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The ‘Great Return’: How your benefits and wellbeing strategy can get your employees back to the office

March 20, 2023

Remote work has had mixed effects – employees value extra personal time but many feel disconnected. Understanding employee workplace preferences and needs is critical to informing future benefits strategy.
Health and Benefits|Future of Work
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Bringing the employees back to the office is among the most pressing items on many organizations’ agendas today. But employee needs and expectations have changed greatly since COVID-19, even as employers strive to redefine workplaces. For instance, WTW’s 2022 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey found that a majority of employees would rather work remotely (58%) than onsite (42%).

Balancing the needs of remote, hybrid and onsite workers has left many employers feeling overwhelmed. Many companies continue to grapple with making the workplace attractive and keeping employees connected when so many are working remotely.

The good news is that benefits and wellbeing have proved invaluable in supporting employee needs regardless of work style. But if you’re like many employers and want to encourage employees to work onsite, consider the role your benefit and wellbeing programs can play.

Remote work and employee wellbeing: What we know so far

According to the WTW’s 2022 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey, over half of employees want to work remotely most or part of the time, but such working arrangements have had mixed effects on wellbeing.

Most employees favor remote work because it cuts commuting times and costs, allowing them to manage commitments at home. Compared to 2019 results, our 2022 data show a significant increase in the number of employees who say they have a healthy work/life balance. Women, younger and low-income employees are more likely to prefer remote work than their counterparts.

44% of respondents noted less time commuting, 37% said lower cost of going to the office, and 33% said better management of household commitments. 70% responded a health work/life balance in 2022.
The top advantages of remote work include less time commuting, lower cost of going to the office, and better management of household commitments.

Source: WTW 2019 and 2022 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey

On the other hand, employees report that remote work negatively affects their social wellbeing. Many lack social interactions, feel disconnected and find building new relationships difficult. The percentage of employees who feel connected took a double digit fall from 41% in 2019 to 28% in 2022. Men and younger generations are more likely to feel disconnected from their colleagues than their counterparts.

33% of respondents noted lack of social interactions, 30% said feeling disconnected, and 30% said harder to build relationships. 28% responded social wellbeing connection in 2022.
The top disadvantages of remote work include lack of social interactions, feeling disconnected, and harder to build relationships.

Source: WTW 2019 and 2022 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey

A significant number of employees also think that onsite work provides more opportunities for career growth. Our surveys reveal that 44% of employees worry that working remotely is detrimental to their career development opportunities. This concern is heightened among workers with disabilities and neurodevelopmental issues as well as younger employees.

How to make working onsite worthwhile

What can your organization do to ensure benefits meet your people’s needs and align with business goals? To help make onsite work attractive and convenient, consider the following measures:

  1. 01

    Use listening strategies

    Employee listening tools, such as pulse surveys and virtual focus groups, can provide clear understanding of your employees’ perspectives. Only your employees can tell you their specific needs. This approach enables you to stimulate employee engagement and get actionable insights about steps you can take to make office work more attractive.

    Be strategic about the tools you use and when to use them. For example, pulse surveys are useful for feedback on program changes or shifts in workplace policies. On the other hand, focus groups are great at helping pinpoint the needs of targeted segments (e.g., caregivers, onsite versus remote workers and low-paid employees). Keeping an open feedback channel, meanwhile, will help you stay current on changing employee expectations.

  2. 02

    Examine your current offerings

    Review your existing programs to see if they support your entire workforce and if your people value and use them. What are the current utilization and performance rates? Are employees aware of the benefits available to them? What are the possible barriers and how can you overcome them?

    According to our 2022 Vendor Strategy Survey, most employers plan to augment or improve their vendor solutions, and many struggle with member engagement. If you are in this situation, review your vendor portfolio and update strategy goals as needed to ensure your vendors are delivering value. Identify and follow through with necessary changes or enhancements to your current solutions. Also consider establishing metrics, which include vendor performance reviews.

    For improved engagement, create the right messaging when launching new solutions, highlight the significance of your offerings beyond the open enrollment period and use multiple communication channels.

  3. 03

    Evaluate your wellbeing strategy from an onsite experience perspective

    Onsite resources and services — once just a perk in the wellbeing strategy — are now elevated to a critical area of focus. Now may be the time to refresh your wellbeing strategy. As you evaluate whether your wellbeing offering provides value to all employees and caters to their changing needs, reflect on whether it integrates throughout your human capital strategy and connects to your evolving corporate culture.

    Consider the four pillars of wellbeing — physical, emotional, financial, and social — and how to optimize the employee experience, regardless of your workforce’s location. We are seeing leading companies address wellbeing in several ways.

    For employees in the office, companies are using various tools and solutions, such as onsite health clinics, caregiving benefits, commuter benefits, discounted or free food, onsite one-on-one financial counselling, onsite employee assistance programs and employee resource groups.

    2022 Best Practices in Healthcare Survey

  4. 04

    Ensure inclusive and equitable offerings

    Review your benefits from a diversity, equity, and inclusion perspective. Make sure that they are fair, inclusive, and equitable for the entire workforce, no matter where they are working. Also, address your workers’ diverse needs and preferences for safe and productive onsite work.

    Employees with neurocognitive differences may have sensory and communication needs and preferences when working in the office. For example, people with autism, ADHD or dyslexia may be sensitive to stimuli, such as sounds, lighting and temperature. They should have easy access to reasonable accommodations, such as noise-canceling headphones and privacy/quiet spaces.

    Additionally, people process information differently. Offering a variety of communication options (audio, video, chat) and tools (voice-to-text, closed captioning, standing desks) can enhance the hybrid working experience for everyone.

Key takeaways

Offering benefits that meet your employees’ expectations is key to enhancing onsite work and encouraging them to return to the office. Be ready, however, for continual learning and change, as no one-size-fits-all approach is available.

Individual employees have their own unique experiences and challenges that shape their ever-changing needs. Listen to their voices, examine your wellbeing strategy, and make sure that you are offering inclusive and equitable benefits. Doing so not only enables you to maximize your investments but also lets your employees know and feel that you are committed to supporting their wellbeing — no matter where they work.

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Senior Director, Health and Benefits
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