3 Signs It’s Time to Rethink Well-being in the Wake of Changing Worker Expectations

Workplace well-being is never a one-and-done consideration. At Workday Rising, Dan Rogers and Miikka Åkerman argue that people leaders would be wise to consider whether their approach to employee well-being—and the systems that support them—are keeping pace with this modern moment.

3 Signs It’s Time to Rethink Well-being in the Wake of Changing Worker Expectations

Employee well-being is rapidly rising up organizations’ agendas, as companies struggle to retain and engage talent amid pervasive burnout, mental-health fallout from the pandemic, and shifting employee expectations. The urgent need to address workplace wellbeing isn’t limited by location or role, either. Around 1 in 3 employees—and the same proportion of executives—report they’re constantly struggling with fatigue and poor mental health, according to a global 2022 Deloitte survey. At the same time, 57% of employees and 69% of executives say they’re seriously considering quitting for a job that better supports their well-being.

Organizations that don’t take action risk more than turnover or “quiet quitting.” They’re also missing out on the many upsides that happen when a workforce is thriving. High employee well-being is positively correlated to positive business impacts, such as profitability, customer satisfaction, and employee productivity. Employee well-being is also often refracted, benefiting not only the individual but their team as well.

But before galloping toward a new plan or rolling out a novel perk, people leaders would be wise to consider whether they’re applying an adequately expansive lens to the problem, said Dan Rogers, Workday vice president of product strategy, at Workday Rising Europe. Sick days, stress and burnout certainly matter, he noted, but “they’re really just the tip of the iceberg.” And if your well-being initiatives tend to be reactionary (think: desk massages following a stressful work sprint) or guided by gut instinct, there’s a real chance that you’re not just aiming at the wrong target, but using the wrong tool as well. 

Warning Sign: You Define Well-being as Physical and Mental Health

No question, physical and mental health matter. But today’s workers increasingly expect a more holistic approach to employee well-being, and are seeking out organizations that will safeguard and support not only their physical and mental health, but also their financial wellness, social health, and career development. 

“Wellbeing isn’t just the absence of illness; it’s an active state of positive health,” Rogers said. And business leaders and employees alike have a growing appreciation for the many ways that work influences someone’s quality of life. From flexible schedules to social connections between coworkers, purposeful work to pay that keeps pace with inflation—employees expect all of it to fall under the modern umbrella of workplace well-being. 

Take, for instance, financial anxieties, which have “cascading impacts on other areas of well-being,” said Miikka Åkerman, enterprise architect, Workday. Almost half of Gen Zs (46%) and millennials (47%) surveyed in 2022 say they live paycheck to paycheck and worry they won’t be able to cover their expenses. But across all ages, salary bands and industries, financial stress can take a toll on well-being. Nearly one-third of employees say financial stress has negatively impacted their mental health and sleep, in a 2022 global PwC survey. And financially-stressed employees are twice as likely to look for a new job as their non-stressed peers. 

Pay bumps are hardly the only option for helping employees manage financial stress. Rather, HR leaders can leverage data analytics to gauge their organization’s pay equity across various dimensions, ensuring workers are paid fairly and equitably. They can benchmark pay and total rewards against industry peers. And they can keep a real-time pulse on employee sentiment around compensation and financial wellness tools, to proactively address worrisome trends before they become realized attrition risks. 

“Wellbeing isn’t just the absence of illness; it’s an active state of positive health"

Dan Rogers Workday

Warning Sign: You Struggle to Get to the Root of the Issue

If burnout is burdening your workforce, you’re hardly alone: One in four employees report burnout symptoms, according to a 2022 global survey by the McKinsey Health Institute, and soaring, stubborn rates prompted the World Health Organization to declare it an “occupational phenomenon.” In an attempt to beat back burnout, companies have ramped up things like wellness perks (think: meditation apps and stress-management courses) and mental health resources, often with limited results.

Part of the problem, said Rogers, is that employers “need to understand both what is happening and why it’s happening.” Is the burnout tied to workloads in under-resourced departments? Or is it driven by rigid schedules and lack of flexibility? Do employees feel supported by their manager? A sense of belonging at the company? Without knowing which factors might be at play, it’s all but impossible to implement interventions that correctly address the root of the issue.

Imagine, for instance, an HR manager sees attrition rates are trending upward in a particular office, with workers often citing burnout during exit interviews. Rather than jump straight into action, the manager turns to an intelligent listening platform that captures and tracks employee sentiment. The manager notices employee sentiment scores are flagging, with a steady uptick in comments mentioning flexible schedules and caregiving responsibilities. Such a targeted insight might spark the HR manager to benchmark the company’s PTO offerings against its peers or to re-examine—and possibly better promote—workplace policies around flexible schedules. 

The right technology enables leaders to harness the what and why of their people data, such as combining quantitative HR data (such as the number of sick days taken, vacation-usage rates, compensation levels, and long-term absences) with employee survey data (such as sentiment scores on workload, manager support, and sense of purpose). With that more holistic understanding of their workforce’s well-being, organizations are better positioned to tackle the how—that is, how they can help improve their people’s well-being.

These data-driven strategies, which target the very root of the issue, are far more likely to effect lasting change in employee well-being than a wellness perk presented as a surface-level salve.

“A lot of particularly young employees are choosing where they work based on a company’s approach to CSR”

Dan Rogers Workday

Warning Sign: You React as Often as You Act

When employee well-being slumps, addressing pressing issues understandably takes center stage. But if well-being strategies are only tweaked or implemented when crisis hits, that flat-footed stance guarantees you’re missing opportunities to make small but impactful improvements. 

Instead, people leaders must rely on a regular cadence and incremental changes to keep employee well-being a priority, even in times of relative calm. Digital dashboards are one way to make this continuous task more achievable, as they can aggregate relevant metrics in one spot. 

But “the first thing the manager’s going to say is ‘Ok. Now what do I do with all of this information?’” said Rogers. Ideally, the solution or system you use would also be able to “generate insights and make suggested actions for well-being,” without a frontline manager needed to wade deep into the data waters or even know to go spelunking for certain issues. 

The framework through which you gauge employee well-being needs regular review as well. For instance, research suggests a growing connection between employee engagement and an organization’s CSR (corporate social responsibility) and ESG (environmental, social, and governance) strategies. HR leaders need not wait to put that insight to use, perhaps by analyzing ESG or CSR data alongside employee well-being metrics or even integrating such data into employee well-being dashboards. 

“What we’ve seen through our own research is that, more and more, CSR is strongly connected to the employee value proposition,” Rogers said. “A lot of particularly young employees are choosing where they work based on a company’s approach to CSR.” Having decision-ready data and actionable insights at the ready means organizations are better poised to make proactive changes, as the talent market and business evolves.

More Reading