REPORT

4 Employee Health and Wellness Trends to Watch in 2022

The aftershocks of the pandemic continued to ripple through the work environment in 2021, as the interruption to business as usual led employees to increasingly make use of wellness programs and to reconsider what constitutes a healthy work-life balance.

Hotel worker pushing bags
grocery worker

In fact, the balance of power shifted to employees as an unprecedented number of workers — struggling with burnout, and unsatisfied with their financial, physical and mental well being — decided to quit as part of The Great Resignation.

Meanwhile, human resources initiatives to increase diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and address employee mental health, only grew in importance in 2021.

So, where does that leave us for 2022, especially when it comes to workplace health?

In this report, we address four of the top employee health and wellness trends that businesses and their HR leaders should consider when planning for 2022, with a focus on those trends that will contribute to happier, healthier employees.

TREND 1

The Definition of DE&I Will Expand to Include More Underrepresented Groups

Recent corporate commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives have tried to address these inequities by implementing policies to level the worksite playing field for employees across different ages, ethnicities, abilities, genders, religions, cultures and sexual orientations.

But while the application of DE&I initiatives is already broad, we believe that 2022 will see even further expansion to other underrepresented groups, especially with regards to healthcare and corporate wellness. Groups like:

warehouse workers
warehouse worker

Deskless Workers

Employees in occupations like education, energy, heavy industry, transportation and retail have not had the same access to care as those in white collar or traditional office jobs roles.

Deskless employees often have very structured workdays and may not be able to conveniently schedule medical appointments. Think about a retail employee who is busy on a showroom floor most of the day, and has to squeeze in a short break for lunch.

Her ability to schedule an in-person doctor’s appointment is limited. If she has to visit a doctor during one of her shifts, she doesn’t get paid for that time and contributes to absenteeism. Even her ability to participate in a video telehealth consultation is compromised because video visits often require scheduled appointments and a quiet, private environment.

Rural Employees

Rural communities suffer disproportionately when it comes to accessing healthcare and workplace wellness programs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Small town residents must contend with:

  • A shortage of primary care physicians. Even something as simple as getting a vaccination can be difficult if there isn’t a medical practice or urgent care center nearby.
  • Lack of access to specialists and diagnostic services for screenings.
  • Higher levels of poverty and residents with chronic diseases and other lingering health issues.
  • Lack of access to healthy food and exercise options for physical activity. It does no good to get a CorePower membership as part of your employee benefits if none exist in your area.

Employee benefits and wellness programs must find ways to expand equity and inclusiveness to these more isolated regions. Some of this is being addressed through:

  • Expansion of healthcare delivered by rural retailers like WalMart and Dollar General with their onsite health clinics
  • Mobile health clinics
  • Asynchronous telehealth options that don’t require high-speed internet connections
grocery worker

Uninsured Employees

One group that often flies under the radar of DE&I initiatives are uninsured employees — some of whom may be seasonal or part-time that do not qualify for company-sponsored employee benefits; others who may elect not to participate in the company’s health plan.

Not having health insurance invariably introduces health risks since employees may refrain from preventative screenings and wellness services. And that applies to dependents who also may not be covered.

Enlightened companies are starting to see the financial and employee satisfaction benefits of providing health benefits like telemedicine to a larger swath of their employee base, including uninsured and unenrolled employees.

TREND 2

Mental Health Will Become an Essential Part of Whole Person Care

Even before the pandemic, depression ranked as the leading cause of disability and premature death among people aged 18 to 44, and it is a leading cause of disability for people of all ages.

In fact, primary care physicians are more likely to see patients with depression than with any other health disorder except hypertension.

In 2022, expect mental health to command an even more prominent role in employee health and wellness programs as employers continue their pandemic-era shift to whole person health. The challenge for employers, unfortunately, will be the same one that people with depression and anxiety have long faced: the number of qualified mental health professionals is unable to meet demand.

woman chatting with her doctor over the phone

Research shows assistance programs that bridge the gaps in mental healthcare access create clinically meaningful changes in people’s mental health outcomes. The U.S. has a long way to go to create behavioral health that is at parity with other health conditions. We believe that in 2022 employers will take the lead in creating equitable access to whole person care through assistance programs such as:

woman texting with doctor in train station

Telebehavioral Health

According to a Business Group on Health survey during the pandemic, 54% of employers planned to offer free or low-cost virtual mental health services this past year. Companies that offered telebehavioral health services reported improved outcomes through both subjective surveys and through objective healthcare measurement-based outcomes.

What’s more, these improvements last. Without specialized treatment, nearly half of all patients who receive a depression diagnosis and a prescription for medication stop using their medications during the first month and don’t receive the recommended levels of follow-up mental health services. In contrast, programs involving regular contact and check-ins by providers result in clinically significant reduction of both depression and anxiety.

energy worker using telehealth on his phone

Expanded EAP Programs

Before the pandemic, employers were expanding Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) and had even begun combining them with wellness programs such as smoking cessation programs to provide more holistic care to more people in their organizations, whether or not a person is enrolled in a company-sponsored health plan.

