Why You Need to Rethink Your Employee Wellness Benefits

working mom

Employee wellness benefits are in demand.

So says a new report, identifying 20 employer benefits trends, from mental health to stress relief.

It's a heartening development that says employers are recognizing that their employees are being tugged from all sides. But in an era when work routinely bumps up against personal lives, can you really impact wellness by addressing it directly?

It's a good question. If stress is the culprit, stress-management as a wellness benefit seems like it will only get you so far. Like a back-injuring exercise routine, you have to change the routine to permanently stop the pain. In the same way, you need to address the things that cause employee stress to cure the stress itself.

And what are some of today's stresses?

Schedules

The 9-to-5 workday is often out of synch with 2018 life. It's true for parents of school children who have hours on each end of the workday that don't quite fit with work. It's equally true for anyone with an unwieldy commute and a workday that has to start and end with rush hour.

Wellness response: flex time

Check the comment threads of any work/life balance story and you'll read about workplaces that value face time over deadlines. But in the internet age when people can work from anywhere, there's no reason not to use digital connections to accommodate school hours or to give an employee the breather of a commute-free day at home. Work-life expert Morra Aarons-Mele says inflexibility makes your valuable working mothers - all 25 million of them - a serious turnover risk. "Mom will leave because she doesn't have control of her time," Morra told our Work-Life Equation podcast. "She doesn't have flexibility. And that's a shame."

New babies

Morning sickness is only one cause of expectant parent queasiness; finding quality child care is another. No wonder. The Center for American Progress says more than half the population lives in an area considered a child care desert. And here's a fun fact from the Washington Post: "More than three-quarters of mothers and half of fathers in the United States say they've passed up work opportunities, switched jobs or quit to tend to their kids."

Wellness response: child care

Study after study says parents are choosing jobs for family friendliness. Our own Modern Family Index says half have even taken less money for the privilege. The feel-good benefits of knowing where your children are going to go every day just can't be overstated. It will help your leadership pipelines stay healthy, too.

Long-Distance Parents

The only thing worse than worrying about an ailing parent on the other side of the country is the nagging feeling that something's amiss. With roughly 44 million people in the eldercare boat, that's a lot of productivity-sapping distraction.

Wellness response: back-up care

The singular cure for such discomfort is to give employees someone to call. One manager who uses her employer's back-up care for her grandmother put it this way: "I think my whole workday would be a little bit off if I sat and I was worried about her all day. Instead I can have confidence that she's being well taken care of." The same network can also solve the parental pain of wondering what to do if school calls a snow day.

Student loans

Money is a big problem for people when they don't have control of it. But that's a common occurrence for the 70 percent of the population carrying a share of the $1.4 trillion in student debt. And the worry carries over to jobs where employees spend valuable work time trying to solve money issues...or just worrying about them.

Wellness response: student loan repayment

Paying down student loans is more than just an infusion of cash. "Matching payments on an employee's ten-year loan can potentially cut that commitment in half," wrote Jonathan Corke not long ago about the many good reasons to help employees with debt. Complement those payments with advice on paying down the other half, and you've both restored some healthy feelings of control and tackled the source of financial instability.

That last part (money) is important. Finances are already a big part of the wellness trend. In fact the above study showed that nearly two thirds of employers plan to up their financial wellness investments. No wonder since money management - and more pointedly, money problems - are a big part of stress.

And it's not just employees who benefit from response strategies. Solve the problems that cause employees' pain - and everybody (including the organization) feels better.

Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.