We are entering a new era of work. With compounding stress from the Covid-19 pandemic, political unrest, war, rising inflation, and other major events, worker well-being has never been more critical.
In fact, a recent poll revealed that treatment of workers, not climate change, is the number one ESG issue for Americans. At a time when more and more workers are leaving their jobs for reasons like low pay and overwhelming hours, this should come as no surprise.
Unfortunately, 30% of US employees feel work negatively impacts their mental health and well-being. A whopping 70% of employees miss at least one day of work per year due to stress, burnout, and other mental health challenges.
These figures should not be taken lightly. Especially in today’s labor market, poor employee well-being is a recipe for high turnover and decreased productivity. Depression and anxiety alone cost the economy $1 trillion per year in lost productivity.
With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, now is the perfect time to evaluate whether you’re approaching worker well-being holistically. Here are ten ways your business can center employee well-being in its policies and practices:
1) Pair a Fair and Living Wage
First and foremost, ensure you pay a fair and living wage to all your employees. The link between financial security and physical and mental well-being is inextricable – finances are the top cause of employee stress, above job, health, and relationships combined.
On top of this, workers’ expectations have changed. Workers are increasingly holding their employers accountable and demanding more, whether that’s better pay, more flexible hours, or expanded benefits. As a result, not paying a fair wage can be costly. During the peak of the Great Resignation, low pay was the number one reason why employees left their jobs.
Remember, your employees are your most important and valuable assets. Unless you meet the minimum requirement of paying a livable wage, the rest of the ideas on this list will have little meaning.
2) Offer Flexible (and Reasonable) Working Hours
Work is just one component of our lives. Allowing for flexible working hours empowers your employees to focus on the things that count – things like family, community, and hobbies and passions. More importantly, it signals that you trust your workers to meet deadlines and deliver the same quality of work on their own schedules.
In addition to flexible working hours, the Covid-19 pandemic has also started to normalize things like remote-first work and the four-day workweek. While not everyone enjoys working remotely, others thrive with the flexibility it offers. Giving your employees the option to work remote, hybrid, or in-person shows that you’re willing to offer work in a way that best supports their wellbeing.
Even the once far-fetched notion of the four-day workweek is more common than you think. Countries like Spain, Iceland, Belgium, and New Zealand have all piloted four-day workweeks, finding that they result in reduced burnout and increased productivity. The trend is picking up steam – dozens of US companies are now testing out the idea.
3) Offer Well-Being Based Employee Benefits
Do you offer benefits that promote both physical and mental well-being? Remember, there can be no health without mental health. Here are some examples of benefits that can improve well-being, physical and mental:
- Easy access to mental health services through your health insurance plan
- Discounted or free gym memberships
- Discounted or free yoga, meditation, and wellness classes
- Complimentary access to wellness apps such as Calm
- Extended paid leave for new mothers and support system for coming back to work
- Inclusion of other kinds of “sick” days, including mental health days and menstrual leave
While these may seem like expensive investments, the benefits far outweigh the costs. According to the World Health Organization, there is a $4 return in improved health and workplace productivity for every $1 spent addressing common mental health concerns.
4) Create a Monthly Wellness Program
To help break the stigma of discussing well-being and mental health in the workplace, host a monthly wellness event for your employees. For remote teams, one way to do this is bringing in leading experts to talk about workplace wellness issues such as stress, mental health, burnout, sleep, and nutrition.
For hybrid or in-person teams, consider having well-being workshops. This could be a guided class on meditation and mindfulness, a stress management seminar, a group tea tasting activity – the opportunities are endless!
5) Invest in a Professional and Personal Development Program
In addition to low pay, lack of career development opportunities was another top reason why US workers quit their jobs in 2021. Nobody wants a dead-end job. To boost loyalty, job satisfaction, and sense of purpose, help your employees grow personally and professionally. Here are a few ways you can do this:
- Create individualized professional development plans with each employee. What learning opportunities would they like to pursue? What new responsibilities would they like to take on? Figure out how you can support these goals.
