Report: Employee well-being among top workforce trends

Employers normalizing mental health care, training leaders to support employees.
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The most recent Workforce Trends Pulse Survey from Gallagher found employers nationwide are taking a more agile approach to retention by addressing employees’ top concerns, including well-being.

Lenny Brucato. Courtesy Gallagher

Lenny Brucato, Michigan area president for Gallagher’s benefits and human resources consulting division, and Emily Brainerd, national well-being and engagement practice leader, spoke to the Business Journal last month about Gallagher’s Q4 Workforce Trends Pulse Survey published in the first quarter.

The survey found 40% of employers cited employee well-being as one of the top three concerns for their organization’s leadership, alongside burnout (48%) and talent loss (43%).

Furthermore, organizations have realized providing “innovative and effective” mental health programs and services can help lower the risk of losing good people and attract new talent, Gallagher said.

According to the report, companies are taking steps like these to support the mental health of their employees:

  • Normalizing mental health conversations: Many organizations are using the workplace to talk about the importance of caring for an individual’s emotional well-being in and out of the office by offering online learning tools, implementing continuing education on mental health and using non-stigmatizing language in communication campaigns.
  • Increasing leadership and management training: Direct managers and different levels of leadership are taking an active role in creating a supportive work environment, the report said. Leaders are learning how to have effective conversations about emotional well-being, identify employees who might be struggling, address challenges and changes at the workplace, and build coping skills for stronger resiliency.
  • Enhancing access to care: Organizations are leveraging new virtual-care service options to accommodate flexible working arrangements and hybrid work environments, Gallagher found.
  • Offering multigenerational care and resources: Every generation is facing mental health concerns, and organizations are introducing diverse care solutions targeting every stage of life into their offerings, according to the findings.
  • Providing a social connection: To address the need for human connection, employers are creating ways for employees to interact with each other via employee resource groups, a social wall to share photos, or a challenge to get to know a co-worker in the next cube or in a different country, Gallagher said.
  • Employee engagement: Nearly three in four employers surveyed said they consider employee engagement a top people metric for determining future business success, the report showed.
Emily Brainerd. Courtesy Gallagher

Brainerd said, reading the national data, she wasn’t surprised one of the biggest challenges employers reported is workers’ emotional well-being, not just due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but to constant, shared turmoil in the U.S. and around the world right now — wars, political infighting and more.

“Everyone is under constant change and in a place of unknown. What’s going to come up next? … That’s the world we live in right now,” she said.

“Employers are taking notice of that and seeing their employee population is struggling … but I think we still need to get over that hump of employers actually taking action — really investing in solutions and resources for their people.”

She said one of the areas in which employers did leap into action was providing access to virtual care. As Gallagher has talked to providers/vendors, they’ve said what otherwise might have taken them 10 years to develop was fast-tracked due to COVID lockdowns.

Not only that, but employers put in the work to communicate that option, and people of all ages and demographics — even the less tech-savvy — began using it.

“I don’t think we’ll go back away from virtual care,” she said. “I think people have found it’s convenient, it’s easy to use (and) they don’t have to step away from work, so it definitely helps employers with productivity and the absenteeism factor.”

Brucato said virtual-care options also help employees feel more comfortable addressing their mental health.

“One of the challenges that existed around emotional well-being and access to care for a variety of those needs, prior to the pandemic, was around the stigma associated with admitting there were challenges and raising your hand and needing help or being willing to access the services that were available,” he said.

“From a national standpoint, there’s been a light shined on the need for it, the importance of it. And what the virtual access has allowed people to do is access the care not only in a convenient way, but also in a more discreet way. As (workers) start to get more comfortable with the idea of asking for that help and taking advantage of what’s available, the behavioral health option on a virtual basis has given them access to take advantage of it in the way they feel most comfortable.”

Additionally, virtual care allows people with hectic work schedules to take 30 minutes out of their day to address mental health concerns instead of adding a roundtrip drive to a doctor’s office, he said.

Brainerd said one of the first steps employers need to take to ensure better employee well-being is to assess their organizational structure and make sure a sound leadership and management team is in place that takes these issues seriously and has policies and procedures in place that address the work-life balance needed to be healthy.

“Those resources we talked about are only as successful as how well the structure of the organization is working as a whole and the culture of the organization,” she said.

“If you plop a really strong, good mental health resource — access to mental health care — into an organization that is mired in other challenges, it’s going to be that much more difficult for that employee to actually leverage that resource and get good use out of it,” she said.

She said the best organizations will take a hard look at what they are doing that may negatively affect employees’ mental and emotional health — adding it is critical leaders don’t expect their priorities to trickle down to management organically. Training must be formalized.

“We all know one of the No. 1 reasons why people quit is because of their relationship with their direct manager, and so continuing to build the skillset of those direct managers to manage in a hybrid work environment — that’s a new skillset,” she said. “… Also, making sure that those managers are actually taking care of their own well-being is a big trend we’ll start seeing a lot of focus on.”

Brucato said it also is important to acknowledge humans are social creatures, so one aspect of well-being is to ensure they still have opportunities to engage with their co-workers, even if they’re working a mostly remote schedule.

“How do you get people back into the office in a way to regain some of that sense of community and belonging that comes with interacting with your peers?” he said.

Another tension in play is when new, young teammates are onboarded who have never been a part of the in-person workplace, he said.

“Think about the impact on new talent, young talent, coming into the organization, and how do they truly learn to be effective and successful within that organization, their business model, their culture, if from the time they graduated or were brought on board to the organization, they’ve been working from their living room or their basement and are reporting to someone they’ve never physically met?” he said.

“The experience you gain and the knowledge you gain from just watching someone do their work or being there to ask questions, that emerging new workforce isn’t getting that benefit as widely as we did with this new way of working. Many of our clients are starting to question how they tackle that.”

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