How the Pandemic Changed Global Wellbeing — and What Employers Can Do to Succeed

Traditionally, the focus of employer wellbeing programs in the United States has been improving the health of U.S. employees in an effort to mitigate higher long-term healthcare costs. However, the pandemic has provided us with a much-needed change in perspective.

In the face of an extreme, unprecedented crisis, companies had to respond rapidly in order to keep their workforce safe while still managing costs and productivity. Needless to say, this was far from an easy task. The past year has shown us that wellbeing programs are more important than ever, and they are undergoing a fundamental shift to better meet the whole-person health needs of employees for the rest of the pandemic and beyond.

COVID-19 has caused many employers to revisit their global wellbeing resources and quickly take action to meet their employees’ current and future needs. This is a good time for employer programming to continue evolving. According to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, people around the world trust their employer more than they trust their government and the media. Company leadership can leverage this heightened trust to guide their employees along the path to better health and wellbeing. 

Embracing Whole-Person Health and Global Wellbeing

Rather than prioritizing the usual wellbeing frontrunners — physical activity and nutrition — employers are starting to embrace whole-person health, an approach that incorporates all aspects of an individual’s wellbeing: physical, mental, social, and financial. The pandemic has highlighted just how crucial all of these facets are.

In December 2020, for example, 42% of U.S. adults indicated they had symptoms of anxiety or depression. Pre-pandemic, only 11% did. In addition, as the pandemic persisted, personal finances became a much bigger stressor. Late in 2020, 48% of knowledge workers said they were stressed about money — a drastic increase from the 9% who said so 90 days earlier.

Beyond a whole-health approach, the most forward-thinking, multinational organizations are expanding their wellbeing programs to include the entire workforce, no matter the country of residence. Around the world, each and every human being had to deal with different types of loss, transitioning from in-office to remote work — or, if essential, not feeling safe at work — becoming accustomed to long-term separation from loved ones, possibly taking on the responsibility of childcare and homeschooling, and more. It has been a powerful reminder that we all have daily struggles impacting our health, wellbeing, and work performance.

Without a doubt, addressing the health needs of all employees is important, including those who live in countries with government-sponsored healthcare. Providing these team members with the resources to manage their health may not directly affect an employer’s healthcare spend, but it will provide a return on investment in other ways. Helping employees achieve an improved wellbeing status, no matter where they live, can lead to increased levels of engagement and productivity, decreased absenteeism and presenteeism, and more seamless collaboration.

Plus, providing every team member with access to wellbeing resources can go a long way in boosting employee morale and aligning the whole team with the company culture.

Three Crucial Components of a Global Wellbeing Program

1. Engage the Total Employee Population

Because everyone’s health needs are complex and unique, a one-size-fits-all wellbeing program won’t suffice — unfortunately, it will just end up leaving many people behind. In order to engage as much of the workforce as possible, health benefits programs need to provide options that tap into all the different sectors of wellbeing. But it can’t stop there.

Leveraging data can be incredibly useful for employers, as it will allow them to split their populations into different segments and provide personalized messaging and recommendations. The more relevant a message is to an employee, the more likely they are to participate.

Ideally, employees would be able to visit one central digital hub — rather than several different apps or websites — where they can easily engage in the healthy habits and programs that meet their needs best.

2. Foster a Culture of Health Across the Entire Organization

It’s important that all employees have equal opportunity to engage in wellbeing activities and fun, inclusive challenges that encourage healthy behaviors and employee socialization. And, when possible, it’s recommended that program offerings vary by country. For example, an employer with an employee population split between the U.S. and India could provide a motorcycle safety class specifically for the employees in India since motorcycles are significantly more popular there — and thus more relevant for those team members than for their U.S. counterparts.

Offering incentives for participation and milestone achievement can help promote continued engagement; ideally, these rewards would be readily available and easy to use in every country or customized by geographical area. A Target gift card, for example, wouldn’t appeal to employees in Spain, but a Visa gift card is more universal.

In addition, providing a place for colleagues to connect and discuss their wellbeing journey is a great way to build a community, help people work toward their personal health goals, and, ultimately, establish a culture of health that’s woven into the fabric of the organization.

3. Provide Widespread Accessibility 

To optimize a global wellbeing program, it’s important the experience is easily accessible to all team members, no matter where they live. That means providing resources and translating support services in as many different languages as possible, as you don’t want a language barrier to be the reason someone doesn’t engage in a health benefits program.

As multinational employers continue enhancing their global wellbeing strategy, they have a unique opportunity to take into account what their employees care about most and consistently gather feedback to ensure they’re aligned with the wants and needs of their workforce.