Workplace Wellness in a Post-COVID World

3-minute read

In a normal year we would post our workplace well-being predictions for the new year about now… drawing on interactions with hundreds of clients and thousands of participants. But the last 9 months have been like no other 3 quarters in the last century, and the next 9 don’t appear any more predictable.

Although our crystal ball is hazy, trends initiated during the pandemic offer clues to what post-pandemic wellness programs might look like:

  • More focus on the soft stuff. Within a few short weeks of work from home and shelter in place it became clear employees were not clamoring for risk assessments or screenings (they never are, but even less so under the circumstances). They wanted ways to feel connected with friends, family, coworkers, even the mission of their departments and businesses. Organizations with the technology and programs in place to meet the need fared better, earlier, than those starting from zero. Looking ahead, wellness directors will shift emphasis and budgets to address emotional and social well-being even more, specifically honing in on mindfulness and optimism. Risk scores aren’t going away, but they’ll fade to the background as HR and wellness pros tackle how to help those we serve thrive mentally — at work and in their personal lives.
  • Services to support introspection, reflection, and calm. Forced separation from familiar work routines combined with community involvement restrictions heightened anxiety for some, while others saw it as an opportunity to pause and reflect on how they invest energy and use their time. It helped many realize they wanted to do better for themselves so they could be better for family and friends. Big-picture wellness pros will recognize the opportunity to tap into this new-found awareness and create services that help employees explore and address their inner needs for becoming centered, calm, content.
  • Emphasis on outdoor movement and appreciation of nature. We analyzed 160 North American and UK HES campaign implementations, mid-March to mid-August (the first wave of the pandemic). It reveals highest marks for feelings of “normalcy” and flourishing when participants spent time moving outdoors — particularly in settings rich with natural flora and wildlife (who knew squirrels were calming?). The effect was even more pronounced when participants were instructed to consciously observe their environment and take time to reflect on it. The realization that outdoor activity benefits go well beyond heart rates and calories burned suggests capturing some gains if you were lucky enough to own Peloton (PTON) stock in mid-March. This also portends de-emphasis of onsite fitness centers and greater commitment to experiencing nature.
  • Higher investment in buddy and team programs. In the same analysis, participants paired with a friend or on small teams (4-5) exceeded completion rates of go-it-alone colleagues by 20%-40% — with significantly increased satisfaction as well. Although almost all the thousands of participants connected virtually, experience suggests that once they’re again rubbing elbows the investment in smart buddy and team promotions will have an even bigger payoff. Out-of-the-box thinking well-being leaders will explore social interaction and support as main themes for wellness services, not just features.

2021 holds promise for a pandemic receding in the rearview mirror. But business leaders and wellness professionals should resist the temptation to expect the challenges will end once vaccines are available. The impact on behaviors and psyche could linger for years.

Resources that foster connection, purpose, and a sense of community will always be beneficial. Those responsible for health and well-being will see it as an opportunity to concentrate on services that matter to the population — regardless of waves gone by or to come.


Dean WitherspoonDean Witherspoon
Chief collaborator, nudger, tinkerer; leads the most inventive team creating well-being and sustainable living programs. Reach out if you’d like to talk about employee well-being, emotional fitness, or eco-friendly living.

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