Employer Trends Across Six Dimensions of Well-being

Over the past few years, employers have fully embraced multidimensional well-being strategies as a growing body of evidence shows that supporting employees holistically has far greater impact than a singular focus on physical health

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January 06, 2022

Over the past few years, employers have fully embraced multidimensional well-being strategies as a growing body of evidence shows that supporting employees holistically has far greater impact than a singular focus on physical health. These broader well-being strategies are influenced by current events and global trends and are continuously evolving to meet employees’ changing needs and priorities, along with organizational culture and goals. In response to this evolution, in 2021, Business Group on Health expanded its well-being model to include the significant influence of community health on employee well-being.

This resource lays out how employers are reimagining their strategies by providing a snapshot of current offerings across six dimensions of well-being:  physical health, mental health, financial security, social connectedness, job satisfaction and community. The document also forecasts the future state of each dimension and serves as a companion piece to “The Future of Workforce Being,” which outlines five macrotrends shaping the scope, focus and goals of employer well-being strategies overall.

6 Dimensions of Well-being: Physical Health, Mental Health, Financial Security, Social Connectedness, Job Satisfaction, Community

Physical Health

Supporting physical health is foundational to almost all employer well-being strategies, even as organizations seek to further integrate mental health and address other dimensions of employees’ lives that impact well-being. Employers provide a set of initiatives focused on the prevention and treatment of disease, and in 2021, the majority offered programs that have become synonymous with an employer well-being strategy: tobacco cessation (81%), digital/telephonic chronic condition management (79%), weight management/diabetes prevention programs (78%), digital lifestyle coaching (72%), maternity management (69%), health assessments and biometric screening (71% and 58% respectively), as well as family forming and reproductive support (50%).1 While the necessity of these programs has always been clear due to high and increasing rates of diseases likes diabetes and obesity, 76% of employers anticipate even higher chronic condition management needs due to the impact of COVID-19.2 This explains why the prevalence of these programs will increase in the future, as will the use of well-being champions to engage employees in these services, increasing from 70% in 2021 to 83% in 2022.1 Less prevalent in 2021 but anticipated to grow rapidly in 2022 are musculoskeletal health offerings and subsidies or discounts for fitness wearables, with the prevalence expected to rise from 45% to 83% and 22% to 59%, respectively, as employers seek to help employees pursue healthy movement.1

When it comes to motivating participation in physical health programs, 56% of employees say financial incentives are the top way for their employer to do so.3  Among the 68% of employers that offered financial incentives to employees in 2021, 52% of the total incentive distribution was tied to health assessments and/or biometric screenings and 27% of the distribution was for actions related to physical health like weight or chronic condition management, with the remaining 21% for other dimensions of well-being such as mental health and financial security.1

In addition to telehealth (which is offered almost universally by employers) and a suite of digital offerings to support physical and mental health, on-site services and resources play an important role in employer well-being strategies. They offer convenient access to care and a supportive and healthy work environment. Pre-pandemic, most employers offered treadmill or sit-to-stand desks, gyms, fitness classes, yoga and meditation, and practices to promote the consumption of healthy food such as nutritional labeling.1 While over two- thirds of employers converted or adapted their on-site services in 2021 (often to virtual options), many employers anticipate a recommencement of these services in 2022.

Outlook

The design of the workplace will play an even larger role in employers’ well-being strategies beyond just the resumption of on-site services. Organizations will focus on the features inside and outside of buildings that impact population health and well-being, such as ventilation and filtration (which can reduce disease transmission for COVID-19 and flu); employee access to water, natural light, stairs and other opportunities for movement; biophilic design (which aims to integrate nature into building design); and noise control and thermal comfort, to name a few. Furthermore, employers will consider how they can apply the principles of a healthy work environment to home offices for those in hybrid or permanent work-from-home arrangements. Relatedly, companies will consider how they can extend on-site physical health opportunities like fitness activities to those working virtually, a way to not only promote physical health and well-being but also social connectedness. A renewed focus on health assessments and biometric screenings in 2022 will help determine whether current initiatives are meeting employee needs, as well as enable vendor partners to personalize recommendations.

