Wellbeing Programs Are a Post-Covid Business Essential
The ability of companies to address employee needs in an impactful way may be the difference between surviving and thriving.
Covid has brought wellbeing to the forefront of the agenda of most companies. This shifted the corporate view of wellbeing programs as a nice box to check to a business essential for maintaining staff engagement, productivity and retention.
This article explores why it's so important that businesses have a program in place in order to thrive in our post-Covid world and a few strategies you can implement.
What exactly is wellbeing, and why does it matter?
In Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, authors Tom Rath and Jim Harter defined wellbeing in five key areas that shape our lives: careers, relationships, finances, physical health and community wellbeing. Your list may include other elements, such as personal development, environment or fun/recreation. But generally speaking, it's about ensuring we have enough of those essential elements to make life feel worthwhile.
Research has shown that wellbeing can have a profound impact on work and company profits. Employees who are happiest with the quality of their life both at and outside of work have generally demonstrated better performance and job satisfaction. Harvard professor and happiness expert Shawn Achor found that happy people consistently outperform their peers, increasing sales by 37%, productivity by 31%, and accuracy on tasks by 19%, as well as a many other health and quality of life improvements.
Covid and loss of wellbeing
Even as things begin to return to "normal," Covid's impact on the workplace continues with globally documented increases in anxiety and depression. After a year in isolation, many people remain reluctant to go to work and yet, long to connect with friends and colleagues. According to new research from Alight Solutions and the Business Group on Health, fewer than half of employees currently say they feel positive about their overall wellbeing.
What makes for greater wellbeing can often be elusive. While often viewed as a perk, the rise in remote work and flexible working hours has only added to their stress, as people around the globe shifted from 9-to-5 to 24/7 always-on digital workplaces. While this caused an initial surge in productivity, related burnout and other mental health issues have caused some employees' performance to suffer while the longer-term consequences remain unknown.
Conversely, despite the often lack of healthy work/life boundaries, many are refusing to go back. The much anticipated "Big Quit" has become a hot topic with the data to support it. In a recent Envoy survey, research found that nearly 50% of people said they'd quit if they were forced to return to work.
Digging deeper, the survey found that most were concerned about their health and safety upon returning to the workforce (66%), with concerns that Covid-19 safety measures could be relaxed too soon (61%). While the overall figures were startling high, according to the report, these fears were even higher among people of color (78%) and Gen Z staff (75%).
So what's a company to do to support their employees wellbeing and stop the costly talent drain? The key lies in how companies view the post-pandemic workplace and a general shift in focus from being workplace centric to being workforce centric. In a 2020 Limeade Institute report, they found that employee care can be the antidote to unwanted employee turnover.
So, what now?
Clearly, a lot of work still needs to be done. In the research by Limeade, they found a big disparity in workplace wellbeing. When survey participants were asked if they felt their organization cared about their whole-person wellbeing, only 55% of participants agreed. However, just having a wellbeing program isn't enough. When asked why they thought their organization has an employee wellbeing program, most said it was because they wanted to improve productivity or thrive as a business. It's no longer possible to just check the box — you need to develop thoughtful, more holistic responses in order to retain employees.
The good news is that implementing an employee wellbeing program doesn't have to be a lot of work or expensive. Empathy and connection, whether in person or virtually, can go a long way. But as most people know, these characteristics aren't always a strong suit of some managers and leaders. Coaching and 360 feedback can help, along with a zero tolerance policy towards bad behavior. What's most important is that people at all levels in the company are included in the discussion, so they feel heard and have what they need to feel and do their best.
Here are few things you can do to improve organizational wellbeing:
- Ensure a feeling of safety by implementing a Covid-19 plan
- Stress the importance of flexibility in hours or location while also helping them institute boundaries to ensure staff don't feel like their work day never ends
- Implement strategies aimed at supporting employee mental health, beginning with normalizing the fact that it's okay, not to feel okay
- Provide support for wellbeing stressors occurring outside the workplace, like financial or relationship wellbeing. Help staff get access to caregiving and/or financial support by providing tools and other resources
- Finally, and most importantly, provide training for staff on how to listen for and respond when someone is in need of support. The sooner people have the help they need, the quicker they can regain their wellbeing.
As we globally breathe a sigh of relief that (hopefully) the worst is over, for many the trauma remains. Companies that support their staff in ways that feel impactful will create mutual commitment and loyalty that engenders a great employee experience.
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