Report: Employees Say Support for Their Well-Being Falls Short

But there are steps employers can take to remedy that

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek December 14, 2021
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stressed warehouse worker

​There is a striking disconnect between employees and HR professionals about how supportive employers are of their workers' well-being, according to a new global study.

Nearly half (47 percent) of 952 HR leaders said their company supports workers' well-being, but workers aren't feeling it. Only 24 percent of 2,036 employees shared that sentiment. The Achievers Workforce Institute (AWI) commissioned the survey of respondents in Australia, Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. in October.

Additionally:

  • 17 percent of employees strongly agreed they feel supported at work in managing their physical well-being; 38 percent of HR leaders strongly agreed their company offers employee resources to support physical well-being.
  • 18 percent of employees strongly agreed they feel supported in managing their mental well-being; 40 percent of HR leaders strongly agreed their organization offers resources to support employees' mental well-being.

"HR practitioners at all levels tend to vastly overestimate the impact and reach of their well-being initiatives," the AWI's report noted, "suggesting that despite the extra effort HR has been expending, much more work needs to be done to collectively shift employee perceptions and employee experience in this area."

Feeling accepted, included and valued at work; being warmly welcomed and made to feel part of the team; and having a supportive manager are the top three drivers of workplace well-being, according to the report, Empowering Employee Wellbeing in the New World of Work.


Another study, the 2021 Employer Mental Health Report Card, which was released Dec. 13 by HR consulting firm Lighthouse Research & Advisory, identified huge discrepancies between employers' and employees' perceptions of the mental health support companies provide. Organizations received a failing grade from the 1,000 full-time U.S. workers surveyed in Q2 2021, who ranked employers' support at an average of 4.4 on a scale of 1 to 10. Lighthouse Research & Advisory conducted the research for LifeSpeak Inc., a software platform for mental health and well-being education.

Another 1,000 respondents working in HR, benefits, training and other executive-level leadership roles gave themselves a grade of "C," with HR respondents ranking their company at an average of 7.8.

"When analyzed in aggregate, the data from this research indicates that employers are trying to implement solutions to support mental health needs for the workplace," said Ben Eubanks, chief research officer at Lighthouse, "but the reality is these efforts aren't being seen, felt and received by many of the workers they are meant to support."

The disconnect can affect retention and productivity. Nearly half of the employees the AWI surveyed say they are stressed and are twice as likely to regularly think about going elsewhere if they don't think their employers support their well-being. Research from Forrester Consulting and Modern Health found that one-third of employees are considering changing companies for the sake of their mental health, SHRM Online reported recently.

"While HR [practitioners] may believe they are taking the right steps to support employees in [well-being]," the AWI noted, "if individuals don't experience that support as effective, then the effort is not meeting the goal." 

What HR Can Do

Recommended actions from the two reports and other SHRM Online sources include the following:

Ask employees for their ideas and take action. Try quarterly pulse surveys, ad hoc polls or regular one-on-one meetings with managers. Letting employees know how the employer plans to act on their feedback signals to them that they have been heard and are supported.

At Quit Genius, some of the company's best ideas—such as virtual yoga, half-day Fridays, and weekly gratitude sessions—have come from employees, said co-founder and CEO Yusuf Sherwani, M.D., substance use disorder specialist.

The company has also changed benefits based on usage. Employees weren't using mental health days "because [they] felt like they were admitting to a weakness," Sherwani said. The digital addiction clinic now offers a companywide mental health day every quarter, closing the business for the day.

Monitor workloads and be aware of ad hoc requests that don't have strategic value. One unidentified man responding to Lighthouse's survey commented that his organization doesn't realize how workload or unreasonable deadlines affect mental health. Permit employees to say no to tasks if they require working longer hours or managing too many projects.

Encourage downtime. Make it clear that employees are not expected to reply to after-hours
e-mails or messages. In addition, encourage using vacation time and have leaders model work/life balance.

Incorporate flexible work schedules where feasible. Lighthouse found 64 percent of workers cited this as the best method to improve employee health and well-being, versus 46 percent of employers. Again, ask them what they want.

"When your workers say 'flexible schedules,' we as business leaders often envision something very different from what the workforce is thinking … [so] ask them to elaborate on that," Lighthouse noted in its report.

Provide meaningful recognition. That includes timely and specific expressions of appreciation. Thanking someone for staying late on Tuesday to assist with a computer problem, for example, is more meaningful than a generic "thanks for your work."

Make roles clear. Provide up-to-date job descriptions and specific objectives, and make it easy for workers to receive clarification. Doubt and stress result when employees are uncertain about what they are accountable for or how they're being assessed.

Make frequent, transparent and honest communication a priority. Use a variety of channels so employees are aware of available programs.

Make mental health benefits accessible and ensure confidentiality. Employees want to use their benefits when and where they desire, not at predetermined times set by employers, Lighthouse noted.

Marginalized Groups

The AWI found that among individuals reporting high stress levels:

  • 51 percent of employees with a disability leave a job because of high levels of stress.
  • 45 percent of people of color leave a job because of high levels of stress.
  • 42 percent of people who identify as LGBTQ leave a job because of high levels of stress.

Steps for supporting employees with disabilities include discreetly providing accommodations and ensuring virtual and nonvirtual workspaces are accessible. That includes incorporating design elements into your website that workers with vision or hearing impairments can use and ensuring that all employees have physical access to company functions, such as by including ramps and widening doorways to accommodate wheelchair entry.

Create an inclusive environment by supporting employee resource groups; introducing diversity and inclusion training, especially to help managers better understand the different needs of their diverse teams; and promoting inclusive policies and language.


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