Many wellness leaders are hard-pressed to reimagine their programs in the “new normal” of remote/hybrid work, where it feels like the entire organizational culture is losing its footing. In this environment, however, wellness programs are more important than ever. The health and happiness of work-from-home employees may depend on them.
Happiness and Remote Work
Remote work arrangements can be a threat to employee happiness, especially for those who enter them unexpectedly and/or prefer the structure and community of an office. This was especially evident at the onset of pandemic lockdowns, when boundaries between work and home became particularly ambiguous due to responsibilities like caretaking that couldn’t be compartmentalized.
Though the initial shock may have passed, heightened risk of personal and professional roles bleeding into one another persists.
A Vicious Cycle for Remote Employees
Blurred work-life boundaries can undermine employees’ commitment to healthy behaviors — like exercise, nutrition, sleep routines, and stress management — and lead to emotional exhaustion, a critical element of burnout.
Emotional exhaustion compromises happiness, and impaired happiness sabotages healthy lifestyles.
As a result, underscored in a 2020 Dutch study, remote employees can fall into a cycle where eroding emotional well-being and reduced self-care feed off each other. The researchers conclude:
“Our study identifies a major disadvantage and risk associated with the blurring of work-life boundaries that comes with working from home; we found that lifestyle deteriorates, putting employees’ happiness and subjective well-being in jeopardy… Unhappy individuals live a less healthy life, which in turn leads to lower happiness.”
The researchers emphasize strategies such as flexible scheduling to help shore up these fragile boundaries while also identifying wellness programs as a lifeline for those at risk.
Encourage supervisors and coworkers, they advise, to promote remote engagement in healthy behaviors like…
- Physical activity
- Healthy eating
- Giving and receiving social support
- Adequate rest.
These wellness elements can be promoted with immersive experiences like HES group challenges, which emphasize teams and social connection that help break the exhaustion/risk cycle in several ways:
- Resetting cultural norms. When we know peers practice self-care, we view it as more desirable.
- Strength in numbers. Social support needed to make complex changes, like exercising, making the right food choices, or getting enough sleep, flows within groups of coworkers sharing the same well-being goals.
- Esprit de corps. Teamwork sparks personal motivation. Helping others achieve their objectives increases likelihood of personal success.
The Why and the How
The relationships between remote work, happiness, and health solidify the case for employee wellness programs’ critical role in addressing top HR concerns including burnout, turnover, and so-called “quiet quitting.”
This is the why of wellness for remote employees. Learn the how with this HES blog post: Making Your Wellness Program Thrive for Today’s Hybrid Workforce.
Bob Merberg is an independent consultant with 20+ years in managing employee well-being programs. He specializes in helping employers increase engagement and health outcomes through innovative programs, communication, workplace environment, and organization development strategies. Bob’s well-being program evaluation results have been featured at wellness conferences and in various media outlets.