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Business Suffers When Your Employees Do

Business Suffers When Your Employees Do

by Vipula Gandhi and Jennifer Robison

Story Highlights

  • Employee wellbeing affects vital business outcomes
  • Most workers say their job lowers their wellbeing
  • Measure effectiveness of wellbeing program and intentionally optimize costs

Why should you care about employee wellbeing?

It's not an abstract question, or even an ethical one. It's a business question.

And it has an answer.

People with poor wellbeing can't serve customers as well as the thriving -- they're less productive, less effective, less innovative and less perceptive. They cost more to insure, they're absent more often, less likely to be engaged, and have more safety and theft incidents. So, to put it succinctly: If you care about your business' wellbeing, you have to care about your employees' wellbeing.

And never more so than now.

The Data

In early to mid-March, Gallup Panel surveys showed increases in stress and worry. In July, the data also reflected doubt that employers are looking out for employees' wellbeing.

Just under half of all U.S. employees are moderately or very concerned about being exposed to the coronavirus at work.

Over a third of workers say their employers never or only sometimes supply personal protective gear or sufficient cleaning.

Forty-seven percent say safe distancing is never or only sometimes enforced and the same number say employees and customers are never or only sometimes screened for COVID-19 symptoms like fever and cough.

Most employees say their job is detrimental to their overall wellbeing.

So it's probably not surprising that since the pandemic started, no more than 52% have strongly agreed that their organization cares about their overall wellbeing -- this was down to 46% in mid-July.

This assessment of their employers is probably wrong.

It's far more likely that leaders care very much about the wellbeing of employees -- or, at the very least, about the outcomes thriving employees produce. Leaders just don't know what to do about it, other than company-sponsored health insurance, wellness programs and maybe some workplace flexibility.

Gallup Panel data demonstrate that's not enough.

And Gallup research has identified what is: A leadership approach that actually improves employees' wellbeing -- and with it, their overall business performance.

Three Steps

First, leaders must understand that wellbeing is comprised of five elements: career, social, financial, community and physical. They affect each other and work affects every element -- in fact, millennials consider support for their wellbeing as one of the most important aspects of a job because they don't see a sharp distinction between "life" and "work"-- so striving to support or amplify one element won't be very effective. Your wellbeing initiatives must be comprehensive to cross-pollinate and succeed. With that in mind:

1. Define your culture with a strong, sustained voice.

Make it clear: Wellbeing is who we are, it's important and it's never going away. Leaders must demonstrate this cultural focus on wellbeing through their actions and use terms everyone understands -- Gallup finds that wellbeing interventions achieve more when constituents know precisely what wellbeing means.

Define and express your strategic focus in your written policies, your call to action and your progress-update communications. That strategy should guide the way you create access to wellbeing resources. And it should go hand in hand with recognition of successes and events -- that will amplify the energy around your wellbeing initiative. It may boost engagement. too: simply knowing that their leaders care is fundamental to employees' engagement.

2. Get the word out to everyone.

Leaders need to communicate more often in a crisis, especially about the wellbeing issues of greatest concern to employees. Right now, that's probably safety protocols and cleaning schedules.

Managers are best positioned to embed that information in their conversations with workers because they know what's most relevant to individual employees, such as concerns about immunocompromised family members or childcare problems. They should be held accountable -- and publicly recognized -- for creating high-wellbeing teams.

But the information, support and the tone need to come from leaders.

3. Cost-optimize your benefits program consistently and intentionally.

Only 24% of workers participate in wellness programs at their companies -- and just 12% say they help wellbeing -- which would be improved by holding people accountable for their own self-defined wellbeing.

That's only fair, however, if you offer multiple points of access (in-house, off-site, online) and support every element of wellbeing. In any case, the effect of any wellbeing initiative should be periodically measured and scientifically assessed.

Wellbeing is an investment in the employee experience, and the impact on productivity should be determined.

Business Imperative

And that brings us to one last worrisome fact from the Gallup database: Though 85% of businesses with more than 1,000 people offer a wellness program, only 60% of their employees even know about them.

People with poor wellbeing can't serve customers as well as the thriving -- they're less productive, less effective, less innovative and less perceptive. They cost more to insure, they're absent more often, less likely to be engaged, and have more safety and theft incidents.

That means the programs are less effective than they could be -- and the need for mental health counseling, telehealth access and physical checkups is mounting.

The knowledge gap between wellbeing programs and employee awareness makes a bad situation worse and it harms business results. Lack of wellbeing programs is even more damaging, especially when employees are weighed down mentally, physically and professionally.

Employers have an opportunity to change that -- and quickly -- by getting their empathy out to the front lines and making it consistently and clearly visible. Action on wellbeing shows you care and builds trust when people need it badly.

That's not an abstract concept, it's a business imperative.

Are your employees thriving?


Vipula Gandhi is Managing Partner at Gallup.

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