WELLBEING AND AGENCY CULTURE
Active focus improves employee engagement, productivity and more
By Maura C. Ciccarelli
One thing the COVID-19 pandemic taught business leaders is that taking an active and genuine interest in employee wellbeing—and expanding it beyond just physical and mental health—is a winning business strategy.
It helps attract and retain the best workers while also improving productivity, engagement, and customer service, says Ali Payne, president of ethOs, a Holmes Murphy company. Now, business leaders are expanding the wellness definition to include financial, career, social and community wellbeing programs.
“I think the pandemic shined a light on the fact that you are not just bringing your own person to work every day and you don’t hang your personality of the door,” she says. “During the pandemic, people showed up to work virtually and brought their whole family—their kids, their dogs, their cats, their significant others.
“It made organizations realize that we really do bring everything that we have going on in our lives to work every day,” Payne adds. “That’s going to impact the work we’re doing.”
Taking a holistic view of wellbeing is important, Payne says, because every employee’s life is different. EthOs has an inside view on the range of wellness factors as a consulting firm that helps companies with employee experience, environmental, social and governance (ESG) and diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) programs, including wellbeing initiatives.
Plus, research has shown that paying attention to wellbeing is not merely a nice thing to do. When employees don’t thrive in one or more areas, the impact includes more sick days, lower job performance, increased burnout and higher turnover. Ongoing research done by Gallup showed significant worldwide economic impact:
- Preventable health conditions make up 75% of medical costs.
- Burnout-related turnover and lost productivity cost $322 billion globally.
- Voluntary turnover costs average from 15% to 20% total payroll.
Fortunately, most employers today have resources in the various wellbeing buckets. These include:
Physical and mental health programs, including employee assistance programs (EAPs)
Career and professional skill development, as well as cross-training
Financial wellbeing programs, including coaching, that help people effectively manage their financial lives, from spending to saving, using things such as budget tools and retirement accounts
Social wellbeing programs that help employees improve their personal relationships and connections
Community wellbeing programs that reach beyond the office and into the larger community
Payne says the last two categories are particularly important for overall wellbeing.
“Social wellbeing is about having strong relationships and love in your life. In our new world of remote work, this is a bit hard,” says Payne. “Employers are determining that connections have never been more important. We see employers being more intentional about increasing opportunities to create those relationships.”
As for the focus on community, she says programs should create the sense of connecting with the area where you live.
“Volunteer opportunities are the most prevalent and are how we are connecting employees to their communities from an employer’s lens,” Payne explains.
These two areas are relatively recent developments in the wellbeing arena. They’ve been driven in part by the younger generations wanting to connect meaning to their work and to their employer’s purpose as well, she says.
“[The pandemic] made organizations realize that we really do bring everything that we have going on in our lives to work every day. That’s going to impact the work we’re doing.”
Payne’s tips for implementing expanded wellness programs include:
- Catalog all the available resources and put them in one location, such as an employee-only intranet website.
- Make sure the programs are effective and valued resources that address common employee needs.
- Organize programs so they can be easily found under the five wellbeing categories: physical/mental health, career, finance, social and community.
“An employee wants a personalized journey because we’re all individuals and we all need and want something different,” Payne advises. “Ask employees what they value. If they don’t value it, stop paying for it.”
She also says she can’t stop stressing the importance of communicating about wellbeing programs frequently. Ways to enhance engagement include these strategies:
- Sending periodic emails that pro-mote the location of information and highlight particular programs
- Educating leaders at various levels so they can promote programs during their interactions with employees
- Offering online webinars to high-light particular programs to encourage their use by workers
- Contracting with a phone-based concierge service so employees can call and explain their problem and get customized suggestions from the concierge
- Evaluating effectiveness and relevance of current employee assistance programs (EAPs)
- Providing flexibility, such as flex hours or remote work options to address career wellbeing and burnout
Payne says reviewing EAPs is particularly important because they often are outdated. “They don’t actually offer what the employees really need,” she says. “Make sure you have a clear picture of what your EAP can do and what it can do for your organization and employees.”
Burnout and engagement
Payne warns that ignoring the impact of burnout and hoping it’s just going to go away will cause the problem to fester.
“Burnout is what the Great Resignation was really all about,” she notes. “About 70 percent [of resignations] were because people were just tired of doing the same old thing every day. They wanted something different.”
Promoting available wellness programs broadly is only the start. Leaders should address suspected burnout individually, Payne recommends, by holding regular one-on-one, authentic conversations that help identify personalized solutions.
Take an active interest in employee wellbeing
“CFOs and CEOs are interested in [wellbeing] because they’ve seen the impact that the pandemic has had on their employees as well as themselves. It’s a bit more of a heightened concern for all levels, not just HR,” she notes.
“When you think about [it], well-being really should be part of your culture,” Payne concludes. “Supporting someone’s holistic wellbeing should just be part of who we are. It’s part of the threads of the organization, and that’s really owned by all of us.”
Maura Ciccarelli is a freelance journalist originally from Philadelphia who now writes about business and more from the road full-time.