Economic fluctuations can turn employee wellness into a rollercoaster of emotions. After record high personal rate of savings in April 2020, people are spending significantly more amid rising inflation. Given the excessive cost that employers pay — financial stress cost organizations more than $2,400 per employee in 2021 alone — organizations should not lose sight of this trend.

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 Simone Fenton-Jarvis, Director Workplace Consultancy, Relogix.

Simone is a workplace thought-leader who’s passionate about creating human-centric workplaces. She strives to build a world where companies become the vehicle for people and societies to thrive. Simone homes in on the employee experience and the impact on organizational performance along with data insights to deliver change and business improvement in culture, space, process, and technology.

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.

I recall one experience when I was working long hours and attending my workplace outside of normal operating hours and regularly covering sickness, all unpaid. On my day off, I received a phone call at 4am from my manager. I went to work and was greeted by quite a serious incident, which took a few hours to resolve. By that point I was due on shift. I asked my manager if I could go home for half an hour to get changed as I had rushed out of the house — the answer was no. I believe it was that day that I truly realized that if you look after your people, they will look after you. Within a few months, I left the organization.

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?

Wellness is about the whole person — the physical, social, financial, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual. The activities and choices that we make in all of these areas are central to our ability to achieve health and well-being. Relogix measures wellness through multiple ways; pulse surveys, manager 1:1’s, performance and output.

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’s a strong correlation between wellness and engagement — and in turn, productivity and profitability. Disengaged employees are more likely to burn out and, according to Gallup, 63% more likely to call in sick and 23% more likely to have an emergency room visit. Burned out employees are nearly three times as likely to be actively seeking a new job — a particularly notable stat given the current climate of voluntary exits.

Engaged employees, on the other hand, are more likely to report a higher degree of well-being and achieve 10% higher customer metrics, 17% higher productivity, 20% higher sales, and 21% greater profitability. These are significant improvements that should not be ignored, and while they may differ across organizations, the reality is that a well workforce is a happy, productive and profitable one.

Where people repeatedly feel positive emotions — happiness at work, resilience builds, which in turn has a positive effect on our longer-term well-being and therefore performance and success (The Human — Centric Workplace, 2021).

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?

Leaders definitely need to consider the big picture. While it is easy to write off wellness programs as merely a cost, the same could be said for every task a business performs.

Hiring has a cost, but you won’t get anywhere without great people. Tools, whether in the form of software or physical items, also come with a cost, but your people won’t be able to perform their tasks without them. Internet, lighting, heating and cooling — they all come with a cost, but they are necessary for any business that operates an in-house operation.

For far too long, wellness was not held to the same standards as the aforementioned examples, even though it has a significant impact on employee performance. Supporting a culture of wellness is not a ‘nice to have’ it’s a must have that today’s employees not only want and need, but truly expect.

The good news is that many businesses are starting to catch on to this fact, particularly in a post-pandemic environment. A KPMG report shows that nearly all employers surveyed (99%) started investing in employee wellness, facility readiness, and workforce health tracking as social distancing guidelines ended and stay-at-home orders were lifted. That’s a huge step forward for businesses and will go a long way toward improving employee wellness.

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 are you incorporating wellness programs into your talent recruitment and hiring processes?

This is an important study from Gallup, and it’s one that every organization should take a good look at. Employee well-being is paramount; another study found that nearly half (46%) of Gen Z are very concerned about their personal and mental health. Now with the pandemic adding to our daily stressors, organizations have been inspired to reconsider how wellbeing can be attained and maintained.

That said, well-being programs aren’t terribly helpful if employees and prospective hires don’t know they exist. While it is becoming more common to see a note about wellbeing in a job posting, many businesses still forgo this information — perhaps because they don’t offer any wellbeing support, or they don’t recognize its importance. This is definitely a mistake; organizations need to take the time to properly convey the ways in which they plan to assist their employees in improving their well-being. Instead of a small note in a job ad, they should promote this online with a blog post or even a dedicated section of their webpage. This will help employers differentiate from the rest and show new talent why your firm is a great place to work.

Deci and Ryan formed self-determination theory, which considered people’s inherent growth tendencies and innate psychological needs, looking at what choices people make without any external influence or interference. They highlighted three basic psychological needs for health and wellbeing: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. It is these three core aspects which are crucial to the recruitment and hiring process.

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 are you launching to address employee wellness? And, what are you discovering? We would benefit from an example in each of these areas.

