After reaching record highs early in the pandemic, the percentage of U.S. workers who believe their organization cares about their overall wellbeing has plunged to pre-COVID levels and is characterized by drops across all job types.
Today, just 24% of workers strongly agree that their organization cares about their wellbeing — which should be of great concern to leaders given that these employees are 69% less likely than all other workers to search for a new job, 71% less likely to report experiencing burnout and five times more likely to serve as an advocate for their organization.
"My organization cares about my overall wellbeing" is part of the Wellbeing Culture Index, found on the online workplace survey and learning platform Gallup Access. The item serves as an excellent metric for assessing the extent to which wellbeing is embedded in a company as seen through the eyes of the people who work there.
Gallup defines wellbeing through the five essential elements:
Leaders can implement tangible steps to ensure employees feel that their wellbeing is cared about, thus better leveraging this mindset. Based on Gallup research, listed below are 10 high-impact ideas for driving this critical belief system in the workplace.
Promote, destigmatize and "opt-out" company EAP programs. Globally, negative emotional experiences reached an all-time high in 2020, followed by reports from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that 41.5% of U.S. adults suffered from anxiety or depression in early 2021. Deaths of despair, in turn, are rising in the U.S., most steeply for White adults with a high school education or less.
In the face of these daunting statistics, leaders need to reach a new level of promoting and encouraging the use of employee assistance programs (EAPs) and removing the stigma that some associate with them. About 30% of U.S. workers don't know how to access their company EAP, so the first step is to ensure that they do through ongoing promotion.
The second step is to vigorously ensure complete confidentiality. The third step is to automatically pre-enroll all employees into the program, removing the need for any administrative tasks to use the service. Each of these communications should come from chief executives to maximize visibility and drive home the importance of the points.
Include family members in wellbeing programs and activities. A major driver of feeling that one's employer cares about their wellbeing is a commitment to the wellbeing of the employee's family members as well. From fiscal fitness and retirement planning to community involvement to 5K runs to social gatherings, encouraging the involvement of family members will greatly enhance the sentiment that the employee's own wellbeing is cared for and will, in turn, enhance the family members' wellbeing as well. Next level is the outright incentivizing of their involvement.
Provide easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables in the workplace. A close correlate to "my organization cares about my overall wellbeing" is sustaining a workplace where healthy foods are routinely easy to find. Eating fruits and vegetables is widely understood to be a healthy choice and is associated with both low obesity and low smoking rates — and businesses can capitalize on this by making them easily available.
Offering a free fruit or vegetable choice with every purchased workplace meal is a good strategy. Even better is a walking produce cart throughout the workplace over the course of each morning, bringing healthy choices directly to the workers and ensuring one serving of fruits and vegetables each day for anyone who wants one. Bonus action: Remove the candy bars and junk food from vending machines and replace them with protein bars and low-refined-sugar snacks.
Offer to help employees manage their finances. Almost everyone is going to retire someday. Many people need to save for their children's college, and plenty could use help with household budgeting. Providing free advice services that support good financial wellbeing for employees is a major factor in enhancing how much they feel that their wellbeing is cared about and can also serve as a means of eliminating external anxiety and stress that distract from on-the-job performance. Don't forget to encourage that significant others join as well.
Encourage employees to share their own ideas about boosting wellbeing. Asking employees to contribute wellbeing ideas for workplace intervention programs is a great way to galvanize the workforce and make them feel like they are part of a broader wellbeing movement. The more employees contribute to the wellbeing efforts of the organization, the more they will feel their opinions count and the greater their buy-in and likelihood to participate will be — critical aspects of feeling that their own wellbeing is cared about.
Recognize employees for their wellbeing achievements. Routine recognition is a critically important psychological need in the workplace and is a proven driver of an array of business outcomes. Making it part of an organization's wellbeing culture will incentivize employees to pursue choices that support high wellbeing and reinforce that their company cares about such pursuits.
Help employees find safe places to exercise, and incentivize them to do so. Not all organizations can provide employees with a place to exercise at work. Particularly for those that cannot, identify reputable and safe fitness centers in the area at which discounted group rates can be negotiated for employees. And then offer partial monthly or quarterly reimbursement to employees in exchange for proof that they've used the facility.
Provide nutritional cooking classes for all employees, at no cost. This one is self-explanatory, but additionally noteworthy is that cooking classes are also the perfect environment for delivering knowledge of scientific nutrition and health literacy. This has the added benefit of providing employees opportunities for learning new and interesting things, a key vanguard of high-wellbeing people and communities.
Make wellbeing a part of annual goalsetting. Have employees submit their interests and goals for wellbeing to their managers, and then monitor what they are actively pursuing and inquire about how they are progressing toward their goals. This feedback mechanism will significantly enhance how much employees feel their wellbeing is cared about while simultaneously reinforcing a culture of wellbeing in the workplace.
Create a company sharing network to socialize wellbeing best practices. Preassign individuals to different groups or teams inside the workplace. Establish quarterly meetings over lunch at which each person shares something about their personal wellbeing that is important to them but that they think others might not know or something new they have learned about wellbeing that could be of use to others.
Include important tips such as useful apps, books read or classes taken. This can create a wellbeing social network where it did not exist before and provide an opportunity for new thinking regarding wellbeing pursuits. And making it company-sponsored drives home the point that the organization cares about its employees' wellbeing. Bonus tip: Prior research has shown that running maps and healthy restaurant menu options are the best apps for enhancing physical and social wellbeing at the same time.
The initial wave of COVID-19 and associated economic shutdown were characterized by large-scale work-from-home transitions among employees who could do so, which dovetailed with unprecedented spikes in workers' views that employers cared about their wellbeing.
As vaccinations have become widespread and the pandemic retreats, its likely conversion to endemicity is now dovetailing with employers that are increasingly moving their workers out of home offices and back into the workplace. Estimates of empty desks hover above one-third of workers in the post-pandemic economy, and employees with the option to work remotely are largely expecting a hybrid office environment going forward.
Amid all these shifting realities, employers are right back to where they started in 2019 regarding workers' views on how much their wellbeing is cared about. In response, employers now need to look to prolonged strategies for enhancing these perspectives, beyond the short-term actions of remote working to protect the health of their workers.
Only through specific and sustained action can employers reinvent their culture to build a workforce that is productive, is healthy and feels its wellbeing is cared about.
Dan Witters is Research Director of the Gallup National Health and Well-Being Index.
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