While executives have long recognized that well-being is important, the COVID-19 pandemic brought home how significant it really is. Organizations suddenly found themselves called upon to prioritize workers’ physical and mental well-being as a matter of survival, as protecting their health and alleviating their stress became critical to operations. Work and life, health, safety, and well-being became inseparable.
Even before COVID-19, though, well-being was rising on the organizational agenda. In fact, well-being was the top-ranked trend in Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends study, with 80% of nearly 9,000 survey respondents identifying it as important or very important to their organization’s success.
Shifting realities: COVID crisis casts a new light on the importance of well-being
Against that backdrop, when COVID-19 took hold, the crisis cast new light on the importance of well-being and made us acutely aware of the consequences when well-being is put at risk. Many organizations took quick action to redirect resources toward making work safe and keeping workers healthy, for example by moving workers into remote work arrangements, implementing testing and contact tracing strategies for on-site workers, and establishing new programs for emergency medical leave, childcare, and eldercare support, and physical, mental, and financial health.
As the pandemic went on, well-being remained paramount in many organizational leaders’ minds. Conversations about the toll of social isolation and economic recession on workers’ mental and emotional health entered the public dialogue and keeping workers physically healthy and safe continued to be a top priority.
Workers prioritize transforming work for well-being more highly than executives
Even so, there is a continuing disconnect between employers and workers when it comes to prioritizing well-being. When asked, “What are the most important outcomes you hope to achieve in your workplace transformation efforts in the next one to three years?” respondents cited improving quality, increasing innovation, and improving worker well-being. But improving well-being was the second-to-last outcome identified by executives.
HR executives were slightly more deliberate than non-HR executives about focusing on well-being as an important outcome, with 20% of HR executives selecting it as a priority, compared with 15% of non-HR executives. But designing well-being into work cannot be done by HR alone. The incorporation of well-being into work must be done symphonically, championed by leaders at every level and in every function if it is to make a meaningful difference.
Organizations can take a variety of actions to integrate well-being into work
Organizations looking to build well-being into work should consider actions, policies, and mandates at three levels – individual, team, and organizational. And they should take into account five environments in which they’re designing work, including, cultural, relational, operational, physical, and virtual. For example, here are a few actions leaders can take:
At the organizational level:
Form teams based on worker preferences, working styles, and personal needs
Embed well-being criteria in work scheduling, performance management processes, leadership evaluations, and rewards and recognition programs
Design work environments to support workers’ physical, mental, and emotional health needs
At the team level:
Model well-being behaviors such as taking micro-breaks or making only certain meetings video-based
Enable team agency and choice by allowing teams to adopt well-being practices best suited to their needs
Leverage physical workspaces that promote team collaboration and performance
Use new technologies, like virtual reality, to train team members to navigate stressful situations (e.g., interacting with a frustrated customer)
At the individual level, people should also take ownership over their well-being by being proactive and vocal about their well-being needs, checking in more frequently with colleagues and leveraging wearable technologies and apps to help master distractions, increase mindfulness and reduce anxiety.
The design of well-being into work is a practice that must be developed, strengthened, and flexed over time to be effective. As work itself changes at a rapid pace, the ways that an organization supports individual and team well-being must adapt in tandem. It’s no longer about achieving a work-life balance. The pandemic has shown us that well-being is not about balancing work with life but integrating them. When an organization is able to successfully design well-being into work, well-being becomes indistinguishable from work itself, embedded across all organizational levels and environments to drive and sustain not only human performance but also human potential.