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Mental Health

Mental health has risen in prominence as a priority precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the anxiety, loneliness, grief and burnout that so many employees experienced as a result; traumatic events such as the murder of George Floyd and other Black Americans; and political and financial stress. Signaling their understanding that employees view their mental health as the most important aspect of their well-being and that everyone has mental health needs, which are broad, varied and sometimes urgent, employers are offering a range of programs and benefits, all of which rose in prevalence in 2021 and will likely see continued growth in 2022.1,3 These benefits include telephonic  employee assistance programs (EAPs) (offered by 96% in 2021), teletherapy (88%), programs to promote mindfulness (72%), resiliency (63%), stress management (68%), sleep (45%), and happiness (30%) and digital cognitive behavioral therapy (36%).1 These offerings reflect increasing understanding that mental health is a spectrum and, like physical health, requires attention to both prevention and treatment. Beyond these offerings, 22% of employers provided pediatric-focused mental health support in 2021, as children’s mental health needs came sharply into view due to virtual schooling, social isolation, disrupted routines and the loss of family members from COVID-19.1 Pediatric mental health will continue to be a priority for organizations as employers recognize the profound effect that children’s mental health has on parental mental health, as emerging and innovative solutions come to market and as children quickly become the workforce of the future.

In tandem with the varied programs and services already in place, employers have initiatives underway to create psychologically healthy workplaces. Among these include manager and peer training to help these groups recognize mental health issues and direct employees to appropriate services (offered by 64% and 33% of employers, respectively).2 These initiatives are vital to an employer’s strategy,  especially since peers/colleagues and supervisors are among the entities that most inspire employees to improve their mental and emotional health.3 Anti-stigma campaigns (50%) and flexible work schedules that encourage employees to seek care during work hours (48%) are other ways employers sought to promote open discourse and normalize mental health in 2021, with greater focus planned in each of these areas in 2022.2

Outlook

No longer will mental health take a back seat to other dimensions of well-being in employer strategies; instead, it will continue to be a top priority, recognized as inextricably linked to physical health and equally valued. Concerned with the long-term reverberations of the pandemic and racial trauma, employers will focus on ensuring access to quality care, with an eye to inclusivity and equity, knowing that the mental health system has historically not served the needs of Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) and LBGTQ+ populations. Workplace conversations about mental health will carry on well after the pandemic wanes, and feedback from employees garnered through employee resource groups (ERGs), pulse surveys and focus groups will influence the shape of mental health strategies in the future.

Employers will proactively consider how workplace changes and job design, such as greater flexibility, time away, autonomy and attention to work/life needs, manager training (with a focus on empathy and authenticity), practices to promote team cohesion and social support, and communication, can be paired with well-being initiatives to prevent and address the root causes of issues like burnout and loneliness – problems that can’t be solved with mental health treatment alone. Employers will account for how different dimensions of well-being intersect and influence one another and seek to infuse mental health into everything as they design initiatives and select vendor partners. Finally, more attention will be paid to prevention and resiliency to help employees avoid and better withstand mental health challenges.

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Financial Security

Ninety percent of employers include financial wellness in their overall well-being strategy, with the majority (64%) reporting that their focus on financial well-being expanded due to the pandemic.1 While retirement savings have played a long-standing and central role in employers’ financial well-being strategy, organizations are now providing a wider range of programs and benefits to help employees with their day-to-day financial challenges. This change is based on the understanding that financial stress impacts employee physical and mental health, productivity and performance. For example, offerings include, but aren’t limited to, tools and resources to support emergency savings, debt management and budgeting (83%), financial health programs and challenges (79%) and student loan repayment assistance (25%).1 Among these offerings, employer efforts to assist employees build emergency savings (and better withstand shocks like a pandemic) has gained ground as more attention is paid to the importance of helping employees save for a rainy day.

