About the Author: Elizabeth Kelley is a Medical Writer for Thermo Fisher Scientific where she develops documents for clinical research trials. She earned her Master of Science degree in Clinical Exercise Physiology from Ball State University where she performed research related to fitness, wellness, and chronic disease. She discovered her passion for workplace wellness through work as a weight management specialist and as an instructor and researcher at the College of Charleston, where she helped to pioneer workplace wellness initiatives and educational programs.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced many organizations to adopt a remote work infrastructure without preparation, policies, or adequate time to provide employees with the necessary skills or resources required to work remotely (1). This rapid shift to remote work affected employee well-being, engagement, and productivity, especially in employees without prior remote work experience (1, 2). On the contrary, other adults working in “front-line” positions were required to go into the workplace during this uncertain time of crisis. As such, mental health concerns, including depression, anxiety, stress, and burn-out have increased substantially since 2020 (3).
The ability to work remotely is often a function of income status and education. Highly educated and/or higher income workers benefited from being able to transition to a remote workforce. Conversely, lower-skilled, lower income, and/or less educated workers were less likely to be able to transition to a remote work environment and bore the heaviest burden of job and income losses (4).
The pandemic also highlighted and even exacerbated pre-existing racial and gender occupational differences. For example, gender inequality in earnings and the burden of additional time dedicated to childcare and housework was disproportionately borne by women (4,5).
In attempt to assist their employees in navigating the challenges brought on by the pandemic, many employers have taken the initiative to explore strategies to support employees’ health and well-being.
The HERO Health and Well-being Best Practices Scorecard in Collaboration with Mercer© (HERO Scorecard) allows employers to provide information on their employee health and well-being initiatives and provides targeted questions related to strategic planning, organizational and cultural support, programs, program integration, participation strategies, and measurement and evaluation. Recently three new best practice scores that focus on the important areas (i.e., workplace mental health and well-being, social determinants of health (SDOH), and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)) were developed. The mental health and well-being, SDOH Score, and DEI score were compiled from a list of workforce health and well-being practices listed throughout the Scorecard related to each area and are all out of 100 points. A list of the practices utilized in each area can be found in the HERO Scorecard user’s guide, but in brief includes related practices from all six sections of the Scorecard (strategic planning, organizational and cultural support, programs, program integration, participation strategies, and measurement and evaluation).
The objective of this commentary is to explore if there are differences in these three best practice scores between employers that report a higher proportion of remote workforce and organizations with a lower percentage of a remote workforce.
Analyses and Results: Data were examined from 210 unique organizations that completed Version 5.0 of the HERO Scorecard between December 2020 and September 2022. Overall, 194 respondents provided information on the proportion of their employees that normally work remotely. Of the 194 respondents, 22 (11.3%) reported that they did not employ a remote workforce, 100 (51.5%) reported <25% remote workforce, 23 (11.9%) reported 25-49% remote workforce, 15 (7.7%) reported 50-74% remote workforce, and 33 (17.0%) reported at least 75% remote workforce.
There were differences on mental health and well-being, SDOH, and DEI best practice scores among organizations with varying proportions of remove workforce. Overall, the no remote (0%) group scored the lowest of all groups in mental health and well-being, SDOH, and DEI scores.
By contrast, the 25-49% remote workforce group consistently scored higher across all best practice scores compared to other remote workforce categories. Table 1 displays the mental health and well-being, SDOH, and DEI best practice scores for all remote workforce categories.
Table 1. HERO Scorecard special best practice scores across remote workforce groups
|Mental Health and Well-being (points)||Social Determinants of Health (points)||Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (points)|
|0% remote||36.74 (22.15)||27.80 (19.28)||27.68 (16.76)|
|< 25% remote||45.24 (23.01)||39.34 (22.47)||37.70 (21.76)|
|25-49% remote||51.55 (21.21)||42.37 (20.54)||46.45 (22.31)|
|50-74% remote||49.06 (24.02)||37.38 (24.79)||39.83 (20.88)|
|75%+ remote||44.67 (22.75)||31.62 (20.70)||33.34 (21.56)|
Data presented as Mean (SD)
Scores are calculated out of 100 points
For many organizations, remote work arrangements continue today. However, given the challenges in balancing employee productivity and well-being and the inequities highlighted or exacerbated by the pandemic, it is important for organizations to continue to monitor the well-being of their workforce and address employee challenges.
Based on our analyses, organizations that indicated they have no remote workforce (0%) and majority remote workforce (75%+) yielded the lowest scores in mental health and well-being, SDOH, and DEI best practice scores. This indicates that these employers are implementing fewer health and well-being best practices than organizations with more of a mix of in-person and remote workplace (<25% to 74% remote workforce. In fact, organizations with a 25-49% remote workforce scored ~15-19% higher in all best practice scores compared to organizations with a fully in-person workforce.
There could be several reasons to these findings, including that organizations with a 25-49% remote workforce may have put a lot of thoughtfulness into who needs to be in the office versus who can work effectively remotely. These organizations may also represent employers that provide more autonomy to let employees choose where they work, and thus may be more likely to be using other health and well-being best practices. Another potential reason for the findings may be that organizations with 25-49% of their employees working remotely need to offer more practices to ensure participation and well-being. However, employers with predominately on-site employees or remote employees should be aware of the challenges their employees face that influence their health and well-being. For example, remote employees may face reduced social support, blurred work-life boundaries, environmental factors, resource availability, and healthy habits whereas office-based employees may face challenges related to reduced flexibility in work schedules, transportation/commuting, childcare or family care concerns, and environmental factors. Workers restricted to an on-site location may be required to work at a time that is not as productive for them (3) or may reduce their allocable time for personal needs that may increase stress, reduce productivity, and increase personal costs to the employee.
Given the lower scores in mental health and well-being, SDOH, and DEI in both majority and minority remote workforce populations, organizations should consider incorporating additional techniques to engage both their on-site and remote workforce to enhance inclusion, equity, and well-being. Identifying and utilizing metrics to assess the accessibility of programming and program integration in both remote and on-site workers is key for organizations to track outcomes to assess the success of their initiatives. Leveraging data and metrics to the assessment of mental health and well-being, SDOH, and DEI of an organization’s remote and on-site workers may enhance employee engagement and retention and improve overall employee satisfaction.
- Galanti, T., Guidetti, G., Mazzei, E., Zappala, S., Toscano, F. (July 2021). Work from Home During the COVID-19 Outbreak. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 63 (7). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8247534/).
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- Ferreira, F.H.G. (2021) Inequality in the time of COVID-19. International Monetary Fund. https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2021/06/inequality-and-covid-19-ferreira.htm
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