Employee well-being is critical to business success, say CEOs

Today’s workforce is under increasing pressure. Employees are often expected to do more with fewer resources, individual debt is spiralling, and pressing family issues such as divorce, childcare and eldercare are ever-present.  Technology, which offers flexibility, the ability to connect and unprecedented access to information, can also be a double-edged sword. For many, it has simply just extended the workday to 24/7.

wellness boosts success www2

A recent Gallup State of Global Workforce survey found that 53% of workers experience financial stress, while 76% struggle with physical well-being and an astonishing 85% are disengaged from work. Hardly positive results.

In addition, the World Health Organization reports that mental disorder affects one in four people, and estimates that lost productivity due to depression and anxiety costs the global economy $1 Trillion US dollars, impacting the business through increased absenteeism, widespread presenteeism, low productivity as well as high volume staff turnover.

When we look at millennial workers, the situation is particularly concerning. According to Psychology Today, as many as 17% of millennials are depressed and 14% suffer from anxiety. A study from the Centre for Talent Innovation found that as many as 33% of white-collar millennials have a disability, physical or otherwise, which could be attributed to increased rates of diagnosed anxiety. These results are even more alarming when we consider that millennials now make up the majority of the workforce.

Executives value wellness

LifeWorks by Morneau Shepell recently conducted ‘The LifeWorks Workplace Well-being Priorities – CEO Perspectives’ study, to investigate the impact of mental health and well-being in the workplace. The qualitative survey included interviews with 20 presidents and CEOs living in the United States, who manage companies with more than 1000 global employees.

The results were enlightening. Most business leaders surveyed recognize that the health of an organization is dependent on the well-being of its people. Almost all of the executives cite workplace well-being as one of their main concerns. Many even call it their top priority. The CEOs are very aware of the pressure their employees face but don’t feel they have clear methods to tackle the issues or even a stable means of investigating and measuring workplace mental health or well-being.

Almost all the executives surveyed agree that effective well-being programs are a key factor in attracting and retaining younger talent, but believe they are also beneficial for older employees, who have different needs. One executive stated that “employee well-being programs are becoming more of an expectation rather than a perk.”

The majority of leaders struggle to find the appropriate means of support and an effective way of measuring overall wellness. They found traditional Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and other support programs outdated, and believe that employees only had minimal engagement with their current well-being initiatives, meaning it was impossible to get a clear snapshot of the overall health of the business, establish clear KPIs, or judge the effectiveness of the support offered.

Leaders under pressure

Additionally, almost all of the CEOs surveyed felt the burden of leadership, at times feeling isolated in their role.  Executives recognize the pressure that their own stress has upon the business and their direct reports. Those questioned said they often went to considerable lengths to hide or mask their concerns. While business worries were an issue, the majority cited personal matters, such as family illness and financial concerns, as the top of mind.

While executives recognize the negative impact stress and anxiety can have on workers, some were also quick to note that they believe they were effective at compartmentalizing their anxiety.  Others felt that stress was a key driver in their success. Almost all of the CEOs thought it was vital for them to hide their concerns from their teams, as they recognized the contagious nature of workplace stress.

“I’m sure they [the team] feel it when I have stressful situations because I put that back on them,” said one CEO. “They can tell by your disposition; you create a level of anxiety within the team.”

How organizations can support employee well-being

While some organizations may offer discounted gym memberships and the occasional mental health day, more progressive companies are realizing they need to broaden their attitude to workplace wellness, taking a holistic approach that considers all aspects of the individual’s health, including family, financial and workplace. While this may seem excessive to more traditional leaders, modern businesses understand that to attract and retain top talent, they need to continually invest in their workers’ wellness – it’s good for the employees and it’s good for the business.

Traditionally, companies invested in “safety net” wellness programs, which are there for the 10% of employees at the critical stage when they reach out to HR. But, by leveraging digital mobile-first technology, there is the opportunity to engage 24/7 with employees in a positive way: letting them set goals for their health or financial well-being, encouraging positive reinforcement from colleagues and leaders, offering access to key benefits and rewards, as well as providing advice and support – whenever and wherever needed.

This translates into happier, healthier individuals who are engaged and challenged at work. And, when harnessed correctly, this means greater productivity – and yes, profit – for your business.

Improving well-being in your organization

  1. Be aware that competitive compensation packages are not enough to attract and retain top talent. A company’s culture is key: the majority of millennials would take a pay cut to work at an organization that shares its values and prioritizes employee well-being.
  2. Understand that a healthy lifestyle is not limited to fitness and diet – sleep management, stress reduction, financial well-being and relationships are all important considerations that companies should consider as part of their well-being strategy.
  3. Make sure your well-being program is accessible. Millennials are the most likely age group to engage with employee assistance programs, so ensure yours is easy to access and available on mobile devices.
  4. Recognize that well-being programs are not a “one size fits all” solution. Understand and address your employees’ particular needs.
  5. Consider flexible support options. While some employees may prefer traditional face-to-face counselling, we find that many, especially younger employees, are more comfortable with text support or video chats.
  6. Ensure that leaders also have appropriate support. Culture often comes from the top down. If we neglect the mental health, and overall well-being, of our leaders and managers, we will also struggle to support the team.
  7. Measure employee well-being. Employee well-being is a driver of workplace productivity, and therefore organizational success. With that, it is important to understand your starting point and track changes in the mental, physical, social and financial well-being of employees as well as their overall experience at work.

Corporations are increasingly taking the lead on employee wellbeing, with structured programmes that aim to support both mental and physical health. Among companies in the US with 200 or more employees, 81 per cent offered some type of workplace wellness programme in 2020, up from 70 per cent in 2008. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the federal government has announced that enhanced wellbeing is a key long-term policy priority. The Cabinet recently adopted the National Strategy for Wellbeing 2031, which aims to make the UAE a world leader in overall quality of life. The strategy includes 14 components and nine strategic objectives to support people’s wellbeing by promoting healthy and active lifestyles, good mental health and positive thinking. Increasingly, companies are taking a different approach to measuring the effectiveness of these programmes, focusing as well as on ‘value on investment’ (VOI) measures such as absenteeism, presenteeism, retention and all-round company performance. This is leading companies to evolve programmes so that they focus on additional measures of wellbeing, particularly mental health. Once considered a taboo subject, mental health is now an open subject of discussion, especially in the aftermath of COVID-19.

Attitudes towards mental health in the GCC are clearly shifting. Stereotypes are being overcome and patients are gradually becoming less reluctant to seek treatment. For conscientious employers, there are many routes to supporting mental wellbeing, starting with the availability of counselling and therapy services.

This article on “Employee well-being is critical to business success, say CEOs” was taken from the Lifeworks Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) library of resources available to all insured members with HanseMerkur health insurance plans. Please check it out to find other interesting and useful articles, pod casts and tips to help with your well-being or ask your local sales agent for more information about it.