Employers are also developing their well-being strategies with workers who earn lower wages in mind; in 2021, 11% of employers offered programs targeted to this population, such as initiatives to help raise credit scores or access low-interest loans, a number that may grow to 30% in 2022.1 And a small number of employers (7%) are providing employees with the opportunity to enable early access to earned wages.1 The financial well-being of employees is also spilling over to the design of health benefits, with 40% of employers offering wage-based cost sharing (e.g., premiums, deductibles, out-of-pocket maximums) in 2021 as a means of reducing health inequities.2

Outlook

Employers will continue to offer a diverse portfolio of financial well-being benefits and programs that help employees alleviate current concerns and prepare for the future, prioritizing offerings that focus on action (rather than just education), which research shows is far more effective in reducing financial worries.4 Also a priority: addressing long-standing racial and gender disparities in financial well-being and promoting equity and inclusion. To do this, employers will rely on employee data and feedback (such as through ERGs, focus groups and surveys) in the development of financial initiatives, including how social determinants of health impact employees’ lives and their financial status. Financial well-being vendors will increasingly focus on equity and inclusion as a part of their services, understanding that financial needs may differ based on gender, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, marital status, wage band, job classification, country or region, as well as intersectional identities. And novel financial solutions will emerge, including through employer partnerships with external organizations such as vendors and nonprofits.

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Social Connectedness

A majority of employers (67%) include a focus on social connectedness as a part of their well-being strategy, showcasing widespread understanding that supportive positive relationships and social belonging are not only necessary for employee well-being, but important to business outcomes such as engagement.1 To maintain connections among colleagues in 2021, almost all employers (86%) held virtual get-togethers like team celebrations, a trend that will likely continue in the workplace as many employees settle into permanent or hybrid work-from-home schedules.1 Most employers (78%) have ERGs in place and just over half (52%) offer employee support networks, both of which seek to promote familiarity and uncover common interests/similarities, which research says are crucial ingredients to friendship formation in the workplace and help create a sense of belonging and pride.1,5 Forty-three percent of employers provide programs to help employees overcome loneliness and isolation, knowing that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, loneliness was prevalent in modern life and detrimental to physical and mental health, as well as to individual and team work performance.1

Beyond promoting connections with colleagues, employers are putting policies and practices in place to enable employees to maintain relationships with loved ones and their broader community. Companies are providing flexible work policies, encouraging employees to use their time off, providing paid time away or flexibility for volunteerism, and sponsoring events that incorporate family and friends (for example, both LinkedIn and Google have held “Take Your Parents to Work Day”).6,7

Outlook

Leaders from across each organization, including benefits and well-being practitioners, will seek to foster connection, belonging and positive work relationships through intentional approaches to support high-quality social ties. Doing so will be critical to retaining employees, as relationships among colleagues are one way employees can find meaning at work.8 In-person team-based games, social events, volunteerism and physical health programs (e.g., walking challenges) that were put on hold during the pandemic may return, as research shows that activities  encouraging employees to collaborate to achieve a goal can also be particularly helpful in bringing colleagues closer.5 The workplace will be designed to help employees safely convene, and social time with colleagues will be a draw for employees returning to the office. Additionally, companies will assess opportunities to promote friendship formation throughout the employee lifecycle, beginning with onboarding, and to deepen existing relationships, such as through leadership training. Employers will also pay close attention to the effect that permanent hybrid work or work from home has on employee loneliness and implement creative opportunities to keep them in the fold.  

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Job Satisfaction

While just 35% of employers included job satisfaction in their well-being strategy in 2021, nearly a quarter are considering incorporating it in 2022.1 This current and future focus indicates a growing acknowledgment of job satisfaction as a contributor to employee health and well-being; this is supported by research showing links between job satisfaction and employee turnover, customer satisfaction and loyalty, safety, productivity and health.9 Simultaneously, there’s an increasing sense of responsibility for job satisfaction among well-being leaders. Leave and work/life benefits are two prominent ways benefits leaders contribute to the dual goals of improved well-being and more positive feelings about work, as work/life harmony is one of the many factors influencing job satisfaction. In fact, large employers indicate that employee health and well-being is the top reason time away benefits are important to their company’s workforce strategy.10 Paid maternity leave (partial or fully paid salary through short-term disability) is nearly ubiquitous among surveyed employers (94% in 2021, increasing to 98% in 2022), and paid parental leave is not far behind in prevalence (83% in 2021, increasing to 90% in 2022).1 Fifty-five percent of employers offered caregiver leave in 2021, jumping to 70% in 2022, and 44% updated their PTO policies to offer additional days and/or greater flexibility in using days in 2021, which will increase to 60% in 2022.1

