If benefits managers really want to see workplace wellness thrive, they may want to start encouraging workplace flexibility more, says one industry expert.

“We’re not making the link — it’s siloed,” says Cali Yost, CEO of Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit, Inc. “Wellness is in one bucket; flexibility is in another. They are siloed and that’s what needs to change.”

The problem, Yost says, is that many organizations separate wellness, work-life flexibility and other employee strategies into separate initiatives rather than linking them together to benefit both business and employee performance.

There is an inherent link between wellness participation and workplace flexibility, she says.

Yost’s firm has new data to back up her claim: Teleworkers are more likely to pursue wellness options on their own compared to their office-based counterparts, according to a poll of 617 full-time workers commissioned by Flex+Strategy Group and Work+Life Fit. Nearly 20% noted that despite not participating in a corporate wellness program, they pursue wellness opportunities on their own, with teleworkers (24%) having significantly more initiative than those that work in an office (17%).

That’s partly due to the discipline and focus needed by workers who aren’t in a traditional office setting.

“To be a successful teleworker, you need to be intentional; you need to be thoughtful about what you’re doing,” Yost explains. “There’s an element of discipline when you’re a teleworker that is being applied to all these other things that they are doing, and I think that’s something that organizations can really leverage.”

For example, Yost says, workers who telecommute often use the time they save on commuting to exercise.

And it applies to workers who work in traditional office settings, too. For example, employers can encourage employees to take a long lunch so they can take a walk — or to leave earlier in the day so they can catch a yoga class.

“These small shifts often times make the biggest difference,” Yost says.

The data is the most recent in a string of good news for remote workers.

Employee engagement firm TINYpulse recently found that people who work remotely are not only happier than their in-office counterparts, but they feel more valued at work and report being more productive.

“[The research] is another point that reinforces, if done well, remote work can not only benefit business — in terms of productivity and retention — but it can make employees healthier,” Yost says.

Still, the data reveal, participation is lagging among all workers — half of employees say they don’t participate in wellness activities.

Twenty percent said even though their company provides a wellness program, they do not participate. Millennials are less likely than others to take part in such programs than their elder colleagues. Meanwhile, 25% said wellness/well-being programming is not an option at their workplace.

To remedy this, Yost says employers need to meet employees where they are and encourage flexibility while also guiding them on solutions.

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“With guidance on how to use work-life flexibility, these employees have learned how to fit work and other priorities, including exercise and doctor’s visits, into their lives."

In fact, the Flex+Strategy Group/ Work+Life Fit data reveal, a lack of work-life flexibility is not a barrier to employee wellness, as nearly all employees (96%) reported having some type of flexibility. But, a lack of training and guidance from employers to employees is.

The data indicated that training and guidance to help use and manage work-life flexibility significantly increases employee wellness participation. While less than half of those surveyed (47%) noted they received such training, those who did were significantly more likely (43%) to say they participate in corporate wellness programs than those who did not receive training (24%).

“With guidance on how to use work-life flexibility, these employees have learned how to fit work and other priorities, including exercise and doctor’s visits, into their lives,” Yost says. “Such training provides organizations an untapped opportunity to educate employees about the various supports and rewards available through workplace wellness programs to be their most productive and healthy selves.”

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