After the past 12 months, many people are stressed out, facing financial uncertainty, and not clear about what the path will be going forward for them professionally and in some cases personally. Requiring participation in a workplace wellness “challenge” right now probably is not something any employee that is a caregiver sees as being valuable, nor does any employee that may have lost one or more friends or family members to COVID. It’s probably also not all that appealing to those that are adjusting to new ways of working or realizing just how much has changed in their own communities. Another “wellness” challenge to reduce a premium spend? That probably is not meeting most employees, in the world we are in, where they are or solving for their specific pain points. It becomes one more thing they have to do versus providing something that helps them be and stay engaged at work. It’s just one more stressor.

So what are some things leaders can do for their employees that can help build better engagement right now, higher levels of trust, and create a more inclusive work culture?

  1. Address The Gender Issues

For anyone that saw the U.S. jobs report from Dec. 2020, you’ll notice that 140,000 jobs were lost. All of them had been held by women. And many of those women come from diverse backgrounds. Articles that have been published by the BBC, The New York Times and other journalistic platforms have clearly pointed out how the pandemic has impact working women at all levels. When looking at your return to work strategies, make sure there is an understanding of the gender gap issues that could impact whether or not there is equitable treatment for employees across the gender arc. All the gains that have been made in closing the gender gap in the workplace could go backwards by decades. Leaders can take a proactive approach to making sure there is a path forward for all employees, regardless of gender.

2. More Targeted Diversity and Inclusion Solutions

We all saw thousands and thousands of people marching in the streets regarding the need to address systemic racism. There is a hyperawareness of how the pandemic has impacted communities of color and the additional healthcare inequities that exist. Leaders can look at their benefits design and total rewards programs, as well as their leadership training programs, and identify where the diversity gaps are and start to solve for them. It isn’t just about a affinity groups. It’s about providing the right resources and training and identifying where biases are so there is a baseline. Having that baseline gives leaders the ability to set goals to take positive steps forward, measurable steps.

3. Relevant Mental Health and Wellbeing Resources

For anyone that reviewed the Kaiser Foundation data on mental health and the workplace last year, we know this is a very serious and growing issue. And yet there is not enough focus on how to effectively utilize resources already being paid for by the company or being able to evaluate if the resources in place are truly helping to address the mental health crisis. Just referring employees to an EAP doesn’t mean they will use it. It doesn’t mean the EAP provider is a good fit for your culture. It doesn’t address whether or not the work culture “punishes” people that are viewed as weak for getting help. If not, you may be paying for something and getting little or no value. Take the time to evaluate if the mental health and wellbeing vendors and resources are effectively helping your employees and their dependents.

As we get further into 2021, leaders will be faced with a lot of challenges. Your workforce, now more than ever, needs to know about the resources you have in place that can help them thrive and weather uncertainty, crisis and change. There is no doubt that the future will be different from our old normal. We will probably be seeing a lot of next normals for quite a while. Leaders can more strategically keep their businesses on track and protect their bottomline by taking a more proactive approach to what employees actually need. What they don’t need is some stand alone “challenge” that has nothing to do with what they need to stay engaged. Your employees need to know that what the company is providing as benefits takes away pain points so they can be the innovators and creative problem solvers they need to be.

Mim Senft, GBA, AAI, CWWS. CEO, Motivity Partnerships and Co-Founder of the non-profit Global Women 4 Wellbeing (GW4W)