Companies worldwide are realizing that employee wellness isn’t just a nice perk or an afterthought; it’s a critical component of business success. When employees are happy, healthy, and engaged, businesses reap the rewards in terms of both productivity and profitability.
Before COVID, employers were already investigating and implementing strategies to promote the wellness of their workforce. Well-being, after all, is interconnected with engagement, which is widely accepted as the key to a committed, motivated workforce that sets companies apart from the competition.
Since the onset of COVID, the state of workplace wellness has become dire. Employees have reported increased stress and anxiety triggered or exacerbated by employment and financial insecurity and difficulties with work-life balance. Leaders—perhaps even you—see that time is of the essence in terms of taking corrective action. Unfortunately, there is no playbook to guide us through unprecedented circumstances.
There are, however, research-based interventions that can serve as a starting point for those who are ready to implement a wellness strategy for a healthier workforce. We will outline three of those interventions in the paragraphs ahead. First, though, let’s discuss what employee wellness really is and why it’s important to help establish a future vision for a healthy workforce.
What is employee wellness?
Employee wellness is a broad concept with multiple definitions. For the purposes of this article, we’re discussing wellness as an employee’s perception of their quality of life, psychological well-being, and social functioning.
Full-time employees spend more time at work than doing anything else. Moreover, a recent Gallup study found that career well-being, which they define as liking what you do every day, had a stronger impact on overall well-being than any other category—social, financial, physical, and community. For these reasons and more, employers are in a unique position to support the wellness of their employees.
Research has consistently demonstrated that when employees feel like they are valued and taken care of, they are more productive and motivated. This leads to improved job performance and higher levels of engagement with their work. In addition, businesses that prioritize employee well-being tend to have lower staff turnover rates since people want to stay with companies where they feel supported. Furthermore, when employees feel good about themselves and their work environment, they become better brand ambassadors who can help build customer loyalty through positive word of mouth.
Unfortunately, recent data shows that fewer people than ever before believe their companies truly care about them or understand what they need for optimal wellness both on and off work hours. To counter this worrying trend, organizations must look beyond one-dimensional strategies for corporate wellness. Read on for three research-based interventions that promote worker wellness on fundamental levels: their mental health, organizational stressors, and sense of autonomy and control over their work.
How to Develop a Wellness Strategy
Intervention 1: Focus on Mental Health
With worker depression and anxiety at a record high, mental health must be front and center of any wellness strategy, particularly for businesses that want to attract and retain talent. In a 2022 study on work and well-being by the American Psychological Association, 80 percent of respondents agreed that employers’ support for worker mental health would be an important consideration when seeking new employment. Before COVID, many companies were looking to employee assistance programs to support workers both at and outside of work. Since the onset of the pandemic, EAPs have rapidly grown in popularity and are worth exploring as part of a larger wellness strategy.
Employee Assistance Programs
An employee assistance program (EAP) is an employer-sponsored benefit that provides workers with access to comprehensive assistance for both work-related and personal issues, such as confidential counseling, financial advice, referral services, legal information, and much more. Services are typically provided by a third-party provider specializing in employee assistance programs.
Having an employee assistance program has many benefits for both employers and employees. Employees benefit from having access to professional counseling services and confidential resources they might not be able to get on their own. This can help them deal with personal issues while still being able to stay focused on their work performance.
On the employer side, EAPs demonstrate a compelling financial ROI for many businesses — by reducing absenteeism due to mental health concerns, employers save money on wages paid out for missed days and benefits expenses associated with those absences. Moreover, providing mental health services through an EAP prevents more serious illnesses from developing, which could lead to costly medical bills down the road.
Ultimately, having a good EAP in place will ensure that your business is providing its employees with the support they need to succeed at their job and thrive in their personal lives as well. SHRM offers an EAP buyers’ guide for businesses considering offering the benefit.
Intervention 2: Address Organizational Stressors
Employers that are serious about improving employee wellness must recognize how organizational stressors affect employees and how they can help reduce them. Let’s look at the different types of stressors and solutions to employ in the workplace.
Organizational stressors come from various sources, such as job insecurity, workload pressure, role ambiguity, lack of control over one’s job situation, and lack of resources. Additionally, there are interpersonal stressors such as inadequate support from colleagues or supervisors and conflict with other workers.
Communication is the first and best way to address workplace stress. It’s essential that leaders and managers stay connected to their teams so they are aware of any issues before they become too large to manage. Additionally, clearly stated systems for feedback help employees feel comfortable voicing their opinions without fear of repercussions.
Leaders should also prioritize staff development by investing in training and coaching opportunities for employees; this not only helps build confidence but also keeps them up-to-date on the latest industry trends.
Finally, leaders must ensure that workers have the resources they need to succeed, such as a well-optimized office space, comfortable environment, and access to conference rooms. Workplace analytics solutions can help improve the office environment, keeping employees happy and productive. Managers can also provide intangible resources like time and support. Where necessary, managers should decrease workload and pace of work, streamline activities, and add targeted assistance to reduce demands on the stressed worker.
Intervention 3: Provide Autonomy
Autonomy is a key indicator of satisfaction and fulfillment at work. Employee autonomy empowers individuals to take ownership of their work and make decisions independently without having to constantly defer to their supervisors or managers.
When employees are given the freedom to make their own decisions, they can take control over their daily tasks and responsibilities. This sense of ownership leads to increased motivation, productivity, and efficiency. Studies have also shown that when employees have a greater sense of control over their work, they are more likely to stay with an organization for longer periods of time.
An important aspect of autonomy post-COVID is the employee’s level of control regarding when and where they work. To that end, many companies plan to implement flexible work arrangements permanently, even after remote work ceases to be a health-related imperative. Flexible work arrangements provide employees with at least some degree of decision-making power in terms of their place of work (home, office, or somewhere else), the hours they work, and their breaks from work.
Employers must understand that autonomous working conditions still require clear direction and guidance from leadership. Communication is key to ensuring everyone knows the expectations and criteria for success while fostering a sense of independence. Additionally, employers should provide resources such as training materials or tools so that autonomous workers have all the information and support they need to do their jobs properly.
Employee wellness should be a key focus for any company, especially with worker stress, anxiety, and burnout levels at an all-time high. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to improving employee wellness, every corporate strategy should include three fundamental elements: focusing on mental health, addressing organizational stressors, and providing autonomy. By addressing these areas and implementing interventions, companies can create a healthier workplace where employees thrive—which will ultimately lead to a healthier bottom line. For more information on how AVUITY has helped companies build an office environment where employees thrive, read our case study, “Using Sensors To Improve the Workplace Environment While Reducing Costs.”