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What Wellbeing Means in the Coronavirus Era

What Wellbeing Means in the Coronavirus Era

by Brian J. Brim, Ed.D. and Jennifer Robison

Story Highlights

  • COVID-19 is prompting new reflection on wellbeing
  • Many employees already put a high premium on holistic wellbeing
  • Employers who prioritize wellbeing will improve business performance

COVID-19 caused the entire world to shift. Right now, more than a third of U.S. adults (37%) say they feel less connected to family and friends. Eighty-four percent say they are avoiding small gatherings. People's habits and expectations -- of themselves, family, friends and companies -- are dramatically different. So is their perception of their wellbeing.

Wellbeing isn't just about being happy or physically fit. It's about everything that is important to each of us and how we experience our lives. "A life well-lived" means something different to every person. By studying 98% of the world's population, Gallup uncovered the common elements of wellbeing -- physical, career, social, financial and community -- that need to be fulfilled for people to thrive.

As people pause and reflect during this crisis, their wellbeing takes on new meaning. And companies should be ready for that shift if they want to stay relevant, competitive and thriving.

Partners in Wellbeing

This shift has been coming for a while. Even before COVID-19, Gallup's State of the American Workplace report showed that millennials put a high premium on perks and benefits that support wellbeing -- and are willing to change jobs for them. Compared with Gen Xers and baby boomers, millennials have a greater demand for:

  • paid maternity and paternity leave -- by 27 and 22 percentage points, respectively
  • childcare reimbursement -- by 22 percentage points
  • flexible working locations -- by 17 percentage points
  • holistic health coverage -- by 17 percentage points
  • paid vacation -- by 15 percentage points
  • student loan and tuition reimbursement -- by 26 and 21 percentage points, respectively

The data tell us that -- more than ever before in our history -- employees want employers to be partners in their wellbeing. And COVID-19 made wellbeing more fragile and more vital than it was before. That will be on employees' minds, and it needs to be on the minds of leaders too.

Why Employee Wellbeing Is Important

Some leaders may ask why wellbeing should be a business' concern. They may think that wellbeing is too personal for corporate oversight. And that a leader's job is to improve business performance, not an employee's social life. It's a fair point, but it overlooks the effect of individual wellbeing on corporate performance -- and thriving employees are an unambiguous net positive on the bottom line.

So much so that wellbeing should be a core aspect of organizational strategy.

The data tell us that -- more than ever before in our history -- employees want employers to be partners in their wellbeing.

Gallup research finds that employees thriving in all five elements of wellbeing:

  • are 36% more likely to report a full recovery after an illness, injury or hardship
  • are more than twice as likely to say they always adapt well to change
  • miss 41% less work as a result of poor health
  • are 81% less likely to seek out a new employer in the next year

Plus, because employees' desire to be understood and attended to as a "whole person" has been building momentum for well over a decade, companies that are known to care for the whole person are talent magnets, which will be a crucial competitive advantage in the days ahead. Their employees have stronger connections to the company, which improves engagement -- and thus productivity, profitability and loyalty. Their people perform better during ordinary times and are more resilient during disruptions.

People with thriving wellbeing simply do better in life. And companies with thriving employees do better business.

Employee Wellbeing and Performance

COVID-19 is waking the world up to a new reality: Individuals and organizations need a clearer outlook on wellbeing. Leader-employee partnerships that focus on wellbeing would achieve better outcomes for individuals and sustain high performance for companies.

So, consider that question about why leaders should be involved in employees' social life. Future Workplace, an HR advisory and membership firm, reports that more than half of all employees are lonely at work "always" or "very often," and 60% would be more inclined to stay with their employer if they had more friends at work -- especially millennial and Gen Z employees. Gallup discovered years ago that one of the best predictors of workplace safety is the percentage of employees who strongly agree they have a best friend at work. Workers who know someone cares about them do better work.

People with thriving wellbeing simply do better in life. And companies with thriving employees do better business.

The workplace influences every element of wellbeing. And organizations that believe hiring a person means hiring the whole person are poised for better, stronger partnerships with employees. Individuals who actively participate in their own wellbeing journey -- because their employer advises and supports them on that journey -- will create outcomes other companies can't match.

A New Era of Wellbeing

COVID-19 has called the world to embark on a new journey. A journey focused on wellbeing. If leaders effectively redefine their partnerships with employees, the post-pandemic world will sustain high performance like never before. People will look at their places of work as places of wellbeing like never before. And the world can be like it never was before. It can be much better -- full of people with thriving wellbeing. Let's make it so.

Build wellbeing partnerships for thriving employees and thriving business.


Brian Brim, Ed.D., is a Senior Practice Consultant at Gallup.

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