We recently sat down with Jamie North, co-founder of Few, the latest recreational, mental and spiritual fitness platform. Our jam-packed conversation dove into remote work wellness, where companies are falling short when it comes to supporting their employees, some of the main struggles remote employees face both openly and behind closed doors, and how Few is addressing them with their new corporate offerings.
According to hse.gov.uk in the 12 months from 2019 to 2020 in the UK, 17.9 million workdays were lost due to stress, anxiety, and depression. As a result, employees have demanded that a stronger emphasis be placed on remote work wellness, and employers have needed to answer the call, regardless of whether or not they knew how.
Roughly 51% of workers in the EU have experienced or currently are experiencing ongoing stress and depression in the workplace, according to European workplace wellness stats. For many people, stress management is an ongoing battle. Jamie believes that the added pressures of the remote working world have compounded employee stress levels.
"I think the pandemic whilst it has drastically changed the working environment, it has also created some opportunities and some respite, but also some divisions and isolation and an added stress."
Jamie went on to explain that one of the main keys to tackling these struggles starts with adapting your remote work wellness practices and gaining a better understanding around what is workplace wellness.
Many people think that with all the perks of working from home, an employee should be happier, have a higher level of job satisfaction, and better overall workplace wellness due to a more positive work-life balance, but that isn't always the case. Often, with more freedom, comes challenges with setting a solid routine, with more liberty to work from home, comes greater difficulty to shut off for the day, etc. Needless to say, it's not all it's wrapped up to be.
Although remote work is a blessing in so many ways, it doesn't have the glamour that it once had, and one of the reasons for that is because this has literally got to be the worst time to be working remotely. Yes, that's right! The all too familiar feeling of isolation resulting from not being able to leave the 4 walls of our home office, has definitely stripped much of the digital nomad glamour.
Isolation has been a huge struggle for most people, regardless of whether they were used to working from home previously or not, and as Jamie shared, the pandemic put added stress on everyone. You'd think that after 12+ months, we'd all have found our footing with ways to combat the isolation, right? Sadly, not everyone has ☹️. Isolation continues to affect an employee's wellness and will continue to do so until employers start to view remote wellness activities from a new perspective. That is, holistically, taking into account the mental, spiritual, and physical aspects of an employee's wellness. Employers who create workplace wellness programs based on a holistic perspective have the upper hand. Those who don't, take what Jamie calls the 'lazy approach', which we'll explain further later on and share why this approach isn't a long-term solution to employee wellness.
Traditionally, employers would offer the standard wellness pack of recreational benefits for their employees, if that. Included would be an employee's company health insurance policy, which if you were lucky, covered a % of physio, massage, or chiropractors treatments.
This model may seem like it works, but like Jamie, and other conscious remote wellness experts believe, it's not enough.
"It doesn't help anyone because as an employee, I'm not okay. I'm told to go and do what I want, but it doesn't really give me any guidance, I don't actually know [when and in which way to use my benefits]. And then this is the case, unless you know what you're looking for, you don't know what you're looking for."
This is one of the main issues managers are presently grappling with and many are starting to ask the question - Why are my employees no better off even though we're providing them with sufficient wellness benefits? Continue reading to find out the simple, yet often overlooked reason why.
One of the things that need to be addressed when creating an employee wellness benefits package is personalization. Typically an employer throws in a gym pass that covers about a third of the staff. So what happens to the other two-thirds? We dove into this with Jamie to get to the bottom of why employers are continuing to offer something they know isn't working for everyone.
"It's a bit of a lazy approach...I think there will be an increase in these more kind of personalized wellbeing plans or schemes or platforms that allows that execs to show value to their employees without it requiring too much brainpower."
In the remote working world, connecting with and comforting your employees in trying times, isn't so easy. Back if you were working in the office, you likely would have just considered inviting your employees for a coffee or a beer, but now that's a lot harder to do. So instead, rather than take that 'lazy approach' Jamie spoke about, what employers can do instead is to choose to engage with their team members through a third party like Few. Through a customized company wellness platform, employers can top up an employee's wellness budget and let them choose from the service that suits them best. From the manager's side, this eases their stress when it comes to caring for their employees remotely.
One of the hidden gifts the pandemic brought to us was the empowerment to speak up and share our struggles.
"People have been more vocal about anxiety, especially anxiety, and sharing that, and so this has been building up, and has been encouraged."
The wellness industry is under the spotlight as more people are finally becoming a lot more aware of the impact wellness in our personal lives has on our workplace wellness and the importance of creating that well-being window for employees. As an employer himself, Jamie identifies with and understands the challenges of building a business while at the same time managing everyone, trying to think about products, and balancing the books. It's no wonder why many managers often take the broad brushstroke approach when it comes to wellbeing for their employees.
It's for this reason, among others that Few's corporate offerings were born, to help support employers in taking more personalized care of their employee's well-being in the workplace. At the end of the day, corporate Few users, have access to some of the best wellbeing sessions, but they're also being given content that is suitable for them to complement their employee's wellbeing practices. Each employee is unique, and that means they'll likely benefit from a different type of wellbeing activity as compared to their colleague. For example, a team leader, may benefit more from wellbeing activities where they can go inward and enjoy time to themselves, whereas the wellbeing routine of a frontline sales rep working remotely, may look quite a bit different.
"Wellbeing doesn't stop just because you go to work or when you leave work. And I think this is the thing we're trying to get to, you know, your wellbeing is always on, so you always need to be aware of things that impact you. Whether that be your working environment, the design of your work environment, how you interact with food and nutrition, or whether it be how you interact with your external environmental side."
Jamie describes Few as a wellbeing window for you as an individual, one that you can plug into your company providing employees with access to monthly funds, thus allowing them to continuously work on their personal wellbeing.
"Without sounding too much like a hippie, if you were at home happier, you are typically vibrating at a higher rate, and that has a knock-on effect."
We closed off our interview with Jamie, with one final question - Which belief has he been hearing when it comes to remote work wellness that he wishes people would reframe.
"I would say Zoom fatigue because whether we like it or not, I don't see us going back into offices within the next two years. So we need to get used to this online world."
I'm sure we all can relate, having heard ourselves saying, 'Oh, I'm so tired of zoom'. Even Jamie shared that he has caught himself saying it before. In the end, it comes down to the individual, and a lot lies in our court in terms of setting healthy boundaries around things like zoom. In the end, Zoom fatigue is really just on you.
Setting boundaries isn't easy, and as Jamie says, 'you need to be really strict and put in actual blocks of time into your diary to take time for yourself to go inward. The simple act of being more mindful of your day is a real game-changer. Doing little things like calculating your 'commuting time', and using it towards downtime before and after your workday is sure to make things a bit lighter.
It's no secret that as much as workplace wellness is the responsibility of the employer, we can't forget that employees need to take responsibility for their own wellness too. That means, sticking to the boundaries you've set, calculating that commute time, blocking off downtime, and letting your employers know when you may need a little extra support.
Thank you Jamie for bringing forward a refreshed perspective on remote work wellness. Watch the full length interview with Jamie, where we dove deeper into adaptive workspace design, wellness trends in the workplace, HR's role when it comes to wellness, and how managers can hone in on prevention to promote higher levels of wellness in the workplace.