  1. Mental Wellness: At Relogix, we have implemented an unlimited holiday policy to ensure people get and take the time out needed to recharge.
  2. Emotional Wellness: We have an Employee Assistance Program in place to provide professional emotional support where employees need it. Day to day our leaders are cognizant of the simple power of asking how people are and listening!
  3. Social Wellness: With remote working and employees across the world, we have a social committee who organize whole team events to bring team members together and ensure they build relationships.
  4. Physical Wellness: We encourage walking meetings, provide the ergonomic equipment people require (like sit-stand desks and ergonomic chairs) and have a program of activities like yoga and HIIT training.
  5. Financial Wellness: We benchmark our pay scales and also offer support through our employee assistance program to those who may need financial guidance.

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?

To be honest, what we as Relogix do, may not be right for your organization. I want to encourage you to ask questions, listen to your employees and capture the required data to highlight what is working and what’s not.

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

I think it’s important for every leader to understand both the necessity and benefits of well-being — and a work well culture — even if future wellness programs haven’t been decided or defined. Leaders need to realize that their knowledge of employee wellness, and the various ways in which wellness issues can be addressed, must start at the top.

Leaders should also learn to recognize the potential issues and challenges that could impact employee wellbeing. It’s not all about difficult bosses and colleagues — though they are a critical factor, employees may also be affected by personal matters, including their finances. A John Hancock report highlights this point, with nearly three quarters (72%) of people surveyed saying that they have experienced moderate to extreme stress in the last six months. Given the current rate of inflation, this is not at all surprising.

Employers can’t solve all problems, but they can do their part to assist their employees through difficult situations whenever possible, whether that involves a new program, knowledgeable managers, or simply a place to talk.

It is the leader’s responsibility to ask questions, listen, offer support and signpost to additional resources and support where and if required.

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?

I would recommend that you, as an individual, take a moment to breathe and reflect. You need to know that whatever stress you’re experiencing today will not remain forever and consider the big picture of what it is you’re feeling. Are you unwell and wish your employer would do more to assist? Are you upset with a manager or coworker? Are you distracted by something in your personal life? I follow the rule that if something is bothering me after 24 hours I will talk about it within 48 hours. Think about this for a moment, and if there’s a way for your employer to help, ask. If not, it may be time to consider looking for an employer that is more cognizant of your needs.

Team leaders should take time to check in with their people and ask how they are doing. Providing a safe space to talk, be heard and seen is crucial.

This doesn’t need to be a lengthy or drawn-out process, and it doesn’t need to distract from any urgent tasks at hand. But the need to establish and improve wellness is (in many ways) urgent, so team leaders should check in with their teams as soon as possible.

On the whole, organizations can follow a similar path. Senior managers who don’t know where to begin, or simply have not yet decided on a wellness program, can begin by checking in with their talent and simply asking the question of how they can help; sometimes listening is enough!

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

1. Technology

Tech investments in well-being, health and facility readiness are on the rise, as evidenced by the KPMG study I mentioned. Businesses want their workforces to be safe, healthy and prepared for whatever comes next, and preparing now is the only way wellness can and will be achieved. Keep a close eye on how technology is helping businesses succeed in this regard and look at how that technology can solve your employee challenges — avoid gimmicks!

2. Economy

Economic fluctuations can turn employee wellness into a rollercoaster of emotions. After record high personal rate of savings in April 2020, people are spending significantly more amid rising inflation. Given the excessive cost that employers pay — financial stress cost organizations more than $2,400 per employee in 2021 alone — organizations should not lose sight of this trend.

3. Inclusivity

Inclusivity matters and should not be limited to a company policy that’s recited online and in job postings. A BetterUp report found that employees who feel they are included/like they belong at their firm are less likely to depart, with 50% lower risk of turnover and 56% higher performance. These employees are also more likely to recommend the firm to others, which is essential in recruiting future talent. While positive commentary may encourage people to apply and accept an offer, negative reviews can have the opposite effect.

4. Mental health

Between COVID-19, inflation and other uncertainties about the future, mental health issues are on the rise. The number of people suffering from a mental illness is between 40 and 50 million, so there’s a good chance someone at your firm is affected, and they may not even know themselves!

5. The Great Resignation

While this trend may not go on forever, the root causes won’t go anywhere until businesses acknowledge and address them. In addition to employee wellbeing, more than four-fifths of employees (82%) say they’d change jobs if the current one failed to offer a path to progression. In fact, career progression ranked number-one among the Work Institute’s top reasons for voluntary departures, followed by health and family, and work-life balance.

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

My greatest source of optimism is knowing that organizations have increased interest in employee wellness and they’re investing (or are open to investing) in technology that can make a difference. There are many amazing organizations using technology to surface data insights to drive action.

Employers have also begun to create a dialogue between staff and managers to unearth potential wellness challenges and overcome them to drive greater employee well-being. Doing so is a win-win for all.

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?

You can follow me on Twitter @ChiefWorkplace and connect with me on LinkedIn. I also encourage you to subscribe to ‘The Human-Centric Workplace’ newsletter.

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