November 25, 2020

Don’t Shortchange Employee Well-Being When Planning Future Investments For The Business

For decades very few companies saw supporting their workers’ health and well-being as a business priority. They did what was necessary by law to create a safe and healthy work environment. But exercising, good nutrition, and engaging in self-care to boost physical, mental and emotional health — these were pursuits for employees to worry about and manage on their own time.

However, that attitude eventually evolved as it became harder for employers to ignore the connection between unhealthy behaviors — such as sitting hunched over a desk and staring at a computer for hours on end — and lower employee productivity, decreased morale and higher absenteeism. These, in addition to rising healthcare costs, prompted employers to start promoting workers’ overall wellness.

Many businesses have expanded their efforts in recent years as they have sought to position themselves as an employer of choice. They introduced offerings such as discounted gym memberships, healthy food options and on-site health screenings that many employees later came to expect. And even before Covid-19, more employers were recognizing that supporting employees’ mental and emotional health has an impact on retention, especially with younger workers.

According to a 2019 survey report from nonprofit organization Mind Share Partners, 50% of Millennial and 75% of Generation Z workers said they had left past roles for the sake of their mental health. In that same survey, 86% of workers said it was important to them that a company’s culture supports mental health. It’s hard to imagine that this figure has decreased during the pandemic.

Helping Employees To Live A Better Life

Most employers recognize and empathize with the intense pressure their workers have been under in recent months — adapting to remote work, grappling with colliding personal and professional demands, and worrying about the health and safety of their loved ones (and themselves). Economic uncertainty and social unrest are also having a significant impact on many people’s sense of well-being.

The value of supporting employees’ wellness has perhaps never been more obvious. In this time of uncertainty companies should be thinking less about how or if these initiatives can deliver bottom-line business results and more about whether they can help employees to live a better life.

And employees aren’t the only ones who expect the company to offer meaningful perks and resources to enhance workforce well-being. Various stakeholders, especially investors, increasingly look at ESG (environment, social and governance) measurements that show a company’s employee programs, as well as environmental and community ones, are not self-serving but truly beneficial to those they touch. 

Giving Employees More Time And Space

The message for CFOs who are on the front line in planning for the company’s future in the new normal is to take a thoughtful approach when evaluating funding for employee wellness programs. Executives must understand the risk of decreasing these investments, especially now, during the worst public health crisis in a generation. Pulling back on these programs, or not adapting them appropriately for the current environment, can erode employee morale and productivity. It can also undermine a company’s ability to keep and attract valued workers.

Leading employers understand this and have responded. Companies like Pinterest, Best Buy and Pfizer, for example, are offering a range of virtual fitness classes and other wellness options for their remote workers. Starbucks has expanded mental health benefits through its employee assistance program, giving employees who work 20 hours per week and their family members access to 20 sessions per year with a mental health therapist or coach through Lyra Health — at no cost. And Intuit, through its “Well-Being for Life” program, is reimbursing its employees up to $1,000 per fiscal year for expenses related to their physical, emotional and financial well-being, including life coaches and sleep programs.

If there is no way for your organization to expand its wellness offerings right now, or avoid reducing or eliminating some programs, consider other ways that the business can support employees’ well-being during this challenging time. For example:

  • Offer Flexible Schedules. Let employees work when they are most productive and focus more on outcomes versus time spent in the proverbial office chair. Encourage the use of “windowed work” — allowing employees to break down their workday into smaller units of time, or “windows,” separated by personal breaks. Giving workers the flexibility to take care of personal needs during the day — whether it’s walking their dog, shopping for groceries or helping their child navigate virtual schooling — can go a long way toward reducing their stress and helping them feel valued and supported.
  • Encourage Employees To Take Vacation Time. While workers may not be able to fly to exotic destinations right now they will still appreciate the opportunity to take time off to unplug from work when needed. Make sure that time is respected, too. As this SHRM article explains, “staycations” during Covid-19 count as time off from work, and interrupting employees during their staycations “is not a best practice, even if you know they are ‘just home anyway.’”

Additionally, your organization can help promote employees’ physical and mental wellness during this time by communicating more about it and emphasizing that it is OK to seek support. Try to build awareness about available resources and benefits and encourage employees to explore self-care practices like meditation or journaling.

Human resources staff can be an invaluable partner in helping the business to engage with employees on all these fronts. They can assist with conducting employee surveys to gauge which offerings the company’s workforce would prefer; setting up a wellness committee to evaluate current programs and assist with implementing new initiatives; setting goals and objectives to measure success, and more. 

Don’t overlook the information that organizations like the National Safety Council and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can provide. Professional associations, healthcare businesses and other organizations also offer toolkits, how-to guides and other resources for setting up workplace wellness programs, including options for remote team members.

The pandemic is a stark reminder that employees are people and not just workers. And while the prioritization of well-being may especially be top of mind right now, it’s critical to recognize its importance at all times. For those decisionmakers who may still need a “bottom-line” motivation to justify investing in these initiatives, direct them to the American Psychiatric Association Foundation’s Center for Workplace Mental Health which says, “Resilient employees make resilient organizations.”

That message should resonate with leadership at a time when building resiliency in all aspects is of the utmost importance to the business.

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