Neer Sharma, CEO of Sprout Wellness Solutions, Discusses Corporate Wellness in the Era of Remote Work – Peter Page

The pandemic has brought many surprises to the workplace. Who would have guessed that employee burnout would spike 33%? Or that once we were cleared to move about without our masks that so many of us would just up and quit? Neer Sharma, CEO of the digital health company Sprout Wellness Solutions, says corporate wellness programs need to adapt to the remote workplace if employers are going to keep their most valued employees.

A recent report by McKinsey concluded the global wellness market is worth $1.5 trillion and growing at the pace of 5 to 10 percent yearly. Sprout is on track to grow 25% year-over-year, with 15 million global customers and enterprise clients in Canada, USA, Australia, and China. We asked Neer Sharma about mental health in the workplace, the long discussed work-life balance, and how the pandemic is changing corporate wellness programs.

The pandemic was rough on mental health, as has been well documented, but was working from home entirely bad mental health? Many people started getting more sleep and getting to know their kids.

For so many of us, the pandemic turned our professional and personal lives upside down. From this we are having, in my opinion, incredibly important discussions around our experiences – what didn’t work, but also, what did. This is one of the key takeaways for organizations. Even before the pandemic we knew caring for mental health and putting strategies in place for improved wellbeing were important. Now, it’s essential. I foresee us becoming more intentional around the choices we make in support of mental health, both as employees and employers. It’s what is driving the increased demand for hybrid working models. How do we integrate work-life so that we can get, for example, enough sleep and spend time with friends and family? How can we make that a possibility for everyone in our organizations? That’s the goal.

For years there has been a lot of talk about the significance of work-life balance. Now, as the pandemic recedes and people are faced with returning to the office, many are simply quitting. How do you interpret that?

The rigidity of 9-5 office life doesn’t work for people anymore. As an employer you have to move past the previous ways things worked and become more flexible – whether that’s with office hours; office space or your digital solutions.

To adapt to the modern workplace, the new hybrid model will need to address not just where employees work but when they are available. Workers who are able to perform their responsibilities digitally can be empowered to incorporate a new structure to their workday. In fact, many already have. Standing breaks, walks, a quick workout, caring for family members – these work-life integrations will be the norm. By allowing people flexibility and catering to their personal needs, companies are supporting their mental health needs also.

Over the last 17 months, we proved that remote work was effective, so what is the motivation for employees to come in and operate in the same way as pre-pandemic days? I was nervous about how Sprout would function remotely too at first, but I saw how well things worked and how easy it was to trust my team – this worked so well in fact, that I made the decision to give up our space altogether and move Sprout entirely remote.

As we shape our post-pandemic world we have this incredible opportunity to provide a fresh approach to our professional and personal lives, and companies that do not take this approach will continue to lose their top talent. We need to support working parents and caregivers. We need to reimagine in-office perks in order to deliver meaningful experiences for those who are working remotely. Corporations must adapt to stay relevant to employee needs and lifestyles. Traditional office perks like discounted gym memberships, guided group meditations, healthy snacks, and on-site yoga classes have evaporated over the past year and a half, but the corporate wellness market has been swift to meet new demands. These onsite health perks will be replaced by benefits that can be accessed digitally and from anywhere.

Burnout is obviously a big problem for workers, but what can employers do about it? What is their motive for taking action?

Employees have endured a work rollercoaster over the past 18 months. They are stressed and anxious, and these feelings won’t dissipate on their own, even as our world slowly reopens.  If they are feeling burnt out they are twice as likely to leave compared to their peers, which is a scary thought for employers globally.

This often starts with leadership demonstrating it themselves. Employees will look to managers to bring clarity and transparency to company goals and clearly map out how each individual and team responsibility ladders up. This process means that each of your employees knows what they are responsible for and feels connected and invested in the project.

With the addition of today’s new remote and hybrid working models, employers need to ensure they are serving their entire population and not simply checking the “wellness box”. This means delivering a holistic digital wellness solution that can be accessed from anywhere to provide every employee with the proper physical, nutritional, mental, and financial wellness offerings. You need to motivate and reward healthy behaviors and empower your employees to embrace their own wellbeing to improve their overall happiness and health regardless of where they are in their journey.

 What are the signs of burnout managers should watch for?

Burnout goes beyond “feeling emotionally and mentally exhausted.” Good bosses should watch for burnout signs like overly annoyed responses, aggression, missed or being late to meetings, and missed deadlines. However, as a great boss, you should assume burnout’s already happening and address it immediately with your employees.

Remote work means you need to be intentional about connecting with your workforce and to know how they are managing emotionally. Look for physical, emotional and behavioral changes. Have your employees’ energy levels changed? Are they expressing panic or a loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed? Are they having difficulty carrying out tasks and meeting deadlines?

When employees feel connected to their managers and to their company, they feel better about themselves, their jobs and their performance. It’s so important to maintain regular contact. Include business and social interactions to let your employees know you care about their wellbeing. Regular (virtual) contact with leadership teams, managers and peers provides a sense of community.

How has the pandemic affected corporate decision making about workplace wellness?

The future of work will be driven by tech innovation and the prioritization of flexibility and inclusion. That means finding ways for everyone to connect, be supported and perform their jobs regardless of whether they are in-office, on-site, hybrid or remote. The corporate wellness market is projected to be worth $97.4 billion by 2027, with annual growth of 5-10% (McKinsey report). At the same time, as a society, we are moving away from the “one-size-fits-all” approach. Digital wellness allows equitable access for all and the personalization we need.

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