The Delta variant makes it clear the pandemic and all its associated stressors are likely to continue for some time. Employees will need to call on every possible reserve of resilience if they are to continue to meet their obligations, and ideally to thrive in all aspects of their lives. And they are turning to their employers for help. How well employers respond will be a factor in how many employees continue to contribute to their businesses and how many will head for the exits during one of the most competitive job markets in modern history.
In the past, many companies enticed employee loyalty with espresso machines and free snacks, on-site gyms and tuition reimbursement. But life is different now. The workforce has changed, and employees’ priorities have shifted. Employees are prioritizing their quality of life, and personal wellbeing is more top of mind. Mental health, and whether your employer supports your mental health, is key. Going forward, mental health benefits and a fully integrated employee wellbeing program will be essential to stand above the competition for talent. And these programs must be continually evaluated and adjusted to ensure they meet employees’ ever-evolving needs.
Defining A Successful Wellbeing Program
Having a successful program depends on several factors, but one element is key for employees now: a well-defined and fully integrated mental health program. Employees are looking more for programs that will help them reduce on-the-job stress and increase positive contributions; flashy features are simply nice-to-have. But just as conditions created by the pandemic enabled employees to bring more of their “whole selves” to work, they are also driving employees to seek wellbeing support in all parts of their lives – mental, physical, social and financial. The last part may surprise some, but in a recent report from the consulting firm PwC, 72 percent of respondents who found their stress increased during the pandemic said they would be attracted to another organization that cares more about their financial wellbeing than their current employer. A broad approach is indeed necessary for attracting, retaining, and supporting top talent.
Measuring what Matters
While many companies are recognizing and responding to employees’ needs for wellbeing programs, few conduct rigorous reviews to ensure the programs do what they are meant to do. Is wellbeing improving or declining? Are the needs of all groups being met? Which area of wellbeing needs the most attention? What is driving our wellbeing and what actions will make the biggest difference? The answers to these questions are critical. Without measures that offer this insight, it is not possible to make the right decisions and know whether your objectives are being met. It is not enough to wait for lagging measures like absence and turnover; understanding how you are trending and what to do to improve your trend is the only way to get the best outcomes from your programs.
Employers and their partners must establish clearly articulated goals and simple but effective ways to track what is working and what is missing the mark. Having a partner who can support good decisions is as important as having a partner who can deliver good service.
Demonstrating Workplace Mental Health in ESG
Previously confined to corporate boardrooms and investment prospectuses, ESG (environmental, social and governance) has moved into the national conversation as the general population is calling on organizations to be better corporate citizens. And while the “E” has drawn significant attention based on climate extremes, the “S” element is gaining ground.
The “S” represents human impact, encompassing everything from data security to worker health and safety. Employee wellbeing and the related mental health aspects are increasingly being factored in as investors and society understand the impact of poor mental health and wellbeing to business and society.
By incorporating mental health and employee wellbeing into their ESG measurement, organizations can succeed by showcasing their investment in their own people, demonstrating the increased productivity and engagement, and standing out to top talent. A good strategy regarding workplace mental health is a differentiator and ESG disclosure supports recognition of that.
Bringing It All Together – Measurement Best Practices
When reviewing an existing program, or creating one for the first time, I recommend a few key imperatives:
- Prioritize strategy, not just tactics: One of the biggest misconceptions I see on a regular basis is when organizations view their wellbeing program as a collection of tactics and initiatives. The most effective plans start from the top down, with a clear strategic imperative and overall goal rooted in concrete outcomes. Participation is one measure, but it is also important to understand your trends in wellbeing, the experience of different groups, and the things that will make a difference for your organization.
- Evaluate support systems based on the employee experience: In considering a wellbeing program, assess how support is delivered as well as the scope of services. A disjointed experience between services will create frustration for employees and limit outcomes. These support systems should include a single access to mental, physical, social, and financial support. Confidentiality and information security must reflect the highest standards. A full continuum of care is essential to meet the needs of those who want to maintain good wellbeing, those in crisis, and everyone in between. Qualitative feedback on the experience of employees ensures that you have the information needed to simply access services and fully meet needs.
- Assess direct and indirect impact: Impact is not just limited to engagement, such as number of classes taken, or services rendered. An effective wellbeing program needs to thoroughly examine broader impact. For example, your program should be helping to reduce stress, improve physical activity or increasing positive communication and collaboration. It’s critical to come back to your key performance indicators (KPIs) regularly to measure impact and resonance and adjust accordingly based on the findings.
The pandemic offers more challenges than many of us have faced in our lifetimes. But these challenges also offer lessons we can learn and apply for positive changes to the status quo – the more holistic view of an employee and attention to their wellbeing among them. A well-managed, well-monitored and broad-based wellness program can and will sustain employees through the pandemic and beyond. Employers that implement them will reap the benefits for years to come.
Written by Paula Allen.
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