Over the past few months, COVID-19 has placed a spotlight on health, wellness and well-being in peoples’ personal and professional lives. Impacting every person around the globe, this global pandemic has brought the concept of comprehensive well-being – defined by The World Health Organization as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity – to the forefront of executives’ minds. Today, executives are seeking to manage their own resilience and well-being, while simultaneously adapting to the evolving and multifaceted needs of their employees. Yet as organizations are navigating how to adjust to the current pandemic, and address the inextricably linked issues of people, health, engagement and social responsibility, a greater systematic issue around employee well-being is coming to light. Russell Reynolds Associates recently surveyed global human resources leaders across industries to gain a better understanding of how wellness is being prioritized within organizations today as well as assessing preparedness for the future.
|Do you believe your company should be more focused on well-being going forward?|
|More focused on well-being going forward||94%|
|How prepared do you feel to tackle the well-being of your employees in the future?|
|Well prepared for the future||14%|
Ninety percent of human resources (HR) leaders believe there is a close or near-perfect correlation between productivity and well-being. Yet according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, in the past year, 85 percent of employees’ mental health conditions were undiagnosed or untreated. This cone of silence can lead to a loss of productivity and ultimately increased burnout rates. Globally, 615 million people suffer from depression and anxiety, with an estimated cost of $1 trillion in lost productivity each year. Additionally, 75 percent of millennials and GenZers have left roles because of mental health concerns.
|How would you rate your company’s efforts at addressing the physical/mental/emotional health of your employees?|
Company efforts around physical health are well established and efforts on mental health have made significant strides in recent years, but there is no doubt both can still be improved, and the failure of companies to address emotional health has become evident during COVID-19. Emotional health can be defined as a person’s ability to accept and manage feelings through challenge and change, with poor emotional health impacting self-esteem, performance and productivity at work. Eleven percent of the leaders surveyed rated their company's efforts around emotional health as poor or very poor. COVID-19 has accelerated the focus on emotional well-being, with leaders raising concerns about employee health during a prolonged period working remotely. The concept of holistic health and well-being is critical. As companies look to maintain or enhance the productivity of their employees, they must take a responsibility for all elements of their employees’ health.
While there is a clear business case for caring about employee well-being, individual employees are still left to manage these issues largely on their own on a reactive basis. Although many organizations have created cultures that are supportive of mental health and overall wellness, an opportunity remains to fully integrate professional life and personal life in a manner that authentically promotes and supports well-being as a core part of the employment contract. Additionally, organizations need to increase firmwide efforts to eliminate the stigma around mental health. Today, only 11 percent of executives surveyed said their organization’s efforts were very good in regard to the focus on the mental and emotional health of their employees.
The idea of “wellness washing” – that the responsibility of well-being remains with the employee rather than the employer – persists through many organizations currently. By offering opt-in programs and passive support, employers are not taking full responsibility for their employees and are treating wellness superficially. Instead, they need to establish comprehensive well-being programs that span across safety, physical, financial, social, community, and mental/emotional well-being.
It is not just company employees who benefit from well-being programs. The “halo effect” around well-being suggests that investing in employees has a ripple effect that creates positive momentum onto families, ecosystems and ultimately customers. There is a cascading benefit to the organization in terms of increased retention, productivity and ability to attract top talent.
The link between employee well-being and customer satisfaction has never been more apparent than during COVID-19. Companies, especially those with front-line staff such as retailers and restaurants, have focused heavily on their employee well-being in order to ensure employee and customer safety. Going forward, businesses will need to completely reevaluate the support they provide their employees as a key element of achieving customer satisfaction.
The lack of awareness, leadership buy-in and infrastructure are all common factors in companies that have failed to address employee well-being. Just 5 percent of companies surveyed had identified a leader dedicated to their well-being initiatives, with 80 percent managing employee wellness through the chief human resources officer.
In speaking with HR leaders, one of the other major barriers to well-being was culture. Many organizations’ cultures have not fully evolved to recognize wellness and well-being as integrated elements of the day-to-day cultures. Related to the notion of “wellness washing,” many cultures are encouraging of individuals’ personal health journeys and may encourage healthy behaviors. However, there is more work to be done to fully recognize the aspects of organizational culture that result in a true partnership with employees as part of a well-being journey.
Through the appointment of an executive leader dedicated to health, wellness, and well-being, firms can choose to recognize that humans work and operate at their ‘best’ in different ways. They are giving employees the opportunity to work in their optimal manner in a destigmatized environment with organizational support. Companies must recognize that employees are not always conscious of their own well-being and by dedicating an executive leader to focus on well-being, they are being proactive in addressing their employees’ needs and offering a more interventional approach to leadership.
Well-being, like diversity and inclusion or sustainability, does not have a one-size-fits-all solution. Firms need to recognize that there are multiple factors contributing to employee well-being. As companies look to evaluate their well-being needs, or scope the potential responsibilities for a chief well-being officer, there are four main areas to address:
As with many other core business issues, COVID-19 has accelerated the need for firms to focus on employee wellbeing. Failure to address well-being now will have irreversible consequences on organizations’ productivity and ultimately profitability. It is the duty of executive teams to provide their HR leaders with the right tools to support their employee needs and to address these within their organization, rather than through a third party support network.