Mental health, virtual medicine emerge as top wellness priorities for 2021

Wellness programs forecast to increase investments in telehealth and stress management as companies continue to grapple with the ongoing pandemic.

By Ted Kitterman      @tedkitkat      
2021 telehealth trends

Where is the smart money being spent on wellness programs in the new year?

In short, COVID-19 changed everything. So much about the workplace, work habits and what is effective for communicating with your workforce has been impacted, probably for good. Trends that were already present before the pandemic have been gathered momentum and accelerated as millions have logged into work from home.

The changes have also forced companies to reevaluate their wellness programs, according to a new report from Wellable. The report surveys health insurance brokers and their wellness directors to see where the industry is headed and how employers are thinking about their various offerings for 2021.

New areas of focus for wellness pros include virtual access to health care, mental health programming and COVID-19 specific tools. The largest percentage of employers (88%) are planning to focus more on mental health and 87% will invest additional resources in telemedicine.

(Image via Wellable)

Predictably, other elements of wellness programs that are more targeted for an onsite workforce are seeing less investment. Sixty percent of employers will invest less in things like health fairs—though the report suggests replacing in-person fairs with virtual programming. Other areas receiving less investment include on-site fitness classes (48%) and stocking healthy food n the office (54%).

(Image via Wellable)

COVID-19 changes everything

How has the pandemic forced wellness pros to adapt? Many employers are considering using wellness passports or some other tool to track COVID-19 risk to workers on the job.

Now that multiple safe vaccines have been brought to market to fight the pandemic, wellness pros can start to consider what elements of their current wellness programs will continue after the virus has been eradicated. The report suggests that some safety and health efforts will remain even when the virus is subdued.

 For example, 92% of health insurance brokers say they foresee companies enforcing stricter sanitary measures in the workplace going forward and 72% believe we will maintain some of the safety measure that have been introduced like plexiglass dividers and social distancing measures.

(Image via Wellable)

However, the biggest challenges facing wellness pros are the new barriers to well-being created by a remote workforce. While there are wellness benefits to remote work—more time for exercise, time with family, etc.—there have been downsides for many employees. Reports of increased isolation and mental health challenges have been a common theme throughout the pandemic and wellness pros are putting their efforts behind helping employees feel supported and connected.

After COVID-19, wellness pros believe there will be more work to offer virtual wellness services, increase virtual employee engagement and subsidize the home office.

(Image via Wellable)

Focus on mental health

When it comes to the mental health of employees, there are several areas where employers are considering heavy investment. At the top of the list is substance abuse treatment services, with 89% of brokers saying they believe employer will invest in substance abuse programming.

(Image via Wellable)

For organizations looking to offer more resources on mental health, self-care subscription services should get a closer look, according to program brokers.

(Image via Wellable)

Another popular option? Virtual access to a live counselor.

(Image via Wellable)

You can dig deeper into the data by reading the full report here.