Workplace wellness trends to watch for in 2021.

It has been a year of unprecedented changes. While trying to adjust to these changes and cope with the heightened uncertainty brought on by the pandemic, many Canadians have been raising concerns about their worsening mental health.

A recent study indicates that, last year, two-thirds of Canadians (67%) said their mental health was good or very good, while this year only 53% can say the same. Isolation, decreased social interactions, as well as worry about financial security and health are among the main factors contributing to this trend.

As the emotional challenges of workers continue to deepen, employers are looking for ways to support their employees’ well-being and mitigate the negative effects the pandemic may have on the workforce.

In these exceptionally stressful times, maintaining a happy and healthy workforce is certainly no easy task for employers. But their efforts can have positive impacts on employee morale and productivity in the long run. Tailoring wellness programs and benefits to employees’ needs not only gives businesses a competitive advantage in retaining talent, but can also contribute to greater employee engagement, reduced stress, decreased absenteeism and better overall health outcomes.

As employers look for ways to adapt their wellness offerings in the coming year, here are the trends that stand out as we forge our way through the pandemic and beyond:

  1. Taking a holistic approach to employee wellness.

    Plan sponsors and employers know that a happy, healthy workforce makes for more productive and engaged employees – and ultimately better business outcomes. With an increased focus on employee well-being, wellness strategies have come to endorse a broader definition of what “wellness” means. Now more than ever, employees turn to their employers to help provide solutions not only for their physical well-being, but in all aspects of their life. Employee wellness programs can reflect the interconnections between physical, nutritional, mental, social, financial, and even environmental health. In order to include a broader wellness program into their workforce strategies, plan sponsors and employers should work with their benefits advisor or provider to develop a tailored strategy based on claims data and employee input.

  2. Focusing on prevention rather than treatment.

    This year’s TELUS Health report found that 2019 saw the biggest increase in average eligible costs for private drug plans over the past five years. One of the main contributing factors is the increase in the use of medication for mental health issues and a large number of claims for drugs treating depression. And, this coming year will likely see another increase in the costs of employer-provided health plans in Canada – which are set to rise by 7.2% in 2021.To lower chronic disease rates and limit their impact on healthcare and benefits costs, employers and benefits providers are increasingly aiming to offer preventive benefits that boost workplace wellness, as opposed to focusing only on treatment. Adopting this preventive mindset leads to a win-win situation for both employers and employees. While workers benefit from a more holistic wellness program, employers maintain a healthier workforce by providing tools that help address health concerns upstream.

  3. Embracing the modern workplace.

    The pandemic has profoundly changed workplaces and the ways in which work is conducted. Many companies quickly made the switch to remote work and adopted the necessary technology to facilitate this change. A study by the Conference Board of Canada indicates that nearly two thirds of organizations have at least 60% of their workforce working remotely today. And, this trend is here to stay for the foreseeable future – 55% of employers say they will be keeping at least half of their employees working from home going forward. Canadian employees also seem to appreciate their experience with remote work so far – many would like to maintain some form of flexible work arrangements in the future. Ultimately, embracing the modern workplace comes down to adopting more flexibility in workplace strategies, helping improve employee work-life balance in the process.

  4. Tapping into the power of technology.

    A recent poll shows that Canadians are very satisfied with the virtual care options they use as a result of the pandemic. In fact, they would even like to see them improved and expanded in the future.

    Digital health platforms and apps can improve access to mental health professionals and ensure issues are being addressed and treated in a timely and efficient manner. Providing advanced digital health tools also means plan sponsors and employers can take a more preventative approach to employees’ mental and physical health.  This, in turn, can enhance employee wellness across the healthcare continuum and lead to better health outcomes. Learn more about TELUS’ digital health tools: Akira by TELUS Health, Babylon by TELUS Health, and Espri by TELUS Health.

  5. Making wellness every manager’s concern.

    Managers’ support is vital in creating a positive work environment and promoting wellness in the workplace. By investing in mental health-related leadership training, employers can help their managers understand and address mental health issues in the workforce. Managers are also responsible for creating a welcoming and safe environment for their teams as well as encouraging active participation in well-being practices. They have a role to provide information, reach out and communicate effectively about wellness offerings and benefit plans. Especially in today’s context, they have a key role to play in helping their employees manage their mental wellness and take charge of their well-being.

  6. Including financial wellness programs for all employees.

    The 2020 Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey found that the top source of stress for employees are personal finances – with 39% of survey participants citing finances as their number one source of stress. What’s more, FP Canada™ 2020 Financial Stress Index found that four-in-10 Canadians say the pandemic has impacted their financial stress levels and one-in-10 note the pandemic has significantly impacted their financial stress levels.

    And yet, financial wellness is often overlooked in workplace health strategies. With the pandemic’s economic consequences likely worsening employees’ financial anxiety, employers can consider including benefits like extended paid leave, providing easily accessible financial planning support, and setting-up education sessions around financial wellness.

  7. Offering support catered to working parents.

    Amidst lockdowns and school closures, kids popping up on their parents’ zoom meetings has become commonplace in the last few months. To retain and attract working parents, employers will need to address the growing demand for wellness programs focused on the challenges faced by employees with children.

    As parents try to balance both work and family responsibilities, employers can provide options to help support them in their home lives. They can consider providing childcare help, additional paid leave, flexible work hours, and even offer virtual activities for children during lockdowns or quarantines.

  8. Supporting young employees.

    An important finding in the 2020 TELUS Health report shows that younger workers are more likely than their older colleagues to report high levels of stress.  This trend might not get any better in the current context – recent data indicates that the pandemic’s fallout could be more pronounced for workers who are younger, unmarried or less educated.

    For employers, this can lead to higher medical costs and more disability claims from their younger workers – and translate into lost productivity and absenteeism. But there is much employers can do to prevent and act on this issue. Incorporating mental health services into benefit plans, adopting a digitally focused wellness strategy, providing mentorship, creating a culture of wellness and fostering open dialogue are all ways that can help younger employees cope with stress and generate better mental health outcomes in the long term.

  9. Fostering a resilient workforce.

    Resiliency is the ability to overcome challenges and adapt in the face of adversity. Fostering a resilient workforce is especially relevant for businesses today as they face significant challenges as a result of the pandemic. Luckily, resiliency is a skill that can be worked on and cultivated. To help build a strong and resilient workforce, employers can integrate resiliency training into benefit plans, focus on building holistic wellness strategies, and boost mental health education.

  10. Promoting social connectedness and community involvement.

    A recent study by the Angus Reid Institute indicates that the significant drop in social activities during the pandemic has taken its toll on Canadians. The percentage of those saying they have a good social life has dropped from more than half in 2019 (55%) to just one in-three (33%) this year.

    Although social isolation is necessary to curb the spread of COVID-19, it also carries significant mental health risks for the workforce. For employers, it is more important than ever to encourage and facilitate regular communication with employees and find ways for them to remain connected to the workplace and their colleagues. Encouraging employees to be engaged in charitable work can also be beneficial and help employees feel a greater sense of purpose. To do this, employers can leverage giving programs into benefit plans or set-up a corporate social responsibility program.

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