8 Things Small Businesses Need to Know About Employee Wellness

Employee wellness is a vital part of human resource management for small businesses, especially after the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. The employee wellness conversation has also shifted recently, including mental and spiritual health, as well as physical wellness, in the discussion. 

From benefits to culture, here are eight considerations for small businesses to think about as they design their custom programs for employee wellness.

Choose wellness benefits that employees are excited about

As people spend about a third of their lives at work, it’s important to offer employee wellness benefits that promote healthy habits and reflect employees’ health wellness priorities. Top wellness benefits that employees enjoy include healthy snack options or snack boxes that also adhere to any dietary or allergen concerns, employee assistance programs to support the 40% of Americans who reported dealing with anxious or depressive symptoms and innovative office equipment, like adjustable standing desks, that promote productivity and heart-healthy habits.

If you’re unsure of the wellness benefits your employees would benefit from the most, conduct a survey or hold a wellness fair to educate and inform all the different ways you as a company can support employees on their wellness journeys.

Understand how COVID-19 and vaccination mandates affect employees

The COVID-19 pandemic permanently shifted employees’ perceptions in a variety of spaces, two of which are flexible work conditions and personal health choices.

For the majority of office jobs, the pandemic proved that many — if not all — duties can be completed productively from home. For some employees, working from home is a non-negotiable perk they crave, while others thrive in an office setting. Striking a balance with a hybrid work setting can make both types of employees happy and fulfill what is best for their home and work life.

As vaccinations become more available and the Delta variant of COVID-19 looms, many companies are considering mandating their employees to receive vaccinations or attest to whether they are vaccinated or not. In either case, it’s a company’s responsibility to protect their employees and make them feel comfortable. While reconciling vaccinated and non-vaccinated employees can be difficult, it’s in a business’s best interest to find the middle ground and protect its employees and their loved ones.

[Read more: Requiring Vaccinations? Here’s How To Communicate With Your Staff]

How to go beyond simple remote employee wellness check-ins

Employers can reach out to employees in more caring ways than asking, “How are you today?” to ensure employee wellness, especially for remote workers. Specifically, business owners can institute employee wellness programs that define and track wellness objectives, analyze patterns in requested sick leave, offer annual health screenings and ask for more in-depth feedback through surveys.

Those who choose to remain remote may be at a higher risk for burnout, with 65% of surveyed remote workers reporting that they work more hours at home than in the office. As a leader and business owner, it’s important to show the value you hold for employees’ health and mental wellness — and help to find solutions to issues that can be solved.

Hybrid work cultures and their effects on employee wellness

Among the lasting changes employers and employees can expect to see post-pandemic, hybrid work cultures offer a happy medium of in-person and work-from-home flexibility. Companies adopting this offer their employees the balance of in-person team building and social interaction with peers with the autonomy of working remotely.

However, it’s important to strive for equity among departments that enjoy hybrid work, as some job duties may demand a portion of employees to be in the office more than others. Keeping an open line of communication is vital when attempting to find the right balance and includes considering employee preferences, offering flexibility and experimenting or adjusting accordingly.

Offer workplace programs to promote wellness, inclusion and engagement

While employee fatigue and burnout isn’t new, the pandemic threw “people-first” ethos into sharp relief. To demonstrate the value employees have to an organization, employers and business leaders are beginning to find creative workplace programs that promote whole-body wellness of employees. 

Some companies put a larger emphasis on mental and physical health as it pertains to the person, not the employee and their job — and support their out-of-work endeavors, including extracurricular passions, family needs and more. Others participate in volunteer work with charities or nonprofits that are important to their employees. Still, more companies take employee wellness initiatives one step further by hiring wellness coordinators for employees, instituting fitness and mindfulness classes during work hours or allotting a stipend for employees to create a calming, productive space for their home office.

Prioritize physical activity to boost business productivity and growth

Based on scientific research, physical activity has been shown to make employees more productive, more creative and happier.

Employees who sit all day tend to have more neck and back pain and are more fatigued and less satisfied with their jobs than their active counterparts. As such, employers who encourage and support employees to take breaks away from their desks, provide adjustable standing desks, sponsor physical challenges like walks and runs and educate employees on the importance of moving during the workday can improve employee wellness and business performance.

[Read more: 5 Small Business Owners on How They Support Employee Wellness]

Curb negativity to improve employee mental health

Workplace incivility can quickly fester and break down employee mental health and negatively affect performance. From rudeness to outright hostility, incivility issues both in person or over emails/video conferences should be addressed and solved immediately to discourage the practice. 

Small businesses are especially vulnerable to incivility issues causing a larger issue, as the smaller team size lends itself to a quicker spread of negativity. To foster civility and kindness, proactively and reactively respond to issues at all stages — from the hiring process to annual reviews of tenured workers. Instituting a zero-tolerance policy can stop mistreatment in its tracks, as well as training managers to identify hostile verbal and nonverbal behaviors, including sarcasm, eye-rolling, exclusionary behaviors and more.

Support employee-favored charities to give back

Businesses have long donated and volunteered with charitable organizations in their communities, but it becomes an employee wellness benefit when the employee gets to choose the organization to which a company donates. 

Giving employees the opportunity to share why a charity is important to them, involving their co-workers in a cause close to their heart and actively contributing to and bringing awareness around the issue they’re passionate about not only demonstrates a company’s dedication to an employee as a person but makes the community or world a better place with the selfless acts of donating or volunteering.

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