Supporting employee wellbeing in the modern economy

Team Guild
Sep 7, 2018 · 6 min read

Many companies rightfully proclaim that their people are their best asset. It’s no secret that employee wellbeing and ultimate performance go hand in hand. The definition of wellbeing in today’s workplace is a holistic one that represents a confluence of both professional and personal elements.

Today’s young professionals arguably face higher pressures to be well rounded, highly educated and willing to work around the clock than their predecessors. As a result, many now look to their employers as more than just the source of their paycheck but rather a support system for multiple facets of life.

In the modern economy, companies will need to focus on employee wellbeing as more than a benefits package but rather a strategic priority.

Wellbeing mitigates turnover

Research consulting giant, Gallup identified five primary elements of employee wellbeing. These elements are purpose, social, financial, community and physical.

Employees that feel balanced in these five areas statistically miss less work, outperform unbalanced peers and drive better overall customer satisfaction.

Moreover, Gallup cites employees that thrive in all five elements are 81% less likely to seek out work elsewhere. From a cost perspective, lowering turnover in and of itself motivates organizations to prioritize employee wellbeing. On average, replacing one salaried employee costs organizations about six to nine months of that employee’s salary.

Each individual may value elements of wellbeing differently depending on their personal preferences, career ambitions or stage of life.

On aggregate, despite generational differences, workers more or less want the same things. No single organization can deliver these elements perfectly for each worker nor are they obligated to. However, as we unpack some of the modern methods for promoting wellbeing, think about what your organization does well, where it can improve and how it stacks up against the competition.

Purposeful work

When it comes to wellbeing, it’s important to start with the work itself. An emerging economic trend among the younger workforce indicates that they place a high value on purposeful work.

Purposeful work can mean different things to different people but overall, feeling a sense of purpose naturally drives better engagement and commitment from employees. For many young workers, this means making a direct positive impact on society through their day to day actions or by the direction of their organization.

Some organizations such as non-profits or universities exist for purely altruistic motivations making the purpose of work blatantly obvious. Workers in these sectors often sacrifice significant financial compensation in order to work for inherently good causes. For them, doing good contributes highly to their wellbeing.

However, purpose is multifaceted and organizations can cultivate purpose in a variety of ways. Inc.magazine cites Viktor Frankl’s historic Holocaust memoir, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, when defining purpose in work. For many, fulfillment and purpose are often derived by three primary channels: autonomy, connectedness and learning.

How does your organization promote these three foundational elements of purpose?

Professional development

Learning and professional development play a pivotal role in retaining employees. Most people want to work somewhere where they can realize their full potential. An organization with limited opportunities for promotion or without specific professional development initiatives in place will likely dissuade ambitious workers from coming over in the first place.

Even if employees aren’t motivated by promotions or increased responsibility, professional development remains crucial for keeping pace with rapidly evolving disruptive technologies. Companies that will thrive in the future economy will both deploy cutting edge technologies in day to day operations and simultaneously equip their existing workforce to use them.

Best practice: AT&T

The history of AT&T traces back to the invention of the telephone itself. The 133-year-old giant employs over 240,000 people and led the industry for generations building America’s telecommunications infrastructure. However, it along with other venerable industry leaders realize that in order to continue to succeed, they needs to equip their workforce with the skills of the future in order to drive innovation from within.

In a 2016 article, Harvard Business Review detailed AT&T’s professional development strategy to continue its legacy and retain talent. The company started off by allowing managers to write job descriptions of the future and list the skills required for them. Among the most popular included cloud computing, data science and coding. Instead of going out and recruiting new workers for future skills, the company committed over $1 billion to retrain its workforce through its ‘Future Ready’ campaign.

Employees at AT&T can access various development opportunities for career advancement including individual courses, “nanodegrees” (industry certifications) and masters degrees. The company even co-created created a low cost master’s in computer science program in conjunction with Georgia Tech and Udacity that full time workers can complete online.

AT&T’s average employee tenure ranges from 12–22 years and its staunch commitment to professional development will likely keep it that way. ‘Future Ready’ promotes a more inclusive environment that makes opportunities to learn readily available to all employees.

While not all companies can commit the level of resources to professional development that AT&T can, the program serves as a model for employee wellbeing, retention and the inextricable link between competitiveness and a workforce committed to lifelong learning.

Health and the “self care” generation

Health arguably impacts wellbeing the most. A healthy workforce is a productive workforce. A healthy workforce begins with access to basic needs typically provided through competitive benefits packages (especially for US companies). This applies not only to individuals but for dependents as well.

Most major companies already do this. However, the younger generations tend to view physical and mental wellness as much more than visiting the doctor and the dentist regularly. According to NPR, Millennials spend twice as much on “self care” than baby boomers.

Self care recently entered the pop culture lexicon as catch all to describe anything that contributes to overall wellbeing. This encompasses everything from workout classes to therapy to avocado toast. On aggregate, dedicating more time and resources to taking care of oneself is good for the economy.

A few ways companies can promote self care are through on-site fitness programs, access to healthy foods and wellness incentives for perks.

Best practice: Virgin Pulse

Companies are increasingly investing in digital health programs to support physical and mental wellbeing for their employees. Virgin Pulse is a digital health monitoring platform that helps people track well being fundamentals from sleep to stress to exercise in a single interface.

While dozens of apps help consumers track and measure their health goals, Virgin Pulse markets directly to companies to help drive corporate well being initiatives from the angle of cultivating better business outcomes.

The manager’s role in wellbeing

In this article, we merely graze the surface of this deeply important and complex topic. Corporate executives can drive well being initiatives from the top but the issue ultimately boils down to the individual. Since wellbeing is truly defined by each individual, managers play a crucial role in ensuring the well being of their employees.

While “life coach” isn’t typically listed in the manager job description, discussing well being needs to become part of the manager- employee relationship. Deploying this approach to management requires thorough HR training to ensure managers act appropriately and can foster healthy conversations around wellbeing with direct reports. Direct feedback from individuals will help make internal programs more meaningful as well as tailor career coaching.

The Gallup study concludes that managers need to be equipped to empower employees to manage their own wellbeing without serving as a coach or financial adviser. They need to champion the importance of a life well lived and lead by example.

Ultimately, it’s the managers that wield the power to make or break a wellbeing culture.

Photo by Caju Gomes on Unsplash.

Originally published at guild.co on September 7, 2018.

The Guild Journal

The Guild Journal

The world of work is transforming, driven by technology, changing societal behaviours and demographics, new business models and globalisation. The Guild Journal explores the future of work and what it means for organisations and professionals.

Team Guild

Written by

The editorial team behind Guild (https://guild.co) - the private messaging app for professionals

The Guild Journal

The world of work is transforming, driven by technology, changing societal behaviours and demographics, new business models and globalisation. The Guild Journal explores the future of work and what it means for organisations and professionals.

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