Keeping employees engaged has always been a primary focus for professionals in the human capital management space. However, few anticipated that a pandemic would spur a massive shift to remote employment.
Working from home isn’t a new concept. In early 2020, remote workers in the U.S. accounted for 43% of all employees—a 44% increase since 2015. That number skyrocketed quickly as COVID-19 began to spread. Some employees have gone back to working in their offices if companies allowed it, but a large majority of employees are still remote.
Moving forward, we now know that some companies will go back to an all or mostly on-site workforce post-pandemic. But many won’t, instead offering options to their employees. In a June 2020 PwC US Remote Work Survey, 72% of office workers reported a desire to work remotely at least two days per week, and 55% of executives surveyed plan to offer a work-from-home option at least one day per week.
So, what does this mean for employee engagement?
The good news is that offering remote work is a popular move with workers, which will naturally have a positive effect on engagement all on its own.
On the other hand, remote work is only one of many elements that contribute to employee engagement. Engagement also depends on positive relationships and opportunities for growth. This gives HCM professionals a challenge: How will they foster employee engagement from afar?
Remote Work and the Competition for Talent
The task of improving employee engagement becomes even more pressing when we consider the larger ramifications of the explosion of remote work: Talent no longer depends on geography.
On the plus side, organizations that embrace remote work will massively expand the size of their talent pool. Commute time is no longer a factor, so your perfect candidate could live anywhere from London to Los Angeles and any point in between–as long as they have a strong internet connection. And offering remote work will make you a much more attractive employer, even to local candidates: A recent Mom Corps/Harris Interactive survey revealed that 62% of working adults say flexibility is one of the most important factors they consider when looking for a new job or deciding what company to work for.
On the downside, that perfect candidate for someone else … might currently be working for you.
Your most experienced and talented people, who may have stayed around partially due to geographical proximity, will realize (if they haven’t already) that the increase in remote work also means an increase in remote job opportunities. And they may be dazzled by the possibilities.
As such, keeping employees engaged is going to be tougher—but more important—than ever.
How Wellness Programs Foster Employee Engagement
At WellRight, we know that employee wellness programs are critical to an engaged and productive workforce. When people follow a healthy lifestyle, they generally become more energetic and more positive … and more productive. In fact, a 2019 RAND Europe study showed that regular physical activity can add five days of productivity per employee per year.
In addition to fostering a healthy lifestyle, wellness programs can provide fertile ground for the kind of camaraderie and team bonding that supercharges employee engagement. Especially during these socially isolated times, having a FaceTime walk-and-talk with a coworker, or chatting on Slack about tasty recipes can create strong and welcome connections.
To encourage participation, find ways to incent and reward employees for taking part in wellness program challenges and activities. Consider implementing a points system that can be redeemed for swag, time off, or gift cards. Create a virtual “brag board” for employees to share their achievements and acknowledge each other. The goal is to engage your workforce in a community of participation.
Better Mental Health = Better Employee Engagement
Another valuable way in which your wellness program can improve employee engagement remotely is by supporting employee mental health.
When it comes to mental health, we know that times of uncertainty create more anxiety and stress. And when employees work remotely, it may become more difficult to spot the signs of emotional difficulties, making it more important than ever to engage employees by making sure they know their company has their back.
Your wellness program can be a priceless source of support during this deeply unsettling time: Many companies offer an Employee Assistance Program as part of their wellness programming, giving employees a safe place to process their emotions.
But not all employees are comfortable asking for help, which may deter them from seeking care. That’s where solutions that can be accessed anonymously can be quite valuable. Our text-based coaching solution allows employees to text with and receive coaching as needed from a licensed counselor in a secured communication exchange. The same goes for our computerized cognitive behavioral therapy platform that allows employees to “self-serve” skills assessments and training to address anxiety, depression, and stress. These mental health services help employees re-engage and regain productivity.
Making Sure Your Wellness Program Is Engaging—and Effective
As companies select and roll out wellness programs, it’s critical to remember that how they are implemented is equally important. Employees tend to be more engaged when they are empowered, feel confident, and when they have a sense of purpose. Here is how that can look in the context of your wellness programs: