2022: The Year For a Corporate Wellness Transformation

Over the past two years, organisations have made great progress in corporate wellness: from improving workplace health and safety, providing emotional health support and resources, and destigmatising the issue of mental health. In Asia alone, 83%¹ of organisations have increased their physical and/or mental health support levels in the past year, to help employees to cope with the increasing complexity of health and security issues brought about by the pandemic.

However, the new year is likely to bring fresh challenges. In October, the Singapore government announced that only fully vaccinated employees will be allowed to return to the workplace starting 1 January 2022. Employees are likely to face an entirely new work environment upon their return, and will have to adjust to new workplace cultures, differing opinions and beliefs in the workplace, and a change to daily lifestyles again.

More so, new COVID-19 variants, fresh outbreaks, and the prolonged psychosocial impacts of remote working over the past two years will bring new obstacles that will have a ripple effect through any organisation. To cope with this new landscape, organisations need to adopt a renewed focus on the holistic wellbeing of the workforce – where they feel empowered with purpose, supported emotionally and physically, and part of a community where they have a strong social support network.

This will involve building upon the progress that organisations have already made in prioritising employee health and wellbeing and embracing this emerging opportunity to not just support employees, but to enhance their wellbeing. Looking ahead, how can we make 2022 the year for a corporate wellness transformation?

Three steps towards corporate wellness transformation

Through our work with our clients, we have put together some key strategies that businesses can adopt to promote a holistic employee wellbeing.

1. Consider physical and mental health as one

A healthy mind begins with a healthy body, and vice versa. From both a medical and behavioural perspective, mental and physical health are intricately linked. How we feel changes how we eat and how we exercise, for instance. This goes both ways with certain foods, diets and physical activity levels affecting our moods.

Start with knowing your people, getting an understanding of where they are at, and how they can be supported in both their mental and physical wellbeing. Reminders and encouragement to stay updated on vaccine boosters and prioritise their own health with frequent exercise and healthy meals is a good starting point. We have also developed Emotional Health or Mental Resilience tools that have been scientifically validated and can assess areas of improvement for both individuals and groups. With these tools, organisations can gain an understanding into how their workforce is coping, and curate a tailored programme to improved targeted aspects of mental health with measurable outcomes.

From there, increasing awareness for mental health issues will help to combat stigma, and cultivate a workplace culture that is open and supportive. This can come in the form of conveying the types of support available, and sharing resources on ways to deal with stress, managing workloads and keeping a good work-life balance. Building a positive workplace culture demonstrates the organisation’s encouragement for actions that promote mental and emotional wellbeing – creating a safe space for employees to lean on and share openly about their health challenges without fear of discrimination. It is however imperative that this is not a “tickbox exercise” as a perceived lack of authenticity and empathy from sponsors and senior management may have the potential to backfire.

The ramifications of ‘long-COVID’, and its knock-on effects on mental wellbeing is yet another challenge we have to prepare for in the new year. The true impact of ‘long-COVID’ has yet to unfold, and initial studies are showing that people can experience different types and combinations of health problems for varying lengths of time after having COVID-19.

Organisations will need to adopt a proactive management and support for employees with ‘long-COVID’ symptom and should look at aligning of HR policies to accommodate long absenteeism, providing education for employees about the ‘long-COVID’ condition for early diagnosis, and ensuring access to quality care and treatment for employees with ‘long- COVID’.

2. Prioritise communication and open discourse

Communication and discourse is the second pillar in a corporate wellness transformation. The International SOS Risk Outlook 2022 revealed that 47% of Asian organisations still struggle with having adequate resources to deal with COVID-19. With such a long-drawn pandemic, regular communication with employees helps motivate, educate, and support them amidst the fluctuations and anxieties.

The ongoing infodemic also underscores the need for communication and discourse in the workplace. With employees being bombarded in their daily, technology-filled lives with varying advice and information, there is a higher risk of exposure to factually inaccurate information around COVID-19, which can incite feelings of distrust, paranoia or anxiety.

Employees instinctively trust their organisations, with the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer reporting that 76% of employees trust in employer information above all other sources. With this trust, businesses have a key role and responsibility to provide accurate and timely information around vaccine misinformation, political situations and security threats, forinstance. This will offer critical reassurance for employees and help foster resilience in times of uncertainty.

In building an open environment and culture centred on corporate wellness, businesses should not underestimate the power of emotional support services such as remote confidential counselling and telehealth assistance by a team of health experts. Above being able to provide clinically-proven support for affected employees, these third-party services can offer employees with easy access and greater security that their issues will be handled with confidentiality and professionalism. These channels should be communicated widely and consistently. By implementing multiple, varied channels of support, employees can be assured that they can seek assistance and support in a way that they are comfortable with.

3. Safeguarding the travelling workforce

Finally, as more Vaccinated Travel Lanes are announced and business travel return towards pre-pandemic levels, it’s important to recognise that travel security and health risk exposure has increased significantly since pre-COVID-19 times. Travellers today are nine-times more likely to require a Medical Evacuation than in 2019, due to the direct impacts of COVID-19 infection, a surge in demand for access to quality healthcare, and the added complexities of COVID-19 testing, isolation and quarantines across international borders. Other perennial security risks such as civil unrest, terrorism, or geopolitical tensions will also continue to impact regional mobility and threaten employee safety.

Navigating travel in this new landscape will require adaptability, preparation and awareness on the part of both the individual and the business. Organisations should align travel policies with prevailing rules and regulations in destination locations, such as testing and quarantine requirements. Developing a comprehensive travel policy with safe “bubbles” for business travellers throughout their trip, channels to keep employees well-informed of the measures, and 24/7 support and assistance will help employees to navigate the uncertainties abroad with a greater peace of mind.

The rise of a CHO role

Engaging the organisation to address corporate wellness is a gargantuan task that will require commitment at senior management level, especially in the C-suite. That said, the pandemic has already made employee wellbeing a regular board-level discussion in most organisations, and a recent survey by the International SOS Foundation reveals that a quarter of businesses see the role of health being part of the C-suite in the future2.

Numerous big organisations already have a Chief Health Officer (CHO) in place to lead on health issues, and smaller organisations could also benefit from having resources who can ensure health regulatory and policy compliance at global, regional and local levels, as well as work with other departments to improve workplace wellbeing.

Embracing the opportunity for a corporate wellness transformation

Much has been said about the importance of prioritising employee wellbeing, and its correlation with business productivity and resilience. Businesses who have made progress in this area will be able to attest to the improved performance and productivity when employees are in a positive work environment, and how this translates into long-term loyalty, as well as talent retention and attraction.

Whether the next crises is of a medical, political, or environmental nature, organisations with employee health and wellbeing embedded in their culture will build a workforce that copes well in volatile and complex situations, as well as future crises.

We are now at a pivotal moment in our battle against COVID-19 – and the steps businesses take to address employee health and wellbeing will have long-term implications on business resilience, continuity and ultimately, sustainability. Building an environment with corporate wellness as a core pillar of business resilience will foster a workforce that is able to weather new challenges with positivity and confidence.

 

Contributed by Dr Low Kiang Wei, Medical Director, International SOS


¹ From International SOS Risk Outlook 2022
2 Taken from International SOS Foundation’s white paper Chief Health Officer 2030: Addressing the Employee Health Needs of the Future.

Images: Envato and Unsplash

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