How Do Employers Prioritize Workforce Wellness?

employees do yoga at worksite

If COVID-19 has reinforced any maxim, it’s this: personal health and wellness is the cornerstone of longevity and livelihood. While the lines have blurred between work and home, the need for comprehensive healthcare — and affordable plans that cover it — has become remarkably clear. How will you, the employer, take action to prioritize this need for robust employee benefits options? 

Personalized Vs. “Traditional” Benefits

 In previous years, a comprehensive plan would likely include the following components: 

  • Plan options (PPO and HMO, tiered pricing)
  • Ability to continue seeing a preferred doctor 
  • Affordable copays
  • Prescription drug benefits

Yet these more “traditional” benefit perks aren’t enough to satisfy employees in the ongoing and post-pandemic workforce. To bolster your benefits, consider incentives that reward and motivate employees’ health awareness and long-term lifestyle changes. 

Employees, now more than in years before, value services that suit the holistic needs of themselves and their loved ones. As a result, they have shown increasing interest in more personalized wellness perks, such as …

  • Acupuncture and chiropractic care
  • Expansion or inclusion of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)
  • Online services: telemedicine, mental health resources, guided meditations and physical activities
  • Flexible / alternative funding of health insurance benefits, such as self-funding and level-funded premium plans
  • Health programs via wearable devices (Fitbits and Apple Watches)
  • More personalized package pricing and plans for individual and/or family needs

Ways to Offer Personalized Benefits Packages and Plans

Let’s break down a few standout incentives that you can expand or add to your existing benefits packages.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) provide support and resources for issues in a person’s life that can impact their productivity, performance, health, and well-being at work. While the majority of employers have offered EAP benefits to employees, fewer than 7% of employees in North America have actually used their benefits (as cited in the November 2021 edition of California Broker Magazine).

The reasons for employees’ under-utilization of EAP services are many: EAP programs may cost some money, and services are more limited than standard health insurance benefits. Employees may also forget about the EAP option, or question the confidentiality of services, or are reluctant to reach out, or are unclear about how to access the program. What’s more, employees may not even know these benefits exist!

EAP benefits to employees often include the following services: 

  • Immediate phone access to a counselor
  • Free, limited sessions with a mental healthcare professional to provide support for marriage and family challenges, substance abuse, and emotional difficulties

EAP services may also include ..

  • Links to childcare and elder care providers
  • Identity-theft services
  • Estate and financial planning

Through EAP services, employees are able to seek confidential, accessible, low-cost (or free) support for their professional and personal well-being. Plus, many services are remote — via apples, videoconferencing, and helplines. The net result: greater workplace productivity, reduced burnout and absenteeism, and crucial support for any employee facing mental or emotional distress.

How to Take Advantage of EAPs

If your firm doesn’t have an EAP in place, consider the long-term value of expanding employees’ healthcare access beyond standard insurance plans. Then talk to a group health insurance agent who will guide you through EAP options that are best suited to your budget and your employees’ needs. 

If you already have an employee EAP, assess what you can do to increase participation in existing services. Your company probably informed employees of the EAP during their onboarding process or the yearly open enrollment period. At these times, though, an employee may be navigating the first days on the job or prioritizing the cost or accessibility of a health plan, not the added perks of a wellness program. 

Remind your employees regularly — via Q&As, lunchtime meetings, and company-wide newsletters — that EAP benefits provide wide-ranging, confidential support to address the life stressors that may be impacting their workplace wellness. The challenges we face at home impact how we perform at work, and the stress of work comes home with us. When employers provide EAP services, they acknowledge the intersection of employees’ complex professional and personal lives.

Wellness & Prevention Programs

A happy employee wants to thrive, not just survive, in and out of their workplace. Health initiatives push employees to seek services that reinforce healthy mind and body goals. For example, employers can provide passes or discounts to local yoga studios or gyms. They can also provide programs that focus on weight management, smoking cessation, and behavioral or lifestyle coaching. 

And because much of the working world has transitioned to remote communication and services, employees will expect these programs and incentives to be available online — and accessible at their convenience. The net result of employee health and wellness programs: improved well-being, health, and morale among employees, and reduced business costs for employers.

Alternative Funding

In addition to comprehensive EAP and wellness services, employers can also provide flexibility in how they fund benefits for employees. This flexibility may include self-funding (or self-insuring) and level-funded premium programs. 

A self-funded plan pays for some or all employees’ health services from the firms’ funds, rather than a firm purchasing insurance plans to cover healthcare expenses. While large employers (with 1,000-plus employees) already use self-funded plans, smaller organizations have yet to transition to this model. In fact, 82% of covered employees in large firms and 21% in small firms are enrolled in self-funded plans.

Level-funded premium plans, on the other hand, use enrollees’ health status to underwrite and set premiums. While the percentage of employers offering self-funded benefits has remained constant from 2020 to 2021, a higher percentage of smaller firms (42%) implemented level-funded premium plans in 2021.

Employers Prioritize Workforce Wellness through Personalized Benefits

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged employers to critically examine how to keep their business running. And a major factor in returning to “business as usual” is the ongoing, holistic needs of employees. After all, employee fatigue literally burns the candle on both ends: employees take days off, lose motivation and productivity, or quit; and employers shoulder the cost of losing, hiring, and retaining employees. 

While the specifics of your benefit plans depend on your employee demographics, firm size, and budget, the key takeaway of 2020-21 is that employees value their long-term health management. Caring for the emotional, mental, and physical health of employees and their dependents generates higher value for the employer and an increased appreciation and loyalty from employees. 

In 2022, expect employee benefits to include EAPs, alternative, and wellness and prevention services that expand employees’ access to high-value health services. To get support assessing your company’s benefits package, reach out to an agent at Regency West. They’ll work with you to design benefit plans that prioritize your budget and your employees’ longevity. From there, you decide what to keep, what to expand, and what to leave behind in 2021.