New Research on Well-Being Programs and Where HR Can Go from Here

March 10, 2022 Mervyn Dinnen

Employee well-being has increasingly become an important part of the HR agenda in recent years, particularly in creating positive work cultures that support productivity and engagement.

The biggest challenge for HR teams in trying to gain senior leader buy-in for increased investment in well-being programs has been a lack of quantifiable and actionable data on their business impact.

The pandemic has largely changed that, pushing employee well-being much higher up the corporate and HR agenda. Organizations have embraced the importance of supporting their people mentally, physically, and emotionally to help prevent burnout. The gap that often exists within many businesses was laid bare in Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index, with 61% of business leaders describing themselves as thriving, whilst at the same time 60% of their Gen Z employees reported themselves as either struggling or just surviving.

(The research also indicated a potential reason by showing the time spent in video meetings had more than doubled during the pandemic, accompanied by a huge increase in the number of emails delivered.)

For most people, it was the sudden loss of human connection and interaction and the daily physical conversations that had the biggest negative impact at the start of the pandemic. I was recently involved in a research project analyzing how HR supported employee well-being in 2021 and how they intend to continue this support in the future. Here are some of my findings.

Regular check-ins

HR’s immediate priority was to maintain connection. This was achieved through regular – often daily – check-ins and catch-up calls between managers and leaders, and the individuals on their teams. These proved effective and all the businesses I have spoken to intend to continue with this.

This type of intervention does, however, place a lot of responsibility on managers to be able to assess how well their teams are feeling, and how strong their well-being is from regular conversations. Many organizations offered training to help managers identify when employees may be struggling and in need of increased support.

Flexible work

Building trust and connection with employees was very important, but so was offering flexibility in when, where, and how they worked. Whilst remote work appealed to many, research from the UK showed that only 41% of remote workers had a dedicated space or room to work from; 72% of workers under age 25 had no dedicated space. To help support employees, many organizations encouraged people to return to the office or work location at their own pace and when they felt ready, and offering flexibility in hours worked.

Fostering connection and wellness

Physical and mental well-being are both key when home working, so many organizations ran webinars on mental health, mindfulness, and nutrition. Group activities were encouraged over Zoom, such as group yoga sessions, coffee and chat team catch ups, and recipe exchanges with everyone sharing photos of their efforts. There was a lot of encouragement for virtually re-creating the “water-cooler” moments that are so important to daily office life.

Another intervention was to offer employees their own well-being help packages, allowing them to invest in whatever they felt was most necessary to support and maintain their own mental health and wellbeing.

Four predictions about employee well-being

1. This year most organizations are looking to invest in specialist training so their managers can become “mental health first aiders,” able to identify and understand when their people may be struggling and can offer meaningful support. There will also be increased investment in training across organizations, so everyone can better understand and support each other.

2. With so much analysis relying on anecdotal conversations through phone or Zoom catch ups, this year will see organizations introduce surveys that are able to collect more formal feedback for analysis. These will probably be a mix of pulse and engagement surveys, with open forums where employees can freely discuss their needs and share experiences. Learn how Workhuman’s free employee survey tool, Moodtracker™, can help you understand the needs of your employees.

3. Well-being support needs to become more personalized to each individual’s needs, so organizations are also looking to allocate budgets for employees to invest in their own development and self-care.

4. Senior level buy-in has long been a problem in this area, so most HR teams are looking to improve measurement of outcomes. Investment in a transparent dashboard or platform should help collect meaningful data. One important element of this will be to involve all employees in helping to determine the KPIs and data which are most important to them. By being able to make a solid business case, investment in well-being should continue to be a long-term trend as opposed to a short-term fix.

HR professionals themselves have reported strong feelings of isolation and pressure over the last two years. By investing in training and technology that can measure and analyze the success of these initiatives, the importance that our organizations have placed on employee well-being should continue well into the future, helping HR to support a productive and energized.

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