Wellness programs have had a place in large companies for more than a decade. Typically, they are well-intentioned programs to lower the cost of insurance for companies that get their people to engage in preventative care. The goal? Counter the chronic issues behind the most costly medical intervention. Filled with corporate fun runs, fitness trackers, weight loss challenges, and counsel on how to quit smoking, they caught our imagination. And they’ve failed.
They missed a more insidious wellness issue that is taking a toll on America and its businesses: stress, burnout, and disengagement. The World Health Organization has labeled workplace stress one of the preeminent problems of the 21st century and is one of the leading causes of employee burnout and disengagement. Stress and burnout is a huge — and growing — issue in the workforce. The American Institute of Stress estimates that every day 1 million U.S. employees miss work because of stress, and over 40% of workers quit a job because of the amount of stress they feel in that job. This issue is a costly problem, estimated to be nearly $300B annually. And that was before COVID.
Gallup, who’s been studying engagement trends for over two decades, recently reported the most significant drop in engaged employees since they started tracking employee engagement in 2000. The vast majority of US workers —69%— are either “disengaged”or “actively disengaged.” Yikes.
As a sales director for Zenefits, I speak to dozens of CEOs, CFOs, and HR professionals each month and see consistent trends between the groups thriving and those merely surviving. While great products and innovative ideas play a significant factor, how leaders treat and invest in their employees remains consistent with flourishing companies, even during these challenging times.
Employers that have learned to address these significant pillars of wellness are healthier too, even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. In environments with the right connection, tools, content, and resources, people feel heard, valued and cared for. In turn, they are more engaged, productive and make a stronger impact on customer satisfaction.
Following are a few themes and tips for creating a culture of wellness that I’ve seen from companies who get it right.
Eight tips to build healthier behaviors across your organization
- Lead with empathy. Everything has changed, both at work and home, recognize that with your team. The best leaders are genuinely concerned for their team members and want them to succeed. While empathy is and has always been an important trait, it is even more vital in challenging times. If your people don’t feel you care about them now, you’ll lose their trust, which not only adds to their stress level but disengages them further from doing their jobs.
- Listen more, track less. Especially with nearly 60-70% of the workforce moving to remote work, everyone wants to be aware of what is going on. But there is a fine line. Many employers go wrong by over-tracking progress for their newly remote teams. They implement more scheduled meetings, require daily check-ins, request constant status updates, etc. These added checkpoints can further disengage —and exhaust—your team. Find a healthy balance that includes more listening and less tracking.
- Reconnect your employees with the company mission. Since our jobs and priorities have shifted, it’s easy for your staff members to lose touch with your company’s mission. Everyone these days, especially millennials, are driven by purpose. We all want to be part of something, and bonding your team around a shared mission will increase engagement and loyalty to the company. The craziness going on in the world presents a unique opportunity to refocus our teams to drive toward a common goal. Seize it!
- Provide mental health resources. While COVID is changing our jobs, it’s important to remember that it’s also shifted the dynamics at home, which is —for some— more stressful. Companies like ours are opening more channels of communications with specific sessions for: working parents; educating each other about diversity and inclusion; holding office hours for wellness brainstorming and even hosting CEO listening hours. In addition, many insurance carriers include EAP programs that offer free counseling sessions for your employees to talk through issues with a professional. Even if an EAP is not available to you, every business leader can point their teams towards free, relevant, and helpful online resources such as youtube videos, articles, or blog posts. It doesn’t have to be directly related to their day-to-day jobs either. I would encourage you to look at resources addressing things material to everyone, such as tips on getting a better night’s sleep, how to focus or prioritize, better manage their finances, or balance family and career.
- Set a semi-regular, anonymous, pulse of the team. No better way to find out — and stay informed— about your people and what they need than by going directly to the source! For organizations of more than 15 people and for remote organizations, short pulse surveys mixed with less frequent but more detailed engagement surveys provide the candid and uncensored feedback you need to address change. How they felt in March when everything was new could be very different in August. I strongly suggest allowing employees to complete these anonymously, so people feel comfortable providing their raw thoughts and opinions without any fear of backlash. Lastly, the key to helping their wellbeing with these surveys is your reliability to follow up and your team’s belief that you will. Employers of all sizes should also get more comfortable having candid conversations while creating a safe and trusting environment where your people feel comfortable delivering even constructive criticism freely.
- Set clear work boundaries. Working from home should not mean working 24/7. It starts with management as they need to set the tone. Can that 8 pm email you are about to press ‘Send’ on be sent in the morning? Working hours should still be a thing. Respect your people’s personal time by letting them know it’s ok not to check emails before or after reasonable working hours. Let them know your belief that now is the best time to connect with your loved ones, go for a mid-day walk, pick up a new hobby, or follow whatever passions they have outside of required work hours.
- Educate your people about their relationship with technology. Modern society’s constant connectedness has been an ever-increasing problem, but now more than ever, it’s important to disconnect. As discussed above, it’s okay to put their phones down after working hours, but it shouldn’t stop there. Simple tricks like using an alarm clock vs. their phones to wake up, not looking at blue screens late at night, or to live life without feeling the need to capture every second on their phones will go a long way with their stress levels.
- Tools. Our jobs have changed. Is what you were doing or the way you were doing it before still working? One of the main drivers of stress and disengagement merely is not providing your employees with the right tools to do their jobs effectively. We’ve all been there. Employers have high expectations of us, but we feel we are trying to achieve them with one hand tied behind our backs. To provide a few examples… Can a 10-step process but cut down to 2 or 3? Can manual or redundant tasks be automated? Can tedious paper forms go digital? Can we communicate more real-time versus back and forth emails? Can employees self serve versus being forced to go through HR bottlenecks?
How Zenefits Can Help
Free resources on supporting wellbeing during COVID:
- WORKEST news, tips and guidebooks, updated 3-5 times a day
- HR Office Hours. Video podcast discussions with experts on impactful practices you can use.
Zenefits provides tools that not only allow you to pulse check your employees, gaining much needed valuable feedback, but we also enable your people to collaborate (from anywhere) more effectively. Employees or managers can give kudos and recognition with the ability to filter visibility by department, team, or location. We also can ensure everyone is better informed and up to date of important company announcements: from annual open enrollment to new policies about COVID safety.
Furthermore, we help provide the right content and resources your employees need to address their stress and wellbeing. In partnership with Thrive Global, we draw on the latest neuroscience and psychology to help your employees build healthy new habits and create proven sustainable behavior change. Managers and Leaders can track results over time to monitor progress or identify issues before they contribute to productivity declines.
These tools and resources combined help your employees keep the right state of mind to be productive while enhancing the connection to your organization and their peers. While there are many standalone services out there that tackle one of these critical areas, Zenefits stands alone in addressing the total motivation and total self of your staff by tackling them all. The best part? All of our wellbeing resources, collaboration tools, and engagement tools can be managed in the same cloud-based, easy to use, and employee-friendly platform you manage the rest of your HR and payroll.
We’ve got your employees, and we’ve got you too. Here’s to a healthier team and a healthier business.