Connected Care: How Technology Expands Wellness to Geographically Dispersed Employees
As technology continues
to impact the workplace, more and more organizations are ditching traditional office spaces to embrace fluid work environments. Given the advances in cloud computing and collaboration apps, employees who spend the majority of their workday on the computer don’t really need to trek into the office to sit in a cubicle. And in some cases, they no longer need to even be in the same city or province.
While this increased flexibility offers a number of benefits including maximized productivity, better work-life balance and even savings for employers on office overhead costs, an important factor that is often overlooked by businesses is how to effectively deploy wellbeing programs to a dispersed employee base – especially across different geographical locations.
Wellness solution for everyone
Remote and field workers in particular have been underserved when it comes to health and wellbeing. Despite increased awareness of the impact of mental health in the workplace, many businesses’ wellness programs have not kept pace to provide a truly supportive solution for all employees, regardless of where they are or what they do. Rather, they still focus on traditional, inflexible programs that take a reactive approach to health and wellbeing. But as we become increasingly comfortable with – and even reliant on – digital devices, technology can greatly facilitate wellness in the workplace, too.
Many people are now accustomed to, and sometimes more comfortable, consulting the internet rather than a real person especially when it comes to their personal health. For employees, the fear of negative consequences around disability in the workplace is real. However, the cost to employers of not appropriately addressing wellness concerns is too high to ignore. From health and personal issues to professional development, employers can better help all their employees – regardless of location – by “meeting them where they are” through tailored, digitized wellness resources that compliment and boost existing EAPs.
Digital delivery extends touchpoints
LifeSpeak recently conducted a series of North America-wide roundtable discussions with employer partners across several public and private sectors, including Via Rail, Ernst & Young, Bell Canada and the WSIB, on the role of digital platforms in workplace mental health programs. They revealed that integrated digital platforms can be effective in crossing geographical, generational and time barriers in delivering wellness support. And for large employers in particular, with a high number of mobile or remote workers, technology can be a game changer for transforming workplace health by extending their reach and touchpoints.
For example, round-the-clock digital access is extremely beneficial in organizations where a large portion of staff has limited access to technology during the work day, such as field technicians, plant floor personnel and retail workers. Previously convinced that employees in dispersed locations would be hard to reach, employers instead found that they were very engaged once they had access to the platform. As a spokesperson from WSIB noted, digital delivery of content “gives us legs to be in places we can’t.” Usage is encouraged by sending individual reminders with video links or promoting 24-hour availability, and a key advantage is that content is delivered in short, easily consumable pieces.
Digital content delivery also defied demographic expectations. For instance, while the adoption of technology was expected to be higher with younger workforce members, Bell Canada reported that more than half (55%) of web-based consultations were with employees over the age of 50.
Minding the wellness gap
But how to overcome the challenge of employees’ discomfort with talking about wellbeing, and specifically the perceived stigma around mental health? For starters, leadership must be engaged, creating a culture of caring and awareness-building to encourage conversation and participation.
While it’s great to see that many organizations today are prioritizing topics like fitness and nutrition, these only tackle the physical aspects of an individual’s overall wellbeing. There remain massive gaps in corporate healthcare when it comes to mental, financial, and emotional health – and especially on tough issues such as addiction and suicide. Consider that, according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), 500,000 employees are unable to work every week due to mental health problems or illnesses. Yet 39 per cent of workers in Ontario alone indicate that they would not tell their managers if they were experiencing a mental health problem.
Given that employers aren’t always aware of what an individual employee is going through at any given time, providing 24/7 access to expert-led, digital programming allows them to reach individuals with the right information that they need, at the right time, and even in the right language.
Clearly, it is important that corporate wellness programs address all aspects of employee wellbeing. The future of employee benefits is to leverage technology by providing digital solutions that can boost wellness and engagement in a scalable, cost efficient way. A solid wellness plan can reduce the enormous health expenses that result from absenteeism and lost productivity, and result in lower turnover and higher engagement. And it’s a win for employees, especially remote workers who, with access to support, are more likely to feel valued by employers and fulfilled in their jobs. All of which are key factors to maintaining a healthy workplace – anywhere, anytime.
Danny Weill is Vice President at LifeSpeak, a leading digital employee health platform. He is a digital business leader and change-maker for mental health in the workplace. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org