The rate of that expansion picked up during the pandemic, and mid- and large-size companies say they are likely to maintain the trend. For example, many larger employers have increased the number of annual counseling visits offered in their EAPs during the pandemic and have pledged to maintain those higher levels moving forward.

smiling woman

Mental Health Apps and Other Technology

There has been an explosion of apps designed to provide meditation, mindfulness and relaxation. Because these offer low-cost, accessible solutions, employers have been quick to offer them to their employees, and the trend will likely continue in 2022.

It is important to keep in mind that these apps do not connect people to mental health professionals and are not designed to supplant behavioral health care. That said, they are popular among employees and can augment other workplace wellness programs.

In addition to apps, offering employees wearable technology can motivate them to monitor and decrease their blood pressure, fatigue and stress levels, leading to improved productivity and better health habits.

TREND 3

Virtual Primary Care Will Take Center Stage

The COVID-19 pandemic introduced telehealth to the masses — and triggered a big spike in employee engagement — but it was largely for episodic care. As telehealth has matured over the past two years, it has become clear that employees increasingly want virtual primary care to complement their primary care physician.

For 2022, employee health and wellness programs will lean into virtual primary care services that embody the following:

telehealth chat example
woman having telehealth visit on couch

They are Patient-Centered

The primary care model and traditional telehealth services are largely focused on the needs of the provider. Hence, the need for scheduled appointments, waiting rooms, and very brief consultations.

Successful virtual primary care solutions going forward will be centered around patient needs and well-being. That will include providing care on-demand, offering it over different modalities and expanding beyond the traditionally short consultation time windows. It will also include providing employees access to a physician network that is diverse in its makeup (by gender, ethnicity, age, culture, etc.)

older man chatting with doctor on phone

They Provide Multi-Specialty Care

Employees are increasingly looking for a holistic telehealth experience from workplace wellness programs. Telehealth that includes a dedicated team of multidisciplinary physicians and mental health specialists across a range of conditions and needs like hypertension, women’s health, weight management, asthma, diabetes, and prevention and health coaching.

older man chatting with doctor on tablet

They are Integrated and Longitudinal

Going forward, the distinction between virtual and in-person care will continue to blur. Employees will just consider it to be healthcare along a continuum.

Employee benefits and human resources leaders will increasingly look to telehealth providers that complement and honor existing provider, insurance plan and in-network relationships. They will also look for real-time collaboration between these teams and “warm handoffs” of patients, not just data.

TREND 4

Employee Benefits Will Become an Important Retention Tool to Keep Talent and Increase Productivity

With the Great Resignation continuing unabated, companies are finding that employee benefits are becoming increasingly important in retaining workers, curbing absenteeism and promoting better work-life balance. Generous and robust benefits also communicate to employees that companies value them. Studies have found that feeling of value directly correlates to retention.

In fact, in one study, 66% of employees said they are waiting to review their company’s new benefits offering before deciding whether to stay or go.

Benefits are proving even more tantalizing than pay, according to employment research company Workhuman. The company’s Human Workplace Index revealed that 63% of workers surveyed would leave their company if offered better benefits but less or equal pay.

What are the top employee benefits that workers are prioritizing in 2022?

man texting his doctor in an office setting


For 2022, employee health and wellness programs will lean into virtual primary care services that embody the following:

hands texting with doctor

Mental Health

Studies found that 76% of workers say they consider mental health benefits as critical when evaluating new jobs. And 42% of employees with access to mental health benefits say they are more likely to stay with their company, compared to just 27% of those without access.

With the stigma of mental health decreasing and the recognition of the importance of mental health increasing, employers who offer access to quality mental health services stand to differentiate themselves in a competitive and volatile marketplace.

mental health text with doctor

Virtual Health

The pandemic served as the proving ground for telehealth, with some telehealth services logging a 400% increase in usage. What’s more, new users found they liked it. Access to quality telehealth decreased absenteeism and presenteeism. And some large companies have found that expanding telehealth offerings to their unenrolled employees directly impacted their retention and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives.

Expect virtual health to evolve into an increasingly important component of whole person care - and virtual health benefits to become a differentiator among employers in competitive markets.

parent using telehealth for their child

Paid Family Leave and Increased or Unlimited Time-Off

Recognizing the blurred lines between work and life, more employers are increasing their paid time-off. While the number of employers offering unlimited time off (UTO) held steady this past year, expect more companies to explore this option. The increased R&R helps employees combat burnout, calibrate their work-life balance and makes them feel appreciated.

This is particularly true for working mothers. Less than a quarter of private industry employees have access to paid family leave, and the political future of paid family and medical leave looks grim. This provides an opportunity for employers to step up with a benefit that appeals to the high rate of working mothers currently leaving the workforce.

Conclusions

health icon

The expansion of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives to include more underrepresented groups such as rural communities, deskless workers, and uninsured or unenrolled employees.

chat icon

The inclusion of mental health as an essential part of whole person care. This will include expansion of telebehavioral health and EAP programs, as well as increased adoption of mental health apps.

flip icon

The growing expectation by current and potential employees that virtual primary care will be an important component of their benefits package.

flip icon

The elevated role that employee benefits will have in retaining top talent and increasing productivity.