Around the world businesses are increasingly focused on employee wellbeing, driven by concern for productivity, a growing prevalence of disease and ill health, and rising healthcare costs. According to a report by Market.us, the global corporate wellness market size is expected to be worth around USD 100.8 billion by 2032 from USD 56.63 billion in 2022.
Research around our stepped care model and treatments are associated with an increase of 30% in cost savings for employers. One large organisation of over 50,000 employees saved an estimated 29 million USD per year due to lower absenteeism, presenteeism, and turnover. However, typical take up of an Employee Assistance Program is low, around 3-7%, and many are ineffective at worst, and wellness washing at best. However, with the expansion of programs to include mental health support, an increasing number of partnerships between employers and healthcare providers, and an increasing adoption of digital wellness solutions, there are more opportunities to support employee mental health.
Rolling out employee wellness programs anywhere and in any organization can be hard. But when looking to do it at a global scale there are a number of considerations to take into account to deliver the best mental health care and employee wellness for everyone in your business.
What employee wellbeing means
The first step to an effective wellbeing strategy is to be clear on what wellbeing means at your workplace. Consider physical health, mental wellbeing, and financial wellbeing. Look at engagement and productivity, and consider measures such as retention rates. You may focus on a psychologically safe workplace where trust is high and positive social interactions the norm.
Once you have defined the overarching theme and idea, and got buy-in (and budget) from stakeholders, it becomes easier to create a policy that can be applied to different areas around the world.
To know if your programme is working you need to regularly review and measure. Proving the effectiveness and return on investment of the EAP can be challenging but if you set clear metrics and goals for the EAP from the outset it is easier to measure impact on employee wellbeing, productivity, and retention.
Currently companies are spending a lot of money on employee wellbeing without meaningful measurement. Aside from reporting uptake, which is typically in the single percentages outside of Wysa, employers have no idea if what they are spending their money on is actually having the desired impact on their teams. In their study of wellbeing initiatives Deloitte found that the majority aren’t working and call for companies to “expand beyond self-reported qualitative data to look at operational and other quantitative data to understand the level of well-being maturity and make informed investments.”
But first you need to know where you are today. Traditional methods such as questionaires are waning in effectiveness, either due to a lack of employee engagement or because people fear repercussions if they open up. Wysa focuses on anonymity in data and uses aggregated data judiciously, ensuring privacy and actionable insights. The Employee Mental Health Barometer allows you to take a snapshot of the levels of anxiety and depression in your organization, whilst aggregated data such as in the form of word clouds ensures that at any moment you can check in and see what issues are facing your employees. Keep open the lines of communication,so people know that if their situation changes, there is support available.
Cultural sensitivity and relevance
Different cultures have varying perceptions and stigmas regarding mental health and seeking help. For example, in India there is still a lot of shame around mental health and the topic is taboo, so terms such as emotional health and coaching rather than therapy are used. In some countries physical wellness is a priority, and mental health less so. And the level of
Anastasia told us how Wysa is powerful for her as mental health carries so much stigma in her home of Ukraine, so the discreet and convenient app is a more comfortable way of getting help. It is essential to customize the EAP to be culturally sensitive. Make sure that you research local customs and beliefs, as well as basic tasks such as providing services in multiple languages. Emphasize confidentiality and the normalcy of seeking help for mental health and personal issues, and alongside Wysa carry out campaigns that support employees throughout the year with emotional wellbeing, to ensure that they feel supported in the work environment to speak up if they need to.
A great way to reach people is to find local champions and advocates in each country, perhaps through an Employee Resource Group. Work with them to identify the most important thing that will move the dial most in their respective region. Whilst there will be an overarching strategy, allow local teams to develop and execute, which will mean different approaches might be taken – but that these should be more effective.
There are a number of different healthcare systems around the world. In the US state healthcare is limited so most people have private healthcare, whereas in the UK the National Health Service is well established. Understanding the existing healthcare system and provisions, and thus the gaps that your EAP and wellness programs and benefits can fill is essential for ensuring that they genuinely meet a need.
Wysa are well established in Singapore as part of a national government scheme started during the pandemic to help the population address their wellbeing. Their approach to population level health and integration of technology has been held up as a standard for other countries to follow. Wysa also works with a number of insurance providers, increasing provision, and helping the individual to improve their health, the company to get the best out of people, and the insurers to save money on claims.
Working hours and intensity varies across the globe and working conditions play a significant role in employee health, and can be one of the main contributors to sick leave. For example, in China and Hong Kong 70-80 hour working weeks are the norm, whereas in Scandinavia they rarely go above 35 (and incidentally are often deemed to be the happiest populations). Around the world we are seeing different attitudes to remote work post pandemic, with some commentators predicting that things have changed and we will never get everyone back on site. There are also different attitudes to work life balance, and the level at which people want employers to influence their personal lives. But when work takes over it becomes very difficult to manage stress, and job satisfaction wanes, leading to health risks, burnout, and low productivity.
It’s essential to understand attitudes to work at a macro level in the country, and whether this is aligned to the way you want your business to be, and if it really is the best route to good employee health. As an employer you can challenge the normal attitudes to work life balance and be leaders to support mental health of employees, even if most organisations don’t. Just be aware this may take a while to implement, as employees learn more about the working conditions you want to create.
Offer training to managers and senior leaders who have a regional or global overview, so they know what the nuances are in each country they have responsibility for. If it’s clear that management are attuned to what is needed it helps provide employees with confidence, building trust that wellbeing and a commitment to improve health is being taken seriously.
Legal and regulatory compliance
Different countries have different laws and regulations regarding data privacy, confidentiality, and health services. It is essential to research and comply with local regulations in each country. This may require partnering with local legal experts to ensure all aspects of the EAP meet legal requirements.
Accessibility and availability
To be effective for all employees your EAP or occupational health scheme needs to be equally accessible to employees in different time zones and remote locations. Implement a flexible EAP like Wysa that has 24/7 accessibility and best in class SOS functions to help minimise risk. Ensure that there is someone who is able to support at all times, so that no matter the day or location, there is help available.
Offer services in multiple languages and ensure marketing and communication materials are also available in these languages – including sign language if needed. Wysa is currently available in English, Hindi, and Spanish, making it accessible to a third of the world’s population. In 2024 Wysa is evolving to be able to be integrated on different platforms, to make it as easy to use as possible as we look to increase access.
Things won’t always go well and what your employees need to flourish at work will change as people leave and join, or priorities change. Global organisations will also need to respond to changes in each locality. It’s essential to be flexible and responsive, in a way that is consistent with employee mental health being a key priority.
The cost of implementing a global EAP can be significant, especially for smaller companies. Yet research outlined in the Harvard Business Review, it was found that every dollar invested in an employee wellness program yielded $6 in health care savings for the company. That’s why you need to ensure that it is being measured and done right, in a way that is accountable. And be prepared to change if that’s not the case.
If you’re looking to get the best out of a global Employee Assistance Program, Wysa is a clinically validated tool that provides personalized, scalable and judgement-free employee mental health support for employees in organisations around the world.