In addition to offering leave and flexibility, well-being leaders are addressing other factors that research shows impact job satisfaction. Providing benefits and a safe and healthy work environment – which are rated by employees as ‘extremely’ or ‘highly’ important to job quality – are foundational to large employer well-being strategies and have never been more important as organizations seek to recruit and retain talent.11 Promoting social connectedness, another driver of job satisfaction, has also risen in importance as described in the section above. Encouraging positive manager behavior, characterized by a willingness to listen and show respect, care, support and appreciation, is an area of current focus. This is demonstrated by the 64% of employers who have implemented trainings to teach managers the signs of mental health distress and direct employees to appropriate resources; further, 35% plan to focus on burnout in 2022, an issue experts say must be tackled in part through empathetic leadership.2

Outlook

Fostering job satisfaction will increasingly be part of well-being leaders’ role as they consider how the initiatives that they’re responsible for can contribute to a positive employment experience. This increased focus will lead to partnerships across the organization in pursuit of shared goals, such as by integrating well-being into learning and development objectives. Sustained attention will be paid to leave and flexibility in 2022, especially for those on the frontline who may not have been extended such benefits in the past. For example, more companies may consider parental leave benefits for hourly employees or practices that allow for schedule predictability (e.g., notifying employees of shifts at least 2 weeks in advance) and making it easier for employees to swap, add or cancel shifts to meet personal needs. Additionally, employers will consider how they can incorporate aspects of well-being beyond mental health into manager training and company goals. One area of focus may be purpose, a key driver of job satisfaction that also impacts overall well-being.11 Finally, attention will be paid to the intersection between financial well-being and job satisfaction, with a particular emphasis on pay equity/fairness, which research shows is positively correlated with employee engagement and work/life satisfaction and negatively correlated with work stress and turnover intention.12

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NEW: Community

In recent years, community has emerged as an important dimension of a well-being strategy, with employers focusing on both community involvement (i.e., encouraging volunteerism and engagement in local organizations) and the attributes of the communities in which employees live, work and play (i.e., addressing social determinants of health). In 2021, 65% of employers said they included community involvement in their well-being strategy.1 Benefits of doing so include fostering social connections, enhancing meaning and purpose, promoting an active lifestyle (depending on the type of volunteerism) and contributing to job satisfaction. The majority of employers offer charitable match giving programs (72%), collection drives (71%), time off to volunteer (72%), team-building volunteer programs (71%) and skills-based volunteering/mentoring, all of which are expected to increase in 2022.1

Companies have also expanded the scope of their well-being strategies to address the social needs of employees -- individual-level solutions that seek to mediate the effects of community conditions negatively affecting employee health. They’re doing so because behavior change programs and health benefits may prove ineffectual if social determinants, which influence 40% of our health status, aren’t also addressed.13 In 2021, most employers have programs and benefits in place to address three social determinants: health care (61%), finances/income (60%) and racism (55%).2 Although lower in prevalence, employers are also addressing childcare (42%), transportation (18%), food access and insecurity (16%) and housing (8%), with expected increases in 2022.2

Outlook

To improve employee well-being, more employers will look outside their own walls and think about community as a lever for health. They will enhance community involvement opportunities for employees as economies across the world re-open, and they will work to integrate these efforts into their well-being strategies, such as by providing employees with incentives or time off to volunteer.

Many employers will seek to more deeply understand the social needs of employees and their families by using data and employee input and feedback. With this information in mind, they will develop new solutions or alter existing ones in conjunction with their vendor partners to address these needs. Some well-being leaders will take a step toward promoting changes in local communities that can improve population health and safety, such as putting in new sidewalks, playgrounds or recreational facilities. This will happen through the strategic alignment of corporate social responsibility, diversity and inclusion and internal benefits and well-being, which have shared interests and goals, including strengthening company brand and reputation, improving employee retention and satisfaction and advancing inclusion, to name a few. Addressing unmet community needs may also lead to partnerships with entities such as public health departments, in recognition that healthy communities are essential to healthy businesses.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Physical Health
  2. Mental Health
  3. Financial Security
  4. Social Connectedness
  5. Job Satisfaction
  6. NEW: Community