Emotional wellness often falls to the back burner at work. Strict deadlines, demanding clients, toxic coworkers, and never-ending to-do lists take up the majority of our time—and mental capacity—causing us to neglect our mental and emotional wellbeing in the process. But when we don't take the time to recharge, burnout can easily creep in, escalating feelings of exhaustion and disengagement.
What’s one way to keep burnout at bay? Emotional wellness programs.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, 92 percent of employers expanded their support for wellness programs addressing issues such as stress management, financial wellbeing, sleep improvement, caregiving, mental health, and more.
And these wellness programs are effective when offered as a job benefit. One survey report showed that over 90 percent of business leaders observe a link between wellness programs and higher employee performance, higher productivity, and lower turnover. The survey also found that investing in wellness programs promotes a happier, more collaborative workplace—and can even reduce overall health care costs for employers.
Here’s how employee wellness programs can help foster six important skills in the workplace—mindfulness, empathy, resilience, problem-solving, self-worth, and productivity.
6 emotional wellness programs that help employees skill up
1. Guided meditation courses increase mindfulness
Research on meditation over the years has uncovered a slew of mental and physical benefits. When part of your daily routine, it can help you build resilience to stress and physically relax when frustrated. Plus, meditation changes the brain’s reactivity toward stress, which has been scientifically proven to help alleviate stress after just eight weeks of regular practice.
Just 5–10 minutes of meditation can make us more mindful and attentive. Instead of going through the motions at work, you become more attuned to your senses, thoughts, and emotions. Research proves that increasing mindfulness in the workplace can improve your focus, thoughtfulness, decision-making abilities, and overall wellbeing, and it can reduce emotional exhaustion and increase your open-mindedness.
Employers can create an emotional wellness program by offering benefits like guided meditation courses or paid subscriptions to mental health apps such as Calm, Headspace, Happify, and Sleepio. For example, internet company Buzzer offers employees unlimited access to guided meditation and curated playlists on Headspace, and accounting firm EY offers employees access to meQuilibrium (meQ), a digital support resource scientifically proven to build resilience and enhance overall wellbeing.
2. Employee resource groups boost empathy
Whether it’s promoting conversations around mental health or offering a safe space for identifying and overcoming cultural, racial, ableist, and gendered challenges, employee resource groups (ERGs) based on shared identities are integral for building empathy and enabling important conversations around happiness, belonging, and allyship in the workplace.
For example, Amazon's newest affinity group's mission is to promote employee wellbeing through creating a safe community where employees can raise awareness and reduce the stigma of mental health, create a culture of acceptance, and support one another.
These programs create a sense of belonging and help employees to feel valued at their organization. When ERGs are used as an educational tool for everyone at an organization, group members not only have an avenue to express themselves and talk through their emotions and experiences, but employees belonging to the dominant group also become more aware of their unconscious biases and learn how they can be more empathetic allies. When everyone feels like they have a safe place to express their opinions and learn from one another, it becomes easier to eliminate any unfair treatment and avoid inappropriate situations that may affect employees’ emotional wellness.
3. Wellness challenges build resilience
Workplace wellness challenges are designed to promote healthy lifestyle choices and usually work by offering employees an incentive if they complete small, but fun, daily, weekly, or monthly tasks. The game-like challenges build momentum through small steps, encouraging employees to commit to a goal, build and develop emotional resilience, and learn to deal with disappointment or failure. Employees often feel motivated to reach goals, interact and compete with their colleagues, and persevere through challenges when they’d rather give up.
They’re an easy, cheap way for employers to empower their teams, and research on the effects of wellness programs suggests that they can boost job satisfaction and improve overall productivity.
Here are a few examples of possible wellness challenges:
Get 10,000 steps a day
Drink eight glasses of water a day
Use a standing desk
Take a social media detox
Get at least seven hours of sleep
Eat lunch away from your desk
Take the stairs instead of the elevator in the office
Start a gratitude journal
Use mindful breathing techniques
Keep in mind that wellness challenges need to be flexible in order to be inclusive. For example, 10,000 steps isn't doable for everyone, so employees should be able to choose a wellness challenge that suits them and feel free to opt in or out at any point.
4. Therapy improves problem-solving
InHersight data shows that mental health resources, such as virtual and in-person therapy stipends and coverage, are the employer-provided wellness benefit that women value the most right now. A recent report shows that more than half of workers—55 percent—say they’ve been affected by a mental health issue since the pandemic began, and 42 percent of employees with access to mental health benefits from their employer say they‘re more likely to stay at their job.
Quartet Health, a company that connects individuals with mental health care providers, is seeking to support their employees’ emotional health by providing employees and their family members with up to 12 in-person therapy sessions annually and offers a behavioral health co-pay reimbursement, which covers outpatient mental health visits with both in-network and out-of-network providers.
Not only do employer-covered therapy sessions like this increase retention and happiness, but they also lead to better problem-solving on the job. Most types of therapy encourage people to address issues head on and find solutions. Once you learn how to analyze emotions and and stressors related to real life situations, you can carry those tools into the workplace and feel more confident solving problems within a team or handling projects under pressure.
5. Employee assistance programs increase self-worth
Employee assistance programs (EAP) are a wellness benefit that offers free and confidential assessments, counseling, and referrals to employees who need mental health support, in addition to help with other personal and work-related issues such as substance abuse, financial security, child care services, and family counseling.
American Express’ EAP, Healthy Minds, provides mental health counselors on-site at all 20 offices around the world, and LinkedIn employees have access to a 24/7 confidential counseling service. These programs help employers show genuine interest in their employees' lives and encourage them to take care of their emotional wellness.
Many of us work in challenging environments that create a sense of inferiority, fear, or imposter syndrome, says clinical psychologist Jessica January Behr, which can lead us to question our own self-worth, especially when coupled with stressors outside of work. EAPs can give employees more control of their lives, helping boost their self-worth and confidence in the workplace.
6. Fitness classes encourages productivity
Partaking in physical fitness, whether taking a yoga class or running on the treadmill, can aid in stress management, teach coping mechanisms, decrease aggressive and hostile behavior, reduce early contributors to burnout, and improve employee engagement at work. Exercise makes us feel good—it improves circulation, strengthens our immune systems, and releases endorphins, providing an instant rush of energy to increase productivity and focus.
Tech company DigitalOcean takes advantage of helping their employees stay healthy and productive by offering in-office yoga twice a week, outside fitness groups and sports leagues, and a monthly $100 gym reimbursement benefit for all employees. For remote employees, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) offers virtual fitness classes and a stipend for fitness equipment.
Studies indicate that our mental capacity is directly linked to our physical activity, and results from one study show that exercise during regular work hours boosts performance—on days when employees visited the gym, they reported managing their time more effectively, being more productive, having smoother interactions with their colleagues, and going home feeling more satisfied at the end of the day. In other words, incorporating physical fitness into your company’s benefits will directly affect and improve your employees’ emotional wellness and productivity.
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