It’s pretty rare these days to find employers that don’t profess to have their employees’ well-being at heart. Most will offer a range of policies and interventions designed to support workers, whether regarding their career, their physical and mental health, or various other factors that underpin their general well-being.

The cynic might regard such policies as window dressing that can be sustained during the good times but should be among the first things cut if push comes to shove. Is such an attitude wise? The recent “Human Capital Trends” report from Deloitte suggests that would be a huge mistake. It underlines the tremendous importance of the well-being offerings organizations give to employees, and despite the progress that has been made, there is still a yawning gap between what employees desire and what employers provide.

For instance, even though 50% of organizations offer employees flexibility regarding their work schedule, this was something that employees in 86% of organizations wanted. Sadly, that is as good as it gets, with most other well-being offerings highlighting the huge gap between supply and demand. Telecommuting, for instance, is something wanted by 70% of employees, yet is something offered by just 28% of organizations; mental health support is wanted by 60% of employees yet only offered by a paltry 21% of organizations; whilst backup day care is wanted by 53% of employees yet offered by just 8%.

Smarter well-being

Further guidance was offered to managers by the main stressors identified by employees. For instance, traditional concerns such as the ability to retire and job security ranked highly, but so to do physical and mental health and work-life balance.

These provide clear indications for the kind of areas well-being managers should focus their attention on, whether via financial wellness, health wellness or other broader aspects of employee well-being. It’s also interesting to note that the findings were broadly consistent across generations. What’s more, the importance of well-being is increasingly becoming a competitive imperative.

The data found that the best-performing companies on financial metrics were around 11 times more likely to offer holistic well-being policies than their lower-performing peers. This is a form of wellness that extends beyond ‘merely’ catering for employees physical well-being.

Deloitte suggests that these companies outperform their peers because employees felt more valued and supported in such environments. This general finding was supported by a second study, which was published recently and that highlighted the productivity gains you can achieve when you meet the well-being needs of employees.

Productive employees

The study focused on the ergonomics of the workplace, which itself aims to explore how the workplace aids the efficiency of workers, while also ensuring their health is maintained. In a positive ergonomics climate, employees are less likely to suffer physical or mental strain, which in turn results in improvements in both the quality and quantity of work.

The theory was put to the test in a large manufacturing plant where data was gathered from employees across a range of ergonomic factors to hone in on the four that were most conducive to a positive environment: a commitment from management; involvement from employees; detailed job hazard analysis; and adequate training.

The study found that when organizations focus as much on well-being as they do on productivity, it resulted in a simultaneous boost in both the output and health levels of workers. This was not the case when productivity dominated at the expense of well-being, as when this was the case both productivity and health fell among the workforce.

As the Deloitte data shows, despite the apparent rise in popularity of workplace well-being programs, there is still an incredibly long way to go before they achieve parity with programs designed to raise productivity, much less deliver what employees themselves crave. One of the quickest and cost-effective ways to boost employee well-being is to offer to telecommute. In addition to being one of the most desired benefits, this would cost a company virtually nothing to implement. Perhaps the first step is to transition from viewing well-being as a nice to have and shifting it towards something that is fundamental to the strategic goals of the business.

By Pavel Krapivin, as published in Forbes on 1st December 2018

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