In challenging times, we contract. We see this in nature as a tree sheds its leaves each autumn to stay alive, but we can also see it in our own socio-political and economic behavior. This unprecedented time of COVID-19 is no different. Within weeks of a bacteria taking hold of the US, organizations declared reductions in expenses, modified human resource plans, and cut back on D&I initiatives including corporate well-being programming. Here’s the thing: cutting back on ways to support your people may be saving you money now, but it’s going to hurt your business in the long run. Guaranteed.
For business leaders today, stepping up for their people is no longer optional; it’s needed for the survival of their business. Now more than ever, many employees are feeling isolated, disconnected, distracted, confused, uncertain, and overwhelmed. Although this is more apparent in the time of COVID-19, it isn't new. Scholars and mental health professionals alike have espoused the correlation between elevated rates of depression and high-stress work environments.
“As an organization, there’s many reasons why it’s important to invest in well-being,” shared Robin Belleau, Director of Well-Being at Kirkland & Ellis. “For starters, it’s the right thing to do.” As leaders, you’re being called to immediate action that not only serves your organization but also your employees.
A FOCUS ON WELL-BEING MATTERS
“A well-being strategy is a talent strategy,” shared Diane Costigan, Director of Coaching and Well-Being at Winston & Strawn LLP. "Without it, you’re putting everyone (yourself, your team, and your entire organization) at a significant disadvantage.”
Many studies show that overall well-being for tax and legal professionals is lower than the average American, especially as it relates to substance abuse, depression, and other physical and mental health challenges. In 2018, the American Bar Association responded with their Well-being Pledge as a call for firms to acknowledge and address these industry-specific personnel challenges. Although the campaign has produced positive results, there is still a long way to go.
To reach continued levels of success, the industry calls for well-defined strategies that address short-term profitability alongside long-term sustainability. Although the onus is on practice leaders to support the overall well-being of your employees, there is no panacea that cures all. Leadership must prioritize different facets of well-being—physical, mental, emotional, financial — that all affect the overall workplace culture.
“You want to provide your clients with your best team out there, and if they can’t be the best because of wellness, then that’s a problem,” declared Belleau. As you devise a plan that benefits your workforce, here are a few important considerations for building a unique and effective corporate well-being strategy. These are not the only considerations, but ones that can help set you apart from your peers.
Don’t Skimp on Vacation
Based on a study by the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979, for every ten additional days of paid vacation leave, depression in women decreased 29%. Per the research, “a hypothetical increase in the average number of days could avoid an estimated 568,442 cases of depression in women each year and lead to a cost savings of $2.94 billion annually.” That is nearly the same amount that organizations spend annually on employees dealing with burnout ($300 billion).
As a leader, you not only need to encourage a supportive leave policy where employees can truly disconnect but also follow that same guidance for yourself. Working in a high-stress environment can make long vacations seem impossible, but there is also a benefit to shorter vacations (at least four nights). Based on a study of middle managers, any kind of short-term vacation, whether at home or elsewhere, has positive and immediate effects on stress, recovery, strain, and well-being.
Rethink How You Evaluate Your Employees
In Tax, Law, and other like-industries, humans are an organization’s greatest asset, but they’re often treated like expendable objects. This goes against the morals of corporate social stewardship.
What if we measured people not only by billable hours or ability to meet a deadline but also by how often they were able to go to the gym or steps clocked on their Fitbit? Or days volunteering with charities, such as Habitat for Humanity? How we evaluate employees should go beyond the standard evaluation.
Consider metrics that track workplace responsibilities, personal well-being, and community impact. This is an innovative idea in human capital sustainability, but one that could have incredible returns via engaged employees, decreased risk management, and overall positive impact.
Redefining the status quo takes dedicated, people-focused leadership, but it’s possible. If you can obtain favorable buy-in from your employees, almost anything is possible. As Diane Costigan puts it, “Once positive initiatives take root, they grow.” For the growth of your organization, consider metrics where every employee can thrive. This solution could help your business earn higher profits by reducing employee costs. (When devising your strategy, however, be sure to consider other well-being metrics beyond solely physical health.)
Invest in Empowering Training, Support, and Programming
Wellness programming has become more popular, and for good reason. Comprehensively designed corporate well-being programs benefit organizations and improve employee outcomes. According to a large-scale review of 42 published studies, corporate well-being programs led to an average 28% reduction in sick days and an average 26% reduction in health costs.
Companies that invest in well-being training lessen their overall healthcare costs. They have healthier employees and improved productivity. On the other hand, organizations that choose a reactive healthcare approach pay for costs as they arise and can see healthcare costs climb by 6% to 12% a year.
TAKING EMPOWERED ACTION
Jeffrey Pfeffer, author of Dying for a Paycheck, boldly shares, “I want to wake people up. This is a serious issue that has serious consequences for corporate performance and for people’s well-being. We should care about people’s psychological and physical health, not just about profits.”
If your organization does not have a corporate well-being strategy in place, now is the time to create one. Build a committee, determine your budget, and contact a third-party wellness consultant to help you get your well-being strategy operational as soon as possible.
If you’re a leader that already has a well-being strategy in place, consider following the 4 Rs:
Review your strategy,
Reset where necessary,
Resume your well-being strategy, and
Repeat this process until you achieve a “win-win”.
Identify what’s working and areas in need of improvement. Don’t just assume; solicit feedback from all levels, ages, genders, and racial backgrounds for a full view. If something isn’t working, consider both the quality of the program and how your organization is messaging it. Even if you're sure you've devised the perfect strategy, there’s still a chance your program might fall short with your team. Don’t give up; your team needs well-being more than ever!
As the decades pass, companies will come and go. How will yours stay afloat in times of uncertainty? How can both your people and your organization symbiotically thrive? Therein lies your solution to overcome these times of turbulence.
At Acheloa Wellness, we strive to empower working professionals to live healthier, happier, more mindful lives. In the process, we see results in employee performance. For more information on our corporate wellness workshops and training, get in touch here.
This post was originally published on Thomson Reuters blog in 2020.