8 Ways to Foster an Environment of Employee Wellbeing
88% of employees report that the meaning of success has recently changed for them, with more and more considering a healthy work environment as vital as professional achievement: how to fuel both.
Employee wellbeing is now front and center in just about every organization's strategic plan, and remote working has unveiled a greater understanding of how individuals desire a greater purpose that speaks to connection and support. As a result, the U.S. corporate wellbeing market is now estimated to be $20.4 billion and is projected to exceed $87.4 billion by 2026 (both stats according to a February 2022 ReportLinker article).
In responding to the changes the pandemic had on work life, including variations in engagement and performance, companies need to embed wellbeing in all aspects of their people strategies. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development's Health and Wellbeing Report 2021 showed a dramatic connection between investments in that regard and retention, productivity and overall satisfaction.
As the Great Resignation continues to accelerate into the first quarter of this year, 55% of professionals expect employee turnover to further increase in 2022, according to a Korn Ferry survey, and a recent Oracle report suggested that higher salaries or more perks may not be a sufficient motivator. No less than 88% of employees Oracle surveyed said that the meaning of what "success" looks like has changed for them. Today, people are prioritizing work-life balance, mental health and purpose.
Cleary then, when organizations invest in people, they invest in their own success, but what are the preferred methods of doing that?
Related: 10 Leadership Essentials for 2022
1. Establish wellness discussions with employees
Regular check-ins with individuals and groups are a great start, and need not be overly complicated. Exploring individual motivational needs towards improved health and performance can provide the basis of a healthy-environment road map. Leaders can uncover ways of improving workplace wellness through asking staff members the following questions:
• "What do you truly care about when it comes to health and lifestyle?"
• "What motivates you to act in this area?"
• "What principles would you adopt if you were to design a wellness program?"
• "Can you identify strategies that capture the interests and needs of different team members?"
• "What benefits or measures would you suggest to improve wellbeing at work?"
• "How would you know that wellbeing marks have been achieved… do you have any suggestions on how to track progress?"
2. Put mental health at the forefront
Even as people's lives become more interconnected, working from home can present its own unique stressors (including isolation), and so investment is required in both physical and mental health. Leaders can begin by destigmatizing mental health issues through discussions at an executive level — in strategic plans and with a goal of ensuring that services and tools will be available for all employees to access.
Leaders can also create environments where employees feel empowered to ask for help and are provided with the resources to manage their mental health proactively. There are a variety of offerings to explore, from free counselling and stress reduction techniques to mental health training and workshops.
3. Lead by example
Leaders set the tone for workplaces' approach to mental wellbeing. For example, if employees don't see leaders taking breaks, or observe them working at an unsustainable pace, this can become both acceptable and the (unfortunate) benchmark.
Tennis professional Naomi Osaka and Olympic gymnast Simone Biles recently made headlines when they voluntarily withdrew from sporting events due to mental health issues. A global and helpful discussion was fostered as a result, and organizational leaders can take a lesson here — not least how vital it is for all to take time off to recharge.
Leading by example can also mean acknowledging that you, too, are learning as you go —embracing the reality that you do not have all the answers and in trying to work on yourself and make things better. Honest conversations breed psychologically safe environments.
4. Level up managers with mental health training
Leaders must make a point of training themselves (and others) in how to recognize when individuals are struggling with mental health challenges, and in ways of supporting them. Such training needs to apply a specific focus on how managers invite individuals to voice mental health concerns, and the importance of responding quickly. Managers require practical tools when faced with challenges such as how to lead conversations with team members and explore wellness strategies with them and how to approach individual members during difficult situations and/or when they are in crisis.
5. Embrace psychological safety
Cultivating a more open environment supports individuals in taking risks without feeling insecure. It also allows teams to perform at their best, and fosters the sharing of experiences. In addition, psychologically safe environments support both confidence in discussing mental wellbeing and open honest discussions about how a workplace can be improved. Leaders can boost this sense of psychological safety by asking for feedback, being open about failure and creating a culture where everyone has a voice.
6. Focus on the whole person
The pandemic has opened the door for workplaces to focus on broader dimensions of employee health, from physical to mental to financial. Good leaders also support staff members who need to care for loved ones who might be ill, or who otherwise need to attend to areas of life outside the workplace.
One novel way some organizations are addressing this need is through lifestyle spending accounts (LSAs) — a recruiting tool for new employees and an incentive for current ones that compensates for physical, financial and emotional wellness expenses. Another possibility is providing student debt relief or short-term loans for those experiencing unexpected costs (such as car repair). Companies can organize and deduct repayments through payroll processes, easing credit concerns for employees. Another option is providing incentives, such as $50 per month that can be used toward any health-related costs.
7. Upskilling employees
Ongoing education is integral to employee career growth, and should be integrated within company time. Fostering a learning culture encourages all staff members to improve, and here again, leading by example is key. This can be as simple as leaders sharing the most recent article they read, an upskilling YouTube they watched or course they completed.
According to a 2021 PwC report, it is estimated that 40% of employees will require up to six months of reskilling by 2025. Even though digital skills are in high demand, soft skills such as emotional intelligence, communication and leading a dispersed team are also going to be more valuable in the workplace. To that end, PwC has invested $3 billion to upskill all employees over the next few years.
8. An overall culture of wellbeing
Making meaningful connections with co-workers and fostering open discussions with empathy and compassion will go a long way towards establishing trust. Taking the time to connect with people about their lives outside of work — such as having a team lunch or scheduling one-on-one check-in meetings — sets the tone that everyone's health is paramount, and the payoff will likely be quickly seen in the form of improved work performance.
Virgin has taken an innovative approach to this by engaging employees through AI: a virtual journey called The Great Adventure that addresses personal health and wellbeing needs. AskNicely, a global SaaS platform, implemented a Nice Days program in which staff can take time out for mental wellbeing; this is in addition to both its standard leave and "Work from Anywhere" travel incentives for staff to work together anywhere in the world.
The takeaway here is that creating a culture in which people can take the time they need to be happy and healthy creates additional positive ripples in both performance and profitability.
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