WFH to WFA: Sustaining Remote Employee Wellness in 2021

Work From Home (WFH) and Work From Anywhere (WFA) are proving beneficial and will continue into 2021. Read more about how to promote wellness in 2021.

Remote work arrangements have been an essential, safe, and productive alternative to onsite work during the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. Companies are embracing this approach as part of their corporate culture. For instance, despite their extensive office campuses, leading technology firms and Woodruff Sawyer have committed to remote work, allowing employees to work where they feel most productive and safe. These Work From Home (WFH) and Work From Anywhere (WFA) arrangements are proving beneficial to employers and employees and will continue for the foreseeable future.

Remote Working Continues in 2021

WFH and WFA employee arrangements impact not only the face of work and company culture, but challenge employers to support the well-being of employees in new ways. In 2020, we discovered many previously unaddressed stressors caused by remote working that impact an employee's physical, emotional, mental, family, social, and financial health.

In response to these challenges, Woodruff Sawyer created the HR Toolkit for Remote Employee Well-Being to help guide employers through these challenges to ensure their employees can thrive, not just survive, in this new world of work.

The Four Types of Employee Wellness

According to one survey of employee expectations, the burnout associated with the pandemic is expected to cost the global economy over $323 billion annually, resulting in an overall and dramatic reduction in employee well-being. As a result, employers should focus not just on employee engagement, but employee health and well-being for the company's brand and long term success.

Employers are in a unique position to address four types of wellness:

Physical wellness goes beyond gym memberships. Creating employee benefits and programs that target diabetes, heart disease, musculoskeletal injuries, and opioid use is a critical part of all programs, improving both employee health and employer productivity. Incentive programs, exercise program discounts, and chronic condition point solutions have been well-received by employees.

Social wellness helps remote employees feel engaged with their employer, addressing loneliness, fatigue, and burnout. Virtual events, mentoring, and fun activities are ways to help remote employees feel a part of a supportive group, wherever work happens.

Mental health wellness is a critical issue for people of all ages. Employees are feeling the stress of remote work, but may also be dealing with youth, teen, and adult mental health issues in their home. EAP and mental health resources are key to helping employees get the assistance they need for themselves and their families. Read more about how to address children's mental health to help your employees who are parents. Telehealth is also a valuable tool for individuals and families to get care at home.

Financial wellness programs offer employees ways to save money, budget better, and alleviate the number-one cause of stress on the job. Employers can benefit from a spectrum of offerings that include financial planners, loan assistance, or on-demand payment methods to help alleviate common struggles.

The Employer's HR Toolkit offers an extensive list of steps employers can take today to improve the four types of wellness that lead to improved productivity, better health, and less stress for their workforce.

Creating a Supportive Environment for Remote Workers

While many employees prefer WFH arrangements, other employees miss the social and supportive atmosphere that a workplace offers. Onboarding, mentoring, and coaching were activities done in-person in the pre-pandemic workplace. Without these support systems, it can be difficult for employees to have a deeper level of engagement in the workplace.

The unique challenges faced by a WFH workforce include:

  • Reduced motivation
  • Lack of face-to-face interaction
  • Social isolation
  • Limited or lack of access to necessary information
  • Distractions at home

Relationships are at the heart of business and companies have had to implement ways to keep virtual connections alive to provide guidance to their staff. It has never been more important for managers to establish expectations, project goals, routine check-ins, and create ways to stay connected to their teams. Looking for signs that employee well-being is on track is also vital to identify people who are struggling and may need more than just virtual managerial support. New family routines, like caretaking of children and elders, can (and does) create a drain on an employee's wellbeing.

However, managers are challenged to address their own issues in a WFH arrangement while supervising and developing their staff members who face similar challenges. These unique circumstances require employers to put a plan in place that includes staff schedules and new work routines while adjusting the cadence of how work gets done. A flurry of new policies may be required as companies adapt to or expand their remote workforce to comply with changing federal and state laws.

Technology enablement has been a big issue as the workplace immediately transitioned to a virtual, remote environment. New employee workstations, equipment, and the IT personnel to implement them was a challenge for many companies. As employers become accustomed to a virtual environment, they must also identify the training necessary for employees to effectively use these new tools.

The Power of "Thank You"

It has never been more important to make sure employees are recognized for their work. Their heroic efforts have helped companies survive in an uncertain and volatile business environment. A Gallup poll indicated that 2020 had the most employee engagement volatility on record. According to Gallup, "employee engagement is a consistent predictor of many important organizational outcomes across more than two decades, even during massive changes in the economy and technological advances."

The October 2020 study indicated that 36% of employees are actively engaged, the same percentage as pre-COVID results. Employees also indicated that 41% of them strongly agree that they remained informed by their manager of organizational changes. The problem area? Managers are reporting higher levels of stress and burnout than the teams they manage.

It has never been more important to make sure employees are acknowledged for the work they do. Whether it is an informal recognition plan to say "thanks " or a formal program that includes peer-to-peer praise, rewards for company values-based behaviors, tenure recognition, or performance based acknowledgement for remote employees can go far beyond the value of a paycheck.

Employers Should Act Now to Promote Wellness in 2021

Employers gained experience in remote work environments during 2020 as the pandemic forced them to rapidly transition their workforce. Now that they have experience with WFH and WFA, they are in a better position to support their employees as remote working continues into 2021.

The HR Toolkit for Remote Employee Well-Being addresses what actions employers should take now to improve employee wellness. The toolkit includes programs and protocols employers should implement as well as a checklist that will guide them through setting up a remote work environment that promotes wellness.

The HR Toolkit includes a wellness scorecard to evaluate current programs and action steps, as well as checklists for remote workplace ergonomics, workstation setups, and all-important employee recognition programs. There's no need to reinvent the wheel: the HR Toolkit guides employers to create a workplace that promotes employee wellness for all employees.

Use this Employer's HR Toolkit for Remote Employee Wellness

Woodruff Sawyer's HR Toolkit for Remote Employee Well-Being is now available as a free resource. In this concise guide, you will find the critical action steps and checklist to ensure you address all forms of employee wellness.

Woodruff Sawyer is committed to helping employers address the continued challenges of remote work as part of the new world of work. If you need more help to create the guidelines that will help your remote workforce, reach out to your Woodruff Sawyer Benefits advisor.

Read more about the Employee Benefits Practice at Woodruff Sawyer


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