With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to create business disruption and increased stress for employees, companies are signaling they are ready to invest significant resources to provide mental health and wellness programs for workers, a new study has found.
The 2022 Employee Wellness Industry Trends Report, released by Wellable Labs, found that 90% of employers reported increasing their investment in mental health programs, 76% were increasing investment in stress management and resilience programs, and 71% were increasing investment with mindfulness and mediation programs.
The report found that employee demand is driving this new investment, and said that employers are doubling down on providing mental health resources while shifting some wellness strategies away from in-person and onsite solutions and toward remote and digital offerings.
Investment trends: some areas are growing, others in decline
The study surveyed employers about a wide range of wellness solutions and strategies. It found that in addition to the mental health, mindfulness, and stress management investments, other areas of investment were telemedicine (80% investing more) and COVID 19 vaccinations (57% investing more). The report said that vaccine mandates are causing some companies to invest more in vaccines, along with other COVID-19 risk reduction strategies.
The study highlighted a shift in emphasis on mental health programs: before the pandemic, in 2018, 66% of companies said they would invest more in mental health, with 29% saying they would invest the same. By 2022, those numbers had changed, with 90% investing more and only 9% investing the same.
Telemedicine was also dubbed a “rising star” with employers. In 2020, 60% of companies said they would invest more in telemedicine, and that number has continued to grow: in 2021, 87% of companies said they would invest more in this area and in 2022 the number was only slightly less, at 80%.
“Employees and employers alike have come to appreciate telemedicine’s ability to offer flexible, on-demand, and cost-effective solutions,” the report said. “As a result, companies now view this benefit as indispensable.”
As some strategies and tools have risen during the pandemic era, others have seen a significant decline in investments: 63% of employers said they will invest less in on-site fitness classes, 59% will invest less in health fairs, and 54% will invest less in providing healthy food at work. In addition, there are declines in biometric screenings (50% less) and on-site clinics (35% less).
“In general, employers appear to be moving away from benefits that depend on in-person interactions, even with COVID-19 prevention measures in place,” the study said. “This is largely due to the availability of alternative solutions that satisfy the same wellness goals.”
The broker perspective: employers need a plan
The report noted that as stress and burnout continue to be major issues, brokers are urging employers to identify a clear strategy for managing workplace stress. The study found that only 1% of brokers say their clients have a strong understanding of how well employees are managing stress in the workplace. Because of this, brokers are urging employers to look at budgeting to address this issue, and to create more internal resources for stress management at work. The report said that such resources are needed because current solutions such as mental health programs and flexible work schedules will not be enough to mitigate employee burnout.
“After two volatile years filled with unpredictability, resilience is declining, and employees are looking to their employers to generate certainty,” Sullivan said. “Organizations now have no choice but to reevaluate their total benefits strategy and their unique employee needs to ensure their approach meets the demand of the modern employee. Based on the trends we’re seeing … employers should focus on benefit selection and design through a lens of empathy, support, and expectation management, and they should emphasize rebuilding trust within their organization. Those who do will have the best chance of rebuilding their workforce for long-term success as we come out on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic.”