Forty percent of employees in a survey published on May 13 by outsourcing firm Alight Solutions and the Business Group on Health said they held a positive view of their overall well-being, a slight increase from 39% in July 2020 but a decline from the 49% recorded last year before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decline in well-being levels was “disproportionately higher” for members of Generation Z and people of color in the survey, Alight said. Employee experience scores also continued a downward trend going back to early 2020, but respondents who reported a “great” employee experience were more than three times as likely to report having a positive view of their overall well-being.
Although 61% of employees said they felt in control of their health, only 38% were positive about their physical well-being. Alight said one-third of respondents reported often struggling to access clean water, healthy food, health services, and safe housing, among other necessities. People of color, hourly workers, part-time workers, and workers with financial challenges were more likely to answer this way.
Before 2020, wellness programs were beset by challenges ranging from an always-on, digital culture to an explosion of choice in employee benefits offerings. A pandemic and subsequent economic downturn have served to further complicate these issues.
“The pandemic exposed vulnerabilities around employee wellbeing and where they can find support,” Laine Thomas Conway, vice president of communication strategy and total rewards product manager at Alight, said in a statement emailed to HR Dive. “Now, it’s up to employers to assess the needs of their workforce and experiment with fresh ways to help them achieve their wellbeing priorities.”
Early on in the pandemic, many were forced to transition wellness programs to an online, remote-work environment. Fitness classes and doctor’s office visits moved to virtual formats, where possible, and employer and benefits partner messaging shifted to encourage workers to care for their physical, mental, and emotional health. The latter initiative contended with a rise in anxiety and depression, particularly among caregivers, and with other troubling trends, such as domestic violence.
Alight’s report indicated that work relationships “play a significant role in driving overall experience and wellbeing,” but fewer than half of employees felt that their managers communicated effectively about work-life balance. Conversely, 60% of managers surveyed by Alight said they felt comfortable having well-being conversations with their direct reports, and 86% saw value in training to better encourage well-being.
Employers also have leaned heavily on employee assistance programs to provide access to key wellness resources during the pandemic, according to panelists at last year’s Disability Management Employer Coalition Virtual Annual Conference.
Amid broader HR industry conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion, employers also may be able to address well-being concerns through D&I work. Speakers at one August 2020 virtual event outlined limits imposed by systemic discrimination which can drive health access inequality. In its survey, Alight found that respondents who felt their workplaces were diverse, inclusive, and equitable were two times as likely as other employees to say they had positive overall well-being.