Companies that focus on the well-being of their employees during the COVID-19 crisis will gain long term benefits.

It’s one thing to lead a business when the economy is strong, and executives can dole out bonuses and provide benefits like gym memberships and wellness programs. But what happens when revenues take a nosedive and suddenly your staff is working from home? 

With the mounting stress of the COVID-19 crisis, it’s never been more important to maintain health and wellness benefits. Some business leaders have adapted and enhanced their benefits to support holistic wellness, including mental assistance, and are providing programs that go well beyond the standard corporate offerings. These short-term initiatives will likely result in benefits that will outlast COVID-19.

Building community while working from home

“Healthy organizations function as neighborhoods where people look out for each other,” says Art Markman PhD, a professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of several books on leadership and motivation, including Habits of Leadership and Bring Your Brain to Work. “Leaders who demonstrate that they care for their employees and their well-being are creating a neighborhood that says we have each other’s back.”

The decisions that CEOs are making today to help keep their employees emotionally and physically healthy during the crisis will be the building blocks of a strong corporate culture that will help businesses survive and thrive in the future.  

Markman explains that there are two things leaders need to do to create a caring neighborhood spirit during this crisis. One is to provide the appropriate resources and support, and the other is to lead by example. Those resources include access to healthcare, including mental health programs, opportunities to engage as a community, and benefits like corporate memberships to Peloton classes or other fitness options. “It’s not just motivation to exercise, but classes can recreate the camaraderie that comes with having people in the office,” he says. “It reminds employees they are part of a team with a mission that is bigger than the product or service they provide. They are a community of people who make it happen together.”

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Personal wellness tools like guided mediation and virtual therapy sessions are proving their worth as employees adapt to new working situations.

How business leaders are delivering holistic health support

Companies like Farfetch, a global online luxury retail platform with 4,500 employees in 14 countries, quickly adapted and enhanced their benefits to meet the needs of their staff working from home. The company already had an established culture around health and wellness with perks that supported gym memberships and more. It’s now given employees worldwide access to Unmind, a mental health platform designed to help manage stress and anxiety with a variety of tools, including meditation, yoga and support for parents and caregivers. “We knew that mental well-being was a big challenge right now,” explains Sian Keane, Farfetch’s Chief People Officer, “and it was something we felt we needed to lean into.” 

Farfetch is supporting its team members with numerous initiatives, including Workday Learning, a tool which offers a wide range of online courses. Management hosts a weekly forum where team members can ask questions and get business updates. “We want people to feel supported from the top of the business and to know that we are all in this together,” says Keane.

Another company that was quick to pivot its resources to support the work from home mandate is Horizon Media, a media services agency with 2,000 employees in New York, Los Angeles and Toronto. Like Farfetch, Horizon already had robust health and wellness programs, including a company gym, wellness classes, a health center staffed with a nurse practitioner, and a relaxation room with hanging silk hammocks for quiet meditation at its New York headquarters.

Seamless communication is an integral part of easing stress, says Eileen Benwitt, Horizon’s EVP of Talent Management. It’s CEO and founder, Bill Koenigsberg, delivers daily emails and hosts virtual town hall meetings where he shares business updates and addresses the concerns of his employees. The company launched Horizon@home, a dedicated content channel where employees connect to share information, resources, and maintain their sense of community. Horizon is also offering a wide range of tools through its healthcare providers covering both physical and mental health, and has identified a host of organizations that are supporting workers on the front lines so that staff can find ways to give back to the community. Looking ahead to the slow return to the office, Benwitt said, “This is an opportunity to redefine how we work, and at the forefront of these decisions is everyone’s health and well-being.”

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Parenting resources are being offered as a new benefit for remote work lifestyles.

Magellan Jets based in Boston with 33 employees is also enlisting new ways to bring benefits to its employees at home. “Mental and physical fitness are so important right now, and we want to make sure our team has all the resources they need through partnerships and technology to stay healthy and happy,” says CEO Joshua Hebert. Looking for programs to motivate and keep his team engaged during the crisis, Hebert partnered with RestoreResilience, a virtual program which helps employees working remotely cope with the stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic. The company also teamed up with Everybody Fights to offer live virtual fitness classes. “Moments like this are humbling,” said Hebert. “But, if we remain united and work together, we’ll all come out of this better, wiser and stronger.”

The new priorities in the post COVID-19 workplace

In the post COVID-19 world, people will rethink what’s most important to them in the workplace. It used to be that a great gym, free snacks, and creative workspaces were incentives to join or stick with a company. After this upheaval, some employees will value an office culture that is supportive of a healthy lifestyle – both physical and emotional.

“The humanity of the workplace will matter more to people,” says Markman. “It’s easy to focus on dollars and cents when life is business as usual and when we grade our performance on the stock market. But we have all seen how that can evaporate, which leads people to reprioritize.”

Greater attention to physical and mental wellbeing during tough times will create the neighborhood culture that Markman says is what every healthy business needs to cultivate in order to be successful.

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