Here's how employers are thinking about well-being as workers return to the office

Employers aren't just thinking about what the new normal workplace looks like, they're also rethinking well-being as workers return to the office, a new survey shows.

Fidelity and the Business Group on Health polled 166 jumbo, large, and midsized employers and found that 83% expect employee well-being to be a critical focus over the coming weeks as their staff members begin to return to offices. The companies said they plan to center mental health (91%), physical health (60%) and work-life balance initiatives (57%) within that strategy.

Sixty percent of those surveyed said their workers will operate under a hybrid model this year.

"As people return to work in this new landscape, employers will be flexible and empathetic in supporting them as much as possible," said Ellen Kelsay, CEO of the Business Group on Health, in a statement. "Every C-suite executive now fully realizes the correlation of their workforce's health and wellbeing to the overall success of their business."

Under the pandemic, employers have gained new insights into the wellness offerings their workers value most, such as behavioral and mental health services and virtual care. Other recent research from the Business Group highlighted these same trends: The group found, for instance, in August 2020 that a quarter of employers said COVID was having a significant impact on their strategy around virtual care.

Last year, 76% of its members said increasing access to mental health care was a key priority for 2022, with 56% saying they would focus on addressing stigma.

COVID has also pushed employers to view job satisfaction as a key part of their wellness assessments, the survey found. In 2021, 35% said job satisfaction was a focus in their well-being programs; in 2022, that jumped to 52%.

Employers are earmarking more money for wellness, too. While budgets overall declined for 2022,  the surveyed employers spent $11 million on well-being last year. 

Mid-market employers, or companies with fewer than 5,000 employees, spent 60% more per worker in 2022, reaching $294 per employee.

The survey also examined global strategies around wellness, with the number of employers globally offering programs reaching 76%. These programs were similar in focus to those based in the U.S., with mental health (86%), physical health (78%) and work-life balance (69%) topping the list.

“Employers are facing a unique set of challenges as employees return and re-adjust to a more traditional work environment, and we’re encouraged to see so many employers, including Fidelity, evolving their employee well-being programs to address the needs of their workers,” said Robert Kennedy, health and welfare practice leader at Fidelity Workplace Consulting, in a statement.

“As organizations around the globe continue to invest in these programs and expand them to include a greater number of workplace benefits, we’ll continue to see corporate well-being programs playing an important role in business strategy and overall workforce management," Kennedy said.