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5 Things to Know About Virtual Employee Wellness Programs

By: Susan Melony

 

a remote employee attending a wellness seminar

A corporate wellness program can have numerous benefits for employers and employees. For example, according to the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP), employee wellness programs can reduce health costs for employers and employees.

These programs can boost productivity, reduce absenteeism, and improve employee engagement. If you’re a small business owner, you may also be able to take advantage of certain tax incentives when you have a wellness program.

While there are plenty of benefits, with so many people working remotely some or all of the time, you may wonder how to start a corporate wellness program that’s virtual in its application.

With that in mind, the following are some things to know about wellness programs geared toward a remote workforce.

Why Wellness Programs Still Matter for Virtual Teams

If your employees work remotely some or all of the time, you may wonder why wellness programs still matter. The reality is, they can actually matter more in remote work environments.

Working remotely can lead people to make less healthy choices in their everyday lives. They may be less active, consuming more calories, or turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms like alcohol.

For some people, working remotely means the opportunity to prioritize self-care and work-life balance. For other people, it can be isolating and worsen mental health.

It’s easier for remote employees to become disengaged or feel physically more burned out in some cases when they don’t have an in-person work environment. A company wellness program can keep people connected to their jobs and help them prioritize their well-being when they might otherwise not.

A company wellness program can also create a sense of loyalty between virtual employees and their employer. Your employees will feel like you’re investing in them and that you care about their well-being. As we’re grappling with the Great Resignation right now, creating that sense of employee loyalty is essential for retention.

While there may be plenty of benefits and certainly a need for virtual wellness programs, putting them into action may prove more challenging when you don’t have the structure and framework of the in-person environment to rely on.

The following are some tips you can use to build out your own virtual employee wellness program.

Strategizing and Planning

Before you start making any specific decisions about the implementation of your wellness program, you want to strategize and plan. Give your program a name. If you also have a more traditional wellness program, you might consider separating your virtual program.

Have some benchmarks in mind that you hope to achieve to start to create a roadmap.

Remember that employee wellness is about a lot more than fitness or eating well. In fact, these programs should encompass all areas of wellness, even outside of physical health. With virtual programs, in particular, you want to consider the importance of emotional well-being and social connection.

If you aren’t sure about setting benchmarks or addressing needs, a good place to start is to talk to your employees. Ask them where they might be struggling and what they’re most interested in. Let your employees share their concerns or any suggestions they might have for a program that will resonate with them.

Some of the components you might want to take into account for your virtual wellness program include:

  • Instructional mental and physical fitness videos
  • Team building activities for virtual workers
  • Holistic wellness sessions like guided meditation
  • Tracking options for employees to see their progress
  • Gamification or other incentives to keep employees active in the wellness program
  • Nutrition guides

For virtual teams, again, you want to be very heavy on your mental and emotional health focus.

Encourage a sense of openness about mental health. That doesn’t mean employees have to share their own mental health struggles, but you might regularly bring in experts to speak on topics or personal experiences. Even if someone doesn’t want to talk about what they’re going through, they know they aren’t alone.

You can work with a professional therapist to develop a mental health toolkit that your team can access as needed. If possible, providing counseling support can be a valuable part of a healthcare package.

You can also promote better mental health by encouraging less formal conversations that aren’t always focused on work, remembering that many employees may not have a lot of social interaction in their daily lives. For example, maybe you have dedicated Slack channels where people can have so-called water cooler conversations.

Create a Hub of Healthy Living Resources

Probably one of the lowest cost and most effective things you can do as you build a virtual wellness program is offer a hub of resources. Your team should be able to access this hub anytime. It might include exercise videos, subscription options, and you can also have a repository of healthy recipes.

Host Virtual Wellness Sessions

Give your employees the chance to take a break from daily tasks, have face-to-face time with their coworkers, even in a virtual setting, and also learn about self-care. You can have presentations or training sessions with various wellness experts.

Along with guided sessions from experts, you can also have group virtual exercise or yoga classes, cooking classes, or group guided meditations.

Be Flexible

As you design a virtual or remote wellness program, you always want to keep flexibility in mind. Everyone is going to have their interests, concerns, and comfort levels. If you’re going to incentivize employees for participating, remember that in your point or reward structure.

A lot of employers are struggling right now. The pandemic is continuing, as is remote work. Employees prefer to work from home, but that’s not without challenges for everyone involved. Developing a remote wellness program is a good way to combat many of these challenges and have happier, healthy employees who can give their best to their jobs.

A virtual wellness program also lets you be creative and flexible.

Published: January 18, 2022
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