2016 in review: The year in wellness

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To broaden the horizons of wellness, employers have driven the need to focus plans not only on the physical and nutritional aspects, but also to expand into mental soundness and financial stability.

Craig Schmidt, senior wellness consultant at EPIC, has seen a strong focus around three main areas: mindfulness, stress and financial wellness.

“This is a different trend than what has been done in the past with regard to traditional wellness programs where the industry would identify a chronic disease risk and focus their efforts solely on nutrition, activity and … avoiding a chronic condition, instead of living a healthy lifestyle and improving healthy behaviors,” Schmidt says.

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This year, wellness consultants maintained a growing focus on financial wellbeing. Some approached these programs by offering debt assistance programs, many directed toward assisting with student loan debt. This approach not only helps the employee with paying off a loan that could very well last decades, but it also increases retention of millennial employees who have been known not to stay with a single company for long periods of time.

Financial wellness and college debt “is a growing concern and employers want to assist and help employees be better fiscally, but at this time its uncharted territory that we don’t know what the results of the programs are or what employees are looking for on an individual basis,” Schmidt says.

Expanding mental wellness
In an attempt to break the stereotypes and stigmas around mental health, many wellness consultants are making a push to encourage the use of mental and social assistance programs like EAPs, in the workplace. Emily Noll, national director of wellness solutions at CBIZ, says more employers are seeking mindfulness and resiliency programs on a regular basis to reduce stress and improve employee engagement.

“CEOs and CFOs are paying attention to the data on the benefits of meditation practice, yoga and other techniques that yield better focus, more creativity and make their employees better equipped to solve problems and avoid workplace conflict,” Noll says. “One HR director told me that when she boarded the train to head home in the evenings she would doze off, but after participating in a weekly at-work mindfulness program, she felt more energized during her work day and was alert even on her commute home.”

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Jeff Smith, workplace possibilities practice consultant at The Standard, says when his company partners with clients to assist with wellness or disability programs, they seek to not only assist the employer with their needs but also work with them to inform the employees of what mental wellness programs are available to use.

“If we are working with somebody who would benefit from reaching out to their EAP program, we’re letting them know that their employer does offer a great EAP program and let them know what they are entitled to,” Smith says. “We are following up with them to see if they had a chance to speak to them, not about what or when, but just to follow up and if not then we are just refreshing their memory with the number.”

Looking ahead to 2017
When Schmidt looks ahead to the coming year, he predicts there will be more focus on mental, emotional and mindfulness in the workplace. “I see there being a focus on engaging employees in their work, and mindfulness will play a large role,” Schmidt says.

On top of an increased awareness of mental and emotional need, Schmidt says there will be more attention on corporate culture, with companies focusing on creating an environment where employees want to be at work.

“Millennials are known to be the job hoppers and millennials now make up a large portion of the workforce. Retention of these employees is going to be an important focus in the battle for talent,” he says. “Wellness will be a difference-maker to this group, as worth, value and well-being is an important focus for millennials.”

Noll agrees with Schmidt’s prediction of an emphasis on corporate culture, saying companies will need to provide more training for leaders and managers on how to improve culture, well-being and engagement.

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“Managers have a significant influence on their employees and developing high performing teams — team members need to be well to perform at their best,” Noll says.

Julie Ciura, head of Lawley’s wellness team, says she is keeping track of the new EEOC rules going into 2017 which will put more explicit language on how employers can incentivize their employees for participating in their wellness programs.

“As of Jan. 1, based on the EEOC new rules, group can no longer do benefit differentials for incentives,” Ciura says. “There is new language that they have to include, some disclosure standpoints, and there’s impact to the amount of incentive for participation-based programs. [This is] in addition to what is currently in existence for outcome-based programs as well as what spouses can earn, if spouses are included in the program.”

Helping clients navigate through these new and extensive rules in the coming year is likely to be a top priority for consultants.

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Wellness programs Wellness program ROI Outcomes-based wellness incentives Health and wellness Employee engagement Benefit strategies