Technology — With advancements in technology, organizations can leverage various tools and solutions to enhance employee well-being, streamline processes, and provide personalized support.

The pandemic pause brought us to a moment of collective reckoning about what it means to live well and to work well. As a result, employees are sending employers an urgent signal that they are no longer willing to choose one — life or work — at the cost of the other. Working from home brought life literally into our work. And as the world now goes hybrid, employees are drawing firmer boundaries about how much of their work comes into their life. Where does this leave employers? And which perspectives and programs contribute most to progress? In our newest interview series, Working Well: How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness, we are talking to successful executives, entrepreneurs, managers, leaders, and thought leaders across all industries to share ideas about how to shift company cultures in light of this new expectation. We’re discovering strategies and steps employers and employees can take together to live well and to work well.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Opare-Aryee (MCIPD).

Founder and Director of JOA HR Consulting Limited, Jennifer found her passion for HR during a work placement at university where she experienced first-hand the strength and power of employees’ voices in shaping and influencing policy development. Today she provides customized people management solutions to businesses within health, hospitality, construction, housing and social care to ensure that processes are legally compliant, people-centered and user friendly.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you better. Tell us about a formative experience that prompted you to change your relationship with work and how work shows up in your life.

Growing up in Ghana, I was raised by my grandmother who sacrificed her income to keep me in school so that I could receive a good education. Having been denied education herself, my grandmother was passionate about the importance of schooling and the life that it could go on to give me.

I credit my grandmother for my work ethics. My mission is to make her proud and lift the bar for the next generation. Sadly, my grandma died in December 2017. Words cannot do justice for the pain and trauma of losing her. However, I have found purpose in my pain. It is the reason why I am committed to making JOA a success as it will provide me the freedom to continue the work on the charity that I set up in her honor to support children’s education. Mary Sowah Foundation works to break the generational cycle of poverty that restricts children from accessing education in Accra, Ghana.

Harvard Business Review predicts that wellness will become the newest metric employers will use to analyze and to assess their employees’ mental, physical and financial health. How does your organization define wellness, and how does your organization measure wellness?

To measure wellness, we prioritize the power of human connection. Apart from quantitative metrics, we aim to create an environment of trust and loyalty by fostering positive connections and relationships among leaders and team members. We understand that labels like “employee” and “employer” can create barriers and diminish the human aspect of the relationship. This can be facilitated through regular feedback sessions, open dialogue, and surveys that encourage employees to express their thoughts, concerns, and suggestions regarding their well-being.

Additionally, we focus on creating policies and processes that use language fostering a positive connection, empathy, and understanding. By removing barriers and promoting human connection, we enable employees to feel comfortable discussing their well-being openly. This approach allows us to gauge the overall well-being of our employees, identify areas of improvement, and tailor our wellness programs to their specific needs.

Overall, we believe that by prioritizing the power of human connection, we can create an environment that promotes trust, loyalty, and mutual respect, which are crucial aspects of measuring and nurturing wellness within our organization.

Based on your experience or research, how do you correlate and quantify the impact of a well workforce on your organization’s productivity and profitability?

There is a direct correlation between employee wellbeing and employee performance leading to business productivity. For instance, it is well documented that improved wellbeing leads to higher morale and job satisfaction. There are many ways in which the correlation between wellbeing and employee performance can be quantified.

Listed below are a few:

  • Absenteeism
  • Presentism
  • Stay interviews
  • Turnover
  • Staff survey with emphasis on employee engagement
  • Accidents and errors report
  • One to one meetings and appraisals

Key to the success of the former is the emphasis on the accuracy and quality of the data. To achieve this objective, it is essential to have a forum to capture the data and ensure that return to work interviews are taking place, sickness absence is proactively managed, reasons for sickness absence are documented. It is also important to know the industry benchmark for sickness absence to test the organization’s absence performance against other organizations of a similar size in the industry. Regular reporting on absence and the identifying of trends/hot spots should also form part of this process. Ongoing training of line managers is necessary to ensure a proactive management of sickness absence.

On the latter, this can serve as a preventative measure if a safe environment is created to enable employees to be empowered to discuss personal issues impacting on their wellbeing that might impact on their performance.

The starting point is to ensure that wellbeing forms part of the organization’s culture and values where there is an expectation is that one to one’s meetings should be more than a checklist exercise of work task activities, but it should incorporate wellbeing and where issues are identified, targeted support should be offered, and this should be followed up in one-to-one discussions to ensure its effectiveness.

