-two percent of workers surveyed site-wide agreed, according to Comparably’s research. 
  • An average of 93% of employees from the top-rated large companies and 94% from the top-rated small- or medium-sized business rated their perks as “good” or “fantastic,” compared to only 44% of employees surveyed site-wide.
  • When asked if benefits play a part in remaining at the company, 79% of employees from the top-rated large companies and 83% from the top-rated smaller businesses said yes, compared to only 52% of employees site-wide.
  • More than half (53%) of employees surveyed said the wellness work perk they most wanted was a paid gym/health club membership, with massage therapy in second place at 23%.
  • The top five highest rated large companies were: Google, Peloton, Microsoft, Adobe and Boston Consulting Group. Apple, Facebook, Zoom, Uber and RingCentral rounded out the top 10.

Comparably CEO Jason Nazar said, “The top-rated companies on our Best Perks & Benefits list this year are commended by their employees for caring about the full spectrum of workers’ lives, such as providing a work-from-home office stipend, fully paid benefits, or flexible time off.”

4. A roundup of reports on sustainability updates, DE&I progress and ESG initiatives.

For a bit of inspiration on demonstrating your company’s sustainability activities or philanthropic ventures, have a look at these heavy hitters’ recent reports:

5. Ensuring your wellness programs comply and comport with relevant laws.

VeryWell Health has a piece that shares how workplace wellness programs are regulated. Wellness pros should be keenly familiar with legislation such as:

The piece closes with a call for companies to play within the rules:

“Employee wellness programs are subject to laws and regulations that aim to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities or significant medical conditions. These rules apply to having to provide health information or take a health screening, and to what incentives can be offered.”

If your initiatives play a bit fast and loose, or if you’re unsure whether your programs comply, better to err on the side of caution. Otherwise, don’t be surprised if an employee files a discrimination charge with the EEOC.

6. 2021 Workplace Wellness Survey results.

Data collected and published by EBRI and Greenwald Research finds that employees are largely pleased with companies’ wellness offerings. Though there’s certainly room for improvement.

Key findings include:

  • 31% believe their employers’ efforts have increased since the start of the pandemic, and 60% believe they’ve stayed the same. 
  • When it comes to emotional and physical well-being, 50% say their employers are doing an excellent or very good job. For financial well-being, 46% say the same.
  • 75% trust their employers to help them improve via quality benefits and offerings.
  • Health insurance was the top chosen benefit (87%), followed by retirement savings (79%), dental insurance (76%), life insurance (75%) and vision insurance (71%).
  • 48% said they’re satisfied with their work-life balance. In 2018, that number was 60%.
  • 60% said trying to balance their caregiving responsibilities with work responsibilities is challenging, though only 33% indicated they have paid time off for caregiving. Also, 20% said having more caregiving help would “add value” to their company’s benefit offerings.
  • 68% of employees say they want an emergency savings account using payroll deductions, but only 23% have access to this perk.

7. How post-pandemic offices will transform.

According to The New York Times, the traditional office setting may be gone for good. Instead of “static, inflexible spaces where employees perform individual, task-oriented work more than eight hours a day,” companies are devising ways to create more dynamic, flexible and healthier environments for employees.

The piece says:

“Mr. Christofely [Grant Christofely, North America associate director of workplace strategy at M Moser Associates, a workplace design company] believes companies ‘must move the dial on how much space is dedicated to individual versus collaborative work. The social aspect of work is one of the most important parts of the physical workplace.’ His firm’s ‘more progressive’ clients are dramatically reducing individual work spaces from 70 percent of the total to 30 percent, with 70 percent now collaborative; at least one client is dedicating only 10 percent of its work spaces to individuals.”

The piece says companies must be creative to entice workers back into shared workspaces, lest employees retreat to their home offices forever. It continues:

“John Harrison, design director of the Houston office of Gensler, the architectural firm, believes ‘the biggest shift in the post-pandemic workplace will be the radical change in flexibility. People’s behavioral habits are going to be different. The physical office must accommodate that in a forward-thinking, creative way.’ What will emerge will be ‘a blended work force where some people will work from home, some in the office on certain days,’ he added.”

The piece quotes another forward-thinking workplace expert: “If we don’t give them a reason to commute in, they’ll return to their basement to do their work.”

8. How to get workers moving during the day.

Movement is the building block for physical well-being. But it’s crucial for mental health, too.

NPR explores this crucial topic, noting that:

“‘The sneaky effects of the pandemic that we might not even notice [is] that we’ve changed our sitting patterns,’ says Jacob Meyer, director of the Wellbeing and Exercise lab at Iowa State University. His own research showed that in the early weeks of the pandemic, people who exercised less and had more screen time were likely to be stressed, depressed and lonely.”

However, there is a silver lining.

“The good news is that something as simple as some very light movement around the house to break up all that couch surfing time can make a difference in mood, as Meyer’s earlier research has found.”

How can you encourage your staffers to get up off the couch during the day? The piece suggests:

  • Start small, and don’t think you have to exercise for an hour.
  • Make it easier for yourself by picking exercise and movements you actually enjoy.
  • Walk whenever you can.
  • Consider trying five-minute mini workouts.
  • Do chores that make you move.
  • Try to multitask, such as moving around during meetings.

9. How to thwart burnout.

Gallup says to do these things for employees:

  • Focus me. Work with me to establish mutual expectations and priorities.
  • Free me from unnecessary stress. Help me get the resources I need and remove barriers for me.
  • Help me feel valued and supported. Ask my opinion, recognize my contribution and genuinely care about me.

Of course, all this must come from the top. The piece concludes:

“But the first step is always the same: a serious, long-term commitment from executive leadership to a true culture transformation in how people work.”

Keep in mind: Employees feel most valued when their managers trust them. So, make sure your managers are taking employee burnout seriously—and taking active steps to prevent it.

Please get in touch with any ideas, suggestions or feedback on how we can serve you better or cover topics that are top of mind at your organization. Email: joyceanng@ragan.com.