Part 1 – why invest in well-being programs?
Since the outbreak of the pandemic and its first negative consequences impacted employees worldwide, well-being has become one of the biggest trends in labor markets. If there is any benefit of COVID-19, it has undoubtedly been the increased awareness of health and the power of the work environment to affect the well-being of employees. However, is investing in well-being programs justified in business and confirmed by research? It turns out that there is quite a lot of evidence to this effect.
What does well-being mean in an organizational context?
Well-being Psychology Today is a sense of health and happiness, and manifests through good mental health, high life satisfaction, a sense of meaning or purpose, and the ability to cope with stress in various areas of life. Importantly, well-being is the result of thoughts, actions, and experiences over which one has control. The concept of well-being assumes that certain aspects of our lives or situations that happen to us are beyond our control. What we do have control over is how we deal with various life situations (including work situations). Many employers were concerned about the well-being of their employees even before the pandemic, but the scale of that concern was quite different.
Concern for employee well-being – a pre- and post-Covid perspective
The two main factors that have changed the perception of well-being programs in organizations are an increased sense of threat and the reorganization of work, especially the shift to hybrid working. After the first difficult months following the outbreak of the pandemic when companies mobilized their forces at short notice, looking for ways to survive, it was time to get used to the situation and develop new development strategies. For employees, however, this was not so obvious. The psychological impact of the pandemic was severe. Uncertainty, insecurity, loneliness, sometimes combined with the loss of loved ones and fear for them increased stress and often led to depressive states. Despite an apparent return to “normalcy”, employee productivity declined.
An additional complication was the fact that previous motivational tools had lost their power, because professional life could no longer be separated from private life. Nice-to-have benefits, which were offered by employers before the pandemic, have become obsolete: fruit in the office, sports passes or subsidized lunches in the office canteen were no longer relevant. The expectations and needs of employees have changed – as many as 72.6% of people surveyed said that the employer should introduce measures to take care of their emotional state (more often these were women). Research on the Polish market has shown that before the pandemic, only 3% of employers offered such benefits.
Investing in well-being – a temporary trend or a complete change of approach?
A study of 166 large companies showed that investments in well-being programs increased from $4.9 million in 2020 to $6 million in 2021 (the average budget of a large company). The increase in these investments is justified by research carried out by psychologists, who have confirmed the correlation between effective support of employee well-being and better work performance and lower level of burnout. This is confirmed by Gallupspecialists, who proved that people who feel a sense of well-being are 81% less likely to seek new professional challenges outside their organization and 41% less likely to take sick leave, compared to people who do not. It turns out that employer concern for employees in times of pandemic cannot just be an add-on to financial benefits. It must become an integral part of the entire strategy based on building a positive employee experience.
Work-life balance or work-life blending?
The direction that companies are starting to take, caring for their employees in terms of supporting their mental health and well-being, seems to be bringing them benefits in many areas: a happy and relaxed employee will take better care of clients and be more engaged in their work, which will translate into better financial results for the company. Recognizing this relationship is important because the boundary between work and private life is becoming increasingly blurred. In business psychology, people talk less and less about work-life balance (which has had many critics and for many was unattainable), and more and more about work-life blending. In order for work and private life to intermingle flexibly, there is a need for inner balance and mental resilience, which can be learned. And if employers want motivated, engaged, healthy and happy employees, they need to create the right conditions.
Stress is and will always be a part of our lives. Unfortunately, Poles do not deal with it well. Poland ranks 31st among 38 countries in a ranking that examines how well people take care of themselves and their own well-being. Ultimately, stress leads to growing dissatisfaction with life and professional burnout – as many as 26.5% of employees think about changing jobs because of professional overload and fatigue. Research also shows that 82% of leaders surveyed turn to tranquilizers, alcohol or other drugs several times a week to cope with work-related anxiety. Organizations must therefore approach well-being issues comprehensively and systemically, making it an important part of their business strategy.
We write about how to do this and how to encourage employees to use the suggested tools in the following sections of the guide.
 Own work based on: https://hbr.org/2021/09/lets-redefine-productivity-for-the-hybrid-era