Employee well-being has long been a hot topic among workplace leaders, yet it’s often a business objective that ends up on the back burner. But as the pandemic spurred unprecedented business challenges, highlighting the critical need for a healthy workforce, it's become clear that companies who wish to retain talent and stay competitive can no longer hold off on prioritizing the well-being of their employees.
Data show that nearly all employers have made significant changes to improve employee experience since March of 2020. According to a 2021 PwC survey of 368 companies, almost all employers (91%) added flexible work arrangements, and over half of employers (53%) added mental health programs. The same survey also found that 44% of employers added or increased wellness programs and 44% added or increased time off.
While the conversations and data are promising, it's only a start. As a response to the global pandemic, many employees are prioritizing their well-being now more than ever, and employers have the opportunity to be flexible and forward-thinking to maintain employee engagement. To do that, companies and their leaders can embrace three approaches: be proactive, expand their definition of well-being, and lead by example.
Be more proactive
To stay competitive, companies must be proactive by checking in with their teams before the next challenge arises.
The Labor Department reported that a record 4.5 million workers left their jobs in November 2021. The global pandemic was a tipping point for many to leave jobs they felt weren’t supportive of their overall well-being. And even if these challenges aren't driving employees to quit, they can often impact a company's bottom line. In a survey of 2,000 US. workers by The Recovery Village, 87% reported symptoms of mental health and 78% say they had to miss work due to mental health challenges — and missed work means missed revenue.
One tack employers might consider is to shift how they evaluate employees' performance. Adobe, the global software company, transitioned away from annual reviews to ongoing, flexible check-ins back in 2012. Stanford Business School detailed Adobe's efforts and found that “two years after the check-in approach was implemented, voluntary attrition continued to trend downward on a global basis.”
Whether it’s taking a more flexible approach to employee reviews, facilitating more staff surveys, or holding voluntary focus groups with internal teams, employers have options. By tapping into at least one of these methods, leaders can make incremental changes that show team members the company is invested in their well-being.
Employers can think beyond standard wellness to bolster employee well-being. By expanding the definition of wellness to more than just physical health, employers have an opportunity to offer more comprehensive employee benefits.
Employers can help foster their employees' well-being by thinking more holistically. For example, an organization can create programs that support their workers' career growth via upskilling and training programs, provide critical team-building activities with their colleagues that can inspire stronger collaboration, and create employee affinity groups (e.g., DEI, women, LGBTQIA+) that can cultivate a sense of belonging and social well-being.
Financial wellness is another aspect of employee well-being. An Ellevest-commissioned survey in 2021 found that almost half of women (49%) said financial stress took a toll on their mental and emotional health, yet only 32% of employers offer financial literacy to their employees (1,600 full-time employed US adults were surveyed). This is a considerable gap that employers have a chance to fill with options like budgeting workshops or financial literacy training.
Even if companies are more proactive and expand their definition of wellness, there’s still one more thing leaders can do in order for these changes to make a difference — and that's leading by example. After all, it's one thing to announce a commitment to employee well-being, and it's another to actually take steps toward doing so.
A World Health Organization (WHO) report, published in 2021, looked at long working hours for 194 countries from 2000 to 2016 and found that stress due to long work hours contributed to 745,000 deaths from heart disease and stroke. The results of the research point to the mental, physical, and emotional toll felt by workers.
Whether it's incorporating wellness into internal communications, asking senior leaders to join wellness programming with teams, or encouraging time off, leaders have a chance to cultivate an open environment where employee wellness is prioritized.
Reframing one's view of how to incorporate wellness into the workplace can be more simple than one may think. Some companies — like Nike, LinkedIn, and Bumble — have encouraged mental health breaks by giving their workers an entire paid week off. And with labor shortages reaching far up in the leadership chain, 62% of C-suite executives say they're investing more money in employee compensation through bonuses and cost-of-living adjustments, as well as fostering a culture of caring by checking in more with their employees.
Why invest now?
By investing in well-being now, employers can boost employee engagement and employee satisfaction. It can also boost the company’s bottom line moving forward. According to research from a 2021 Gallup survey, companies with a highly engaged workforce are linked to profitable performance.
On the flip side, if companies wait to prioritize employee well-being, the sheer amount of stress and burnout in the workforce can impact a company's bottom line. According to the American Psychological Association's 2021 Work and Well-being survey, nearly 3 in 5 employees (59%) have reported negative impacts of work-related stress, including a lack of interest and motivation, trouble focusing, and decreased productivity. On top of that, glossing over employee well-being can also affect retention. A similar survey from Mind Share Partners found that employees who felt their current employer supported their mental health were 2 times more likely to stay at a company for two or more years.
The time to act isn’t next quarter or next year; it’s right now. As leaders come together to activate these improvements, it’s important to acknowledge that investment in employee well-being is less of a change to culture and policy change and more of a chance to change a company's trajectory.