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Using Technology to Promote Employee Wellness

By Irina Shestakova, Director of Total Rewards, The Washington Post

Irina Shestakova, Director of Total Rewards, The Washington Post

In a world driven by smartphones, emails, and social media, it is not surprising that many wellness initiatives utilize technology to drive employee engagement and outcomes. There is an app out there for anything – from weight loss challenges, to tracking biometrics data, to practicing mindfulness. Considering limited resources and the speed of technological advances, should HR practitioners invest in a robust intranet, or mobile technologies to promote employee wellness?

The answer is both. While mobile tools help access relevant physical wellness information anytime, anywhere, the intranet is uniquely positioned to become a hub that reinforces the social aspect of wellbeing in a workplace. A well-designed intranet can cultivate a sense of connectedness among your employees – to your brand, to coworkers, and to the communities.

When designing employee experiences and developing internal communications, The Washington Post’s HR team takes a holistic approach towards the concept of wellness. We view employee wellness as having four distinct components: physical, emotional, financial, and social. Creating an inclusive, collaborative environment is a critical component of The Post’s culture. And the company’s intranet, GuidePost, has become indispensable in addressing employees’ needs for connectedness and social acceptance.

"While mobile tools help access relevant physical wellness information anytime, anywhere, the intranet is uniquely positioned to become a hub that reinforces the social aspect of wellbeing in a workplace"

GuidePost is the hub for internal communications, events, documents, and other essential content. Our social media page marries internal, employee-generated content with external engagement. GuidePost highlights journalistic and technological awards received by The Post’s staff, which evokes a sense of pride and belonging to the company’s brand. Even coming up with the name for the intranet was a company-wide initiative! Our internal social media presence is also featured on our intranet. By following our internal social media page, @washpostlife, you can learn about your colleagues’ jobs, find out what’s going on in a remote office, or catch up on a company-wide event that you missed. And by displaying wellness-related information on the intranet next to company news and journalistic awards, we are driving the point that wellness is an important part of our culture and that employees need to take ownership of their wellbeing as much as their work results.

If your intranet already drives social engagement, I believe that using it – and relevant mobile tools – to promote physical, emotional and financial wellbeing is the biggest challenge and the best opportunity facing HR professionals. Effective intranets and mobile tools not only educate and empower employees to make smart decisions, they invite workers to take practical steps towards improving their lives – whether it’s eating healthier, saving for an emergency fund, or practicing meditation.

HR teams face the challenge of making the company’s intranet experience unique and relevant through personalization. Imagine an intranet page that displays a colorful chart showing employee retirement readiness and a single-sign-on link to the 401(k) administrator’s site to increase their savings rate next to employees’ current 401(k) account balance. What if, on the same screen, it listed upcoming company-sponsored retirement planning seminars with a “sign-up now” button? What are the chances that employees would take that next step and increase their savings rate or attend a financial seminar? Wouldn’t doing so increase their financial wellbeing in addition to promoting peace of mind?

Personalization is at the core of business models for technology giants like Google, Facebook, and Amazon. And while the concept of customizing employees’ experiences is being embraced by more HR practitioners, implementing that idea to drive wellness initiatives has several obstacles:

1. Cost of Data Aggregation. In many mid- and large-size companies, employee information is dispersed among multiple health and retirement vendors. Transforming an intranet into a hub that not only aggregates employee data from multiple sources, but also creates an interactive, tailored employee experience may be an expensive and time-consuming undertaking.

2. Access to Information. Data security laws may limit health-related information that companies may access, thus limiting the effectiveness of some physical wellness initiatives.

3. Quality of Content. For the personalization to be truly effective and even anticipate employees’ behaviors, needs and wants, intranets need to deliver significant volume of valuable content – something that many intranet teams struggle to produce and maintain.

Considering these challenges, should HR teams abandon the idea of enhancing their intranets and wellness-related experiences? Not necessarily. Even though personalization technologies currently may be beyond the reach, developing quality content, enhancing search capabilities, displaying related data, and using data analytics to understand employee behaviors will be time well spent and will lay the groundwork for future technological enhancements.

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