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Employers are turning to virtual health care offerings to support employees’ physical wellness amid the ongoing pandemic.

Since Alithya, a Montreal-based technology company, launched a wellness portal last July, a virtual fitness program has become one of the most utilized benefits offerings, says Catherine Bourque, its vice-president of human capital. The program — which allows employees to complete a pre-determined workout routine or work with a trainer — has proven so popular, she notes, the company introduced an employee fitness challenge.

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“Well-being is at the core of our values. When the pandemic hit us, it was important for us to support our employees in every way we could. . . . With everyone working from home, it’s difficult to get people moving.”

The portal also allows Alithya to tailor its wellness offerings across a diverse range of age demographics. “It allows us to provide a wide range of offerings because not all employees want the same thing. For example, the younger workers want flexibility to spend money on virtual workouts or physiotherapy.”

And virtual wellness offerings are also helping the company with talent retention and acquisition, says Bourque. “The portal is representative of an evolution of the employee experience. With the very competitive recruitment market, employers have to make sure the employee experience is innovative and adapted to 2022. I think having [wellness] services at your fingertips makes it much easier for employees to find what they’re looking for. This type of solution is here to stay — it’s not something temporary.”

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Suresh Moorthy, national product leader at Mercer Canada, says the pandemic has prompted a shift to virtual offerings for all aspects of physical wellness. In addition to virtual fitness, there’s been an increase in employees seeking support on improving their diet and sleep hygiene.

“Typically, most employees would walk into a clinic for massage therapy or into a pharmacy to talk about the medication they’re using. With the current environment, those things that were once very easy for us have been taken away. People are now looking for things on a digital basis and employers are trying to find ways to help them save time and effort in finding those types of resources. The biggest changes we’ve seen is in telemedicine — allowing employees to access a doctor virtually and have that consultation in the comfort of their home. The same physical wellness needs are still there, it’s just a matter of finding services and accessing them.

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“We see virtual gyms being used more frequently,” he adds. “We also see employers with onsite gyms taking their trainers and having them do online sessions. They’re also repurposing gym memberships and using those credits for wellness dollars and having them available for anyone to use.”

Moorthy also says more plan sponsors are taking a proactive approach when supporting employees’ physical wellness. “Employers are looking at services like a health coach to get someone on a healthier path by managing their medication or stress or physical pain or using musculoskeletal services, such as ensuring employees have the right ergonomic setup at home.”