Employees now expect far more from their employers than just a paycheck. Today’s reality is that peeking behind the velvet curtain of an organization is as easy as logging on to Glassdoor, so those looking to attract and retain the best talent are having to think really carefully about their approach to employee well-being. A shiny manifesto on the company website certainly isn’t going to cut it any longer.
In our recent report, Fit for Change: Driving Growth and Transformation in the Future of Work, our Organization and Culture practice unpacked the primary forces shaping cultural change and the message was clear: employee well–being and mental health are the top drivers and, in addition to this, 71% of the companies we surveyed stated that well–being will increase in importance over the next three years.
“Employee well-being right now is a given and I don’t think that will stop on the day we vaccinate everyone.” – Quick Service Restaurant Executive (UK)
This isn’t new. In 1943, Maslow noted that before people can be their best, they need to have their physiological and safety needs met. The pandemic put a spotlight not only on physical safety but mental safety too. The virus created a universal health risk, creating new standards such as social distancing and face coverings, while also exposing the less frequently discussed challenges of isolation and depression. This impact has been especially felt by minorities and women – groups that have already been challenged by traditional ways of working and broader socio–economic issues.
Organizations had to pivot to meet safety needs swiftly – most taking on, at minimum, the physical safety concerns of their people. The recent announcement from the Biden administration to enforce the OSHA policy of protecting employees from ‘grave danger’ has raised the safety standard and also calls into question the role of government and business on individuals’ care.
What is clear, however, is that employees – and the world – are paying attention to companies that fail to care for their people. For example, Amazon has a history of creating challenging environments for its employees, however, the pandemic made that oversight even more severe. A damning exposé from the New York Times featured several major missteps, including failing to disclose the number of cases occurring at warehouses, causing many individuals to be unaware of just how at risk they were. One New York warehouse had at least 700 confirmed cases of COVID-19 between March 2020 and March 2021. When it came to Amazon’s duty of care to its employees, not even the minimum needs were being met.
However, the risks of not protecting your people extend beyond the obvious moral responsibility. New research by SilverCloud Health found that 46% of its survey respondents chose to quit or considered quitting a job due to mental health needs, a stat that will only serve to accelerate the ’Great Resignation’ if companies don’t create holistic wellness game plans.
Being a leading employer committed to your employees’ wellbeing has significant benefits:
- Reduced turnover: According to Mercer’s 2017 National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plan, employers who create cultures of health see 11% lower turnover than employers who did little to prioritize employee well-being.
- Improving performance: Employees with high well-being are almost twice as likely to be engaged and enjoy their work.
So, what can you do to make sure you’re building a resilient organization, leading with the wellbeing of your people?
- Listen between the lines: These are unparalleled times and the impact of new ways of working are surfacing new issues. By now, organizations have hopefully addressed the physical safety needs of their people, but leaders should be paying attention to the broader set of well-being needs. According to the same research by SilverCloud, when U.S. employees say they are okay, 84% don’t always mean it and 37% mean it less than half the time. Employees can be reluctant to share if they fear retaliation or don’t believe anything will come from being honest. Leaders need to be trained to listen without consequences to build a culture of trust, especially within HR where employees can be skeptical of their motivations. Also, organizations need to create more safe spaces and forums for employees to share their challenges in and out of work and build in additional mechanisms to recognize where employees need help, even if they’re not directly saying it.
“You have to balance introversion and extroversion in a remote environment. Find ways to reach out to people to make sure they are okay without asking too much of them. Open up happy hours and let people join if they want or don’t want to. And if managers know people struggle with mental health, reach out to them.” – a GVP of Strategy & Operations
- Be human first, then a leader: To create an environment where people feel safe to express what they need and take advantage of resources, employees should see those behaviors modeled from the top. Leaders should be transparent and vulnerable – sharing the resources they use and how they are feeling. At the same time, be empathetic, recognizing that some will have very different challenges than others within their organizations. There are some organizations that are going above and beyond by not just creating more supportive leaders, but also creating roles for leaders to focus on organizational wellness. Deloitte, for example, just appointed its first Chief Wellness Officer.
“It’s about empathizing with associates and what they’re dealing with. Empathizing with the fact that different people may be having different experiences and recognizing how real that is.” – Medical Products Executive
- Build a stronger organizational “Body” to build healthier human bodies: The Body, or an organization’s systems, is core to providing the support needed by employees, especially in terms of benefits and programs. Meaningful change must happen at multiple levels across your organization. At the corporate level, there should be ongoing innovations to address broader well–being. According to a recent report, The Future of Benefits, by Care.com, 57% of senior leaders said that care benefits are being considered a higher priority by organizations to better support their employees in both work and life. Also, 63% of respondents said they plan to increase their company’s already existing childcare benefits. Employer-sponsored benefits can also be supplemented by new solutions from companies like Peloton and Noom.
- Work in a way that works best for you: Benefits from the top are critical, but true change will happen locally within teams. Our research report has found that a key fundamental to change requires businesses to push decision rights downward and this is true when creating a culture of well-being. Teams should be given the flexibility to build well–being solutions into their day–to–day, implementing ‘meeting-free blocks’, full team days off and whatever else is needed.
“Employees need to feel empowered and responsible for managing their work and the flex time. We are getting people to understand that they’re going to have more flexibility, focus on getting the work done and allowing teams to feel like teams.” – EVP of Stewardship, Global CPG Brand
- If you change nothing, nothing will change: Your employees’ well–being is constantly evolving and so too should your efforts to meet them. Consider external factors like time of year or the state of your hybrid work. What employees need in summer will vary from winter, so respond and support accordingly. And don’t be afraid to try and pilot new programs to demonstrate your continued investment in your people. Prophet’s Change Fitness model, shows the most resilient organizations embrace experimentation – rather than simply creating new programs to overcome challenges. So, organizations should focus on evolving in partnership to continue getting the best from their people.
The war for talent has never been hotter and employees should be prioritizing the health and well-being of themselves and their families. Human-centered organizations put people at the center of their business – creating a system of ‘well-doing’, not just well-being. And in doing so, they create a culture where people can focus on higher-order issues to stay resilient when needed most.
If you’d like to build a more resilient organization that prioritizes employee well-being, our Organization & Culture experts can help, get in touch today.