Line managers and leaders may need training to ensure that conversations about wellbeing are handled sensitively and with compassion to reduce perceived barriers of the freedom to speak up.

Even though most leaders have good intentions when it comes to employee wellness, programs that require funding are beholden to business cases like any other initiative. The World Health Organization estimates for every $1 invested into treatment for common mental health disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. That sounds like a great ROI. And, yet many employers struggle to fund wellness programs that seem to come “at the cost of the business.” What advice do you have to offer to other organizations and leaders who feel stuck between intention and impact?

One size does not fit all thus the advice for any organization is to start by defining what employee wellness is for their business. Before embarking on any employee wellness program, a wellness audit may be beneficial in identifying the health of the organization and its employees. A similar approach to training needs analysis and budget should be adopted, if conducted prior to the start of the financial year, it will enable the budget to be allocated to a target program. Where there is no strategic intent, money may not be well spent on wellness programs. Additionally, any non-bespoke wellness program may not be effective or efficient.

Greater importance should be attached to the wellness of employees and where resources are stretched, organizations should avoid cost cutting. However, where this is not possible, organizations need to proactively promote support groups or signpost employees to government initiatives that may be useful to their employees.

The wellbeing of an organization and employees are constantly evolving hence it is important that any wellbeing strategy and plans are regularly reviewed to ensure its validity for the organization.

Organizations should also monitor and measure wellbeing activities from the perspective of cost and impact on employee welfare.

Depending on the size of the organization, employee wellbeing champions can be appointed on a voluntary basis to ensure that wellbeing programs are promoted. This can also serve as a forum for employees to flag or raise concerns.

If the organization is unionized, they can work in partnership to deliver a wellbeing session which can also reduce cost.

Employee assistance programs (EAP) can also offer a range of wellbeing programs which depending on the size of the organization and scale of the needs of the employee may be cost effective. It is worth an organization benchmarking to source the right EAP for their business. Some EAPs provide individual counseling which can cover a wide range of subjects such as finance, relationship break down, occupational health etc as well as group workshops.

Research has proven the direct correlation between employee wellbeing and an organization’s productivity and profitability thus, the role it plays in running a business cannot be estimated.

The final advice is for organizations to make employee well being the hub to the function of the business. If an organization is unhealthy it will manifest in all areas of the business, and it may affect its ability to thrive or survive.

Speaking of money matters, a recent Gallup study reveals employees of all generations rank well-being as one of their top three employer search criteria. How can business owners incorporate wellness programs into their talent recruitment and hiring processes?

Employee wellness needs to be a 360-degree process. Quite often wellness is targeted to an individual and it does not incorporate the support and education that the line managers and teams or department may need. However, as a starting point the language of employee wellness should feature in the job advert, job description and specification, interview process. The latter is particularly instrumental in selling and sowing a seed in the minds of prospective employees of the organization’s commitment to wellness. Employees should be encouraged to share their wellbeing needs at the interview stage to ensure that it forms part of their local induction with their line manager and to enable the right plans to be implemented prior to employee commencing work.

Line managers should be trained on how to manage employee’s wellbeing particularly if it extends to physical or unseen disability. Teams and departments should be educated to eliminate conscious and unconscious discrimination where an employee wellbeing challenge may not be known. This needs to be achieved without breaching an employee’s privacy or confidentiality particularly where consent is not given.

We’ve all heard of the four-day work week, unlimited PTO, mental health days, and on-demand mental health services. What innovative new programs and pilots can help address employee wellness?

  • Mental Wellness: Managers will need to be proactive in checking in on their employees. Beyond that, care needs to be taken for employees that are not technology savvy to survive in this hybrid world and establish a system not just to train but to remove the feeling of being overwhelmed.
  • Emotional Wellness: Emotional well-being can be a challenge to manage. Companies need to develop health and well-being strategies such as creating a buddy system and organizing social networking events to combat loneliness, especially when they are working in a remote or a hybrid system.
  • Social Wellness: Labels like “employee” and “employer” can sometimes create barriers and diminish the human aspect of the relationship. Therefore, it is important to develop policies and processes using language that fosters a positive connection, empathy, and understanding to build an environment of trust, loyalty, and mutual respect.
  • Physical Wellness: Companies operating remote or hybrid working need to be even more aware that sickness can be underreported and we saw this particularly during the height of Covid. The danger is a lot can be missed and steps need to be in place to identify isolation, loneliness, anxiety, stress, depression, and presentism which may not manifest virtually across the camera lenses.
  • Financial Wellness: Organizations can set up a charity arm of the organization to provide financial support such as financial assistance towards the cost of energy bills, travel costs or other household bills. Additionally, they can set up a food bank which can be run by employees or have food bank stations where employees can access what they need. Working in collaboration with supermarkets may eliminate any cost burden that this program may attract. Employees can also be encouraged to exchange food items such as pasta, tin tomatoes etc. Where possible, organizations should explore flexible working arrangements to enable employees to travel outside of rush hour or peak times to reduce traveling costs. In addition, it may be necessary to source a company to run a series of bespoke financial workshops to focus on how employees can make their money work smarter. There are some financial management companies that may run a workshop like the Martin Lewis program on ITV. For any innovative program to be successful it needs an audit to determine the right level of support for the employees and this cannot be underestimated.