- Give employees a role in shaping new products or services. Your workers have a wealth of knowledge about what’s happening in the industry. Consider giving them an opportunity to participate in strategic meetings about new products and services.
- Let your employees explore other positions in your company. Allow your workers to expand their skillsets. For instance, perhaps you have an employee in operations who wants to learn more about marketing. Support this ambition!
For all of these, be sure to schedule monthly or quarterly check-ins to track progress and maintain accountability.
6) Consider Offering Unlimited Paid Time Off (PTO)
Offering unlimited PTO may seem risky, but in practice it simply means connecting time off with results. As long as your employees meet deadlines and deliver results, they should be able to take the time they need.
Besides, trusting and empowering your employees to take vacation when they need it actually increases productivity. Think about it – letting your workers decide when they need time off reduces the stress of balancing work with home life, family, and the multitude of other things we juggle. Your workers will feel recognized and respected and come back refreshed and ready to engage.
Still not convinced? Workers across all generations cite unlimited PTO as a top consideration when deciding whether to take a new job. Unsurprisingly, unlimited PTO policies have risen by 178% in recent years.
Especially for policies like unlimited PTO, be sure to survey your employees to make sure the system is working as intended and not introducing unspoken expectations.
7) Lead by Example
For your employee well-being initiatives to stick, it’s crucial that you lead by example. For instance, if you have policies for no-meeting days and no email after hours, you must model these healthy behaviors for your employees to truly feel like they can do the same. The same applies for behaviors like not working overtime, taking regular breaks, and enjoying vacations.
It’s also up to leadership to make work a safe space to talk about well-being and mental health without judgement. Even something as simple as having regular check-ins to ask, “how are you, really?” helps create a culture of meaningful connection.
8) Facilitate Non-Work-Related Bonding
Having healthy relationships with colleagues is critical for well-being. If your workers feel comfortable with each other, they’ll be more likely to reach out for support when they need it and have a more enjoyable workplace experience overall. To help facilitate connections amongst your employees, consider the following:
- Implement a buddy system for new hires.
- Have a Slack or Teams channel dedicated to fun, pets, hobbies, or other things that spark joy.
- Schedule a weekly time to play virtual (or in-person) games or other icebreakers.
- For remote teams, arrange an annual get-together for workers to interact in person.
- For in-person teams, arrange regular social events, such as hikes, happy hours, cheese tastings – whatever fits with your culture.
9) Make Praise Part of Company Culture
This may seem like a no brainer, but simply recognizing great work goes a long way towards boosting confidence and making your employees feel valued. Both of these are important components of worker well-being and long-term loyalty.
In addition to expressing verbal appreciation yourself, also empower your employees to give recognition to one another. Perhaps you create a dedicated Slack channel where employees can call out the good work being done by their teammates. Or maybe you allocate a portion of your weekly check-in to praises and kudos.
10) Engage your Employees
Finally, be sure to survey your employees to find out what’s working and what isn’t. After all, employee well-being initiatives are there for your employees. Without regularly engaging them on how your company is doing, you risk missing the mark and wasting time, money, and resources.
It’s important that these surveys are anonymous and conducted more than just once a year. Improving worker well-being is a continuous process, not just something you can check off once.
Worker well-being is a new business imperative. Although employers have started to invest more in well-being and mental health initiatives, workers have rightfully raised the stakes. How should you respond to these new pressures?
Even if you implement all these great initiatives, it’s not enough to stop there. To truly center worker well-being in your business, you need to embrace culture change. What goals are you working towards? How are you measuring progress? Employee well-being must become a top priority across your entire organization, not just something delegated to HR.
The Covid-19 pandemic showed us that many of our assumptions about work were unnecessary and limiting. Now, we’re on our way to normalizing more sustainable ways of working. Your business has a key role to play in keeping the momentum going!