Elizabeth Bille

Meeting expectations for employee engagement and well-being is critical to attracting and retaining top talent. Doing so may require organizations to take a more holistic approach to wellness at work which includes mental, emotional, and social health.

Employee Well-being in the Workplace

Several crises have impacted employees’ well-being in recent years, from the pandemic to financial hardships to social unrest. Many have experienced illness and loss among family or friends, navigated periods of physical and social isolation, been challenged by hybrid or remote work, experienced layoffs, and juggled increasingly complex caregiver responsibilities for children who were sent home from school for several months.

The environment today is still in a state of flux. But even as these events move farther into the past, their many impacts will still be felt for years to come — including their effects on mental health.

According to a Calm for Business survey, 40% of workers say their employers haven’t done enough to address mental health. There is also evidence that alcohol and substance misuse is on the rise.

Why is Employee Well-being Important?

Workable defines employee wellbeing as “the state of employees’ mental and physical health, resulting from dynamics within — and sometimes outside — the workplace.”

Traditional notions of “workplace health and safety” have always focused on physical health, especially job-related injury and illness. In 2020 and 2021, the concept of workplace health understandably focused on issues around COVID, like vaccines, masking, office closures, and safety protocols.

But since COVID, there has been a significant shift in awareness among business leaders and managers about the impact of challenges experienced by employees outside the physical workplace — personal loss, caregiving responsibilities, and more — can have inside the workplace. Leaders and managers are increasingly recognizing the effect these stressors have on employees’ engagement and well-being, and even on business operations.

Employee needs are changing as they continue to adjust to new work environments, dealing with stress and isolation while managing their own health and safety — all amid continuing social, economic, and environmental concerns. And they are increasingly looking to their employers for meaningful support.

Unfortunately, today’s workplaces also are increasingly toxic. Data compiled by EVERFI and the HR Research Institute, for example, reported high rates of toxic behavior, including distrust and resentment, as well as egregious conduct like bullying, harassment, and discrimination. These types of work settings can seriously damage employee health and wellbeing. The result: high levels of stress, serious mental health issues, which can include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, anxiety, and depression, as well as physical health issues like high blood pressure.

Fortunately, there are several things employers can do to improve employee well-being and, in the process, boost the odds they will be able to attract and retain talent among the “Great Resignation,” which has also been referred to as the “turnover tsunami” by SHRM.

What Factors Impact Workplace Toxicity?

New research by EVERFI and the HR Research Institute tells an unfortunate story about today’s workplaces. HR professionals are reporting high rates of toxic behavior, including distrust and resentment.

How to Improve Employee Health and Well-being

A broader focus on holistic health is required in today’s work environment. Employers will need to look holistically at issues that impact the well-being of their workforces to identify new areas of focus, which include:

  • mental wellness, including stress and burnout
  • work environment stressors that affect psychological safety
  • inclusion and belonging

Employee Well-being Best Practices

Employers need to consider how they’re helping employees manage their own health and well-being, as well as the health of those around them. For example, organizations need to ensure they’re responding appropriately and compassionately when employees need accommodations, as well as evaluating situations on a case-by-case basis.

Employee Mental Wellness

Addressing mental health needs is a must. One simple but very important step employers can take is to open up discussions around mental health or stress. For example, leaders can share their own challenges in dealing with the added pressures of the pandemic and other environmental impacts.

Leaders also can help prioritize mental health for employees by standardizing ways to address and manage stress and burnout. For example, leaders could:

  • monitor workloads and schedules, including reprioritizing or eliminating non-priority assignments or tasks
  • encourage employees to use vacation time and paid time off (PTO)
  • provide regular breaks during work hours
  • offer flexible working arrangements, like working remotely, flex-scheduling, and virtual check-ins
  • avoid contacting employees after normal working hours
  • model wellness strategies themselves, by taking PTO or working remotely

Employers also can offer information, resources, and access to mental health-related services.

Work Environment Stressors

Importantly, employers have a major role to play, and responsibility for ensuring a safe, non-toxic workplace culture. That includes addressing environmental stressors that affect employees’ psychological safety and well-being, like toxic managers and work environments, microaggressions, and online harassment.

Addressing such toxic workplace stressors should be an ongoing process — not a one-and-done activity. Strategies for addressing toxic conditions include:

  • evaluating your written company values against day-to-day reality. Are your stated values being reinforced or undermined through leaders’ actions, policy decisions, and employee recognition mechanisms?
  • deploying companywide training focused on preventing harassment, bullying, and discrimination
  • evaluating all employees on their efforts to support a positive work environment
  • imposing meaningful consequences when employees and leaders engage in toxic, biased, or harassing behavior

Inclusion and Belonging

Inclusivity is also critically important for employee well-being. Employees need to know that they, their opinions, and their work are important. Ensuring employees feel like they belong at work is especially crucial in hybrid and remote environments where employees may feel more isolated from their colleagues.

Building diverse, inclusive, psychologically safe environments where employees feel welcomed and valued as their full selves at work means they can express their ideas, their perspectives, and any aspect of their identity — their race, gender, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and more — without judgment.

Investing in long-term efforts, such as diversity training for employees and managers, can teach all employees how to help create these kinds of environments. Training gives employees the tools to be inclusive and help their colleagues feel like they belong in their everyday interactions and across all aspects of the work experience.

Wellness and Employee Engagement

Taking a broader, holistic view of wellness at work not only benefits employees but employers too. When employees’ physical, mental, social, and emotional well-being are supported, it can lead to a workforce that’s more engaged, more productive, and more creative. Having a healthy workforce can also help reduce health plan costs and absenteeism, which can also improve business outcomes.

Looking for additional ways you can make this a more healthful year for your workforce? EVERFI offers workplace training that can help expand your organization’s approach to improving employees’ health and wellbeing through harassment and inclusion training.

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