Can you please tell us more about a couple of specific ways workplaces would benefit from investing in your ideas above to improve employee wellness?

Including well-developed policies and processes are essential for promoting employee wellness. Policies should not only comply with legal requirements but also reflect organizational values and be user-friendly.

Providing comprehensive training on core policies, such as disciplinary procedures, grievance handling, performance management, and addressing bullying and harassment, ensures that employees and managers are aware of their rights and responsibilities.

Both parties being regardful of their duties and obligations will, in turn, lead to increased employee satisfaction, improved communication, better conflict resolution, and a stronger sense of fairness and respect among employees.

How are you reskilling leaders in your organization to support a “Work Well” culture?

Not applicable (I consult other organizations on HR and culture)

Ideas take time to implement. What is one small step every individual, team, or organization can take to get started on these ideas — to get well?

Focus on building strong relationships among people through communication. Using inclusive and positive language might seem simple, but it can make a big difference in how people feel and how well ideas are put into action. It helps create an environment where employees are taken care of and their well-being is a priority.

What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Workplace Wellness?”

  1. Cost of living — As the cost of necessities such as housing, healthcare, transportation, and education continues to rise, employees face mounting financial pressures that can have profound effects on their well-being.

We’ve seen the impact on public sector organizations where pay increases have been challenged by various staff groups which has led to the number of strikes that we have witnessed. In the private sector, we have seen companies such as P&O closed without following the correct legal processes.

2. Great resignation — This refers to the significant increase in employees voluntarily leaving their jobs to seek new opportunities or pursue alternative career paths.

As the pandemic unfolded, employees began reevaluating their priorities and became more inclined to prioritize their well-being over conventional notions of job security. Consequently, many employees started resigning, seeking roles that offered a better work-life balance and greater emphasis on employee well-being.

3. EDI (Inclusive Workplace) — Understanding the impact of EDI on workplace wellness is essential for organizations to create an environment where all employees feel supported, respected, and empowered.

EDI initiatives help mitigate bias and discrimination within the workplace. By addressing systemic barriers and promoting fairness, organizations can ensure that all employees are treated equitably, leading to improved well-being and a more harmonious work environment.

4. Technology — With advancements in technology, organizations can leverage various tools and solutions to enhance employee well-being, streamline processes, and provide personalized support.

We are seeing more companies that implement a comprehensive wellness platform that integrates various technological solutions to support employee well-being. Examples of these are virtual wellness resources, mental health support, and other innovative features.

5. Hybrid working — As remote work became the norm, we are seeing a lot more companies transition to a hybrid approach, allowing employees to choose between working from home and coming into the office on designated days.

We have seen during the last 2.5 years that hybrid working has the ability to provide employees with increased flexibility, allowing them to better manage their work-life balance. Although we still have to sift through loose ends when it comes to this arrangement, we’ve seen more and more employees have the freedom to schedule work around personal commitments, reducing stress and improving overall well-being.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of workplace wellness?

The impact of employees’ wellbeing and the current global economic situation has brought a lot of traction to employee wellbeing. Several businesses or coaches offering wellbeing services seems to have been formed during covid and there appears to be a widespread need for these services.

The great resignation and other factors such as hybrid working may have led more organizations to seek to invest in employee wellbeing. There are also the legal expectations from an employer and the link to productivity and profitability. All these factors are drives for change thus, there is an argument that workplace wellness is here to stay. However, this needs to be more than a tick box exercise and organizations that are intentional about their employee’s well being will reap the rewards from their labor. The above factors are some of the reasons to be optimistic about workplace wellbeing.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and wellness.