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How One Company Uses Digital Tools to Boost Employee Well-Being

A wealth of research shows that employees with good mental, physical and financial well-being are more productive, perform better and take fewer sick days at work. But recent studies also show worker stress to be at an all-time high. A 2023 Gallup study, for example, found almost half of employees reported feeling high levels of daily stress.

There are many ways HR leaders and organizations can support worker well-being, including creating more-flexible work schedules, increasing pay, and hiring and promoting leaders with stronger people management skills. One important but still oft-overlooked piece of the well-being puzzle is digital technologies that give employees a convenient and private way to address their well-being needs.

While not a panacea for growing well-being problems, digital tools like apps, websites, wearables, and dedicated Microsoft Teams or Slack channels can engage workers who might not otherwise reach out for help with their mental, physical or financial challenges.

Embracing Digital Wellness Solutions

A host of 2023 studies suggest worker well-being is in decline because of burnout from growing workloads, the impacts of poor managers, the rising cost of living and economic uncertainties. One study from Deloitte and Workplace Intelligence found that 25 percent of employees said their mental and physical well-being had worsened in the past year, while financial well-being declined for 37 percent of respondents. The survey also showed a significant disconnect between employee and leadership views on well-being. Almost 80 percent of C-suite executives believed staff well-being had improved over the past year, while only 33 percent of employees believed the same.

Marsh McLennan is one company that believes digital solutions can play an integral role in addressing worker well-being issues. The company, a New York-based professional services firm specializing in risk, strategy and people, launched a global employee listening campaign as part of an initiative to improve workforce well-being, said Susan Murphy, SHRM-SCP, global head of benefits for Marsh McLennan.

“As an organization, we think that it’s critical employees focus on their well-being to be at their best at work,” Murphy said. “That message comes directly from our CEO and our chief people officer.”

The listening effort led to the creation of a new @Your Best strategy that features a digital app, website and other online tools workers can access around the clock for well-being support. “We decided the best way to present well-being resources and solutions to employees was through a digital, highly personalized experience,” Murphy said.

Employees have the option of taking a self-assessment to determine which of the many resources on the app—including mental, physical, financial and social wellness tools—are the best fit for their needs. Resources include advice, activities, articles and more in areas such as stress management, improving sleep, physical health issues like hydration or nutrition, and how to address financial challenges or goals.

Employees can access the digital tools privately or share the experience with colleagues in the form of team activities and support on specific well-being topics. Employees experiencing more severe well-being issues have access via the app to therapists that are part of an employee assistance program (EAP), Murphy said.

Since launching the initiative less than a year ago, more than 20,000 Marsh McLennan employees have registered for and are participating in the @YourBest well-being program, Murphy said, which represents more than 25 percent of the workforce.

Benefits of Digital Wellness Tools

Jacqueline Brassey, employee health co-leader at the McKinsey Health Institute, said digital wellness solutions can have multiple benefits for employees, but a chief advantage is flexibility.

“Digital tools make it easy for people to access them wherever they are during the moments they need them most,” Brassey said.

The private nature of digital tools also can be more appealing to employees concerned about openly seeking help, Brassey said. “Access to a digital health tool may remove stigma for people if they can first seek help confidentially or anonymously before speaking to someone in person,” she said.

For employers, Brassey said the major benefits of digital tools are the ability to offer tailored solutions to support specific employee needs and the potential to more easily measure the aggregated impact of employee health programs. The enhanced ability to track the usage patterns of such tools also can give HR and benefits leaders more insight into the resources employees value most.

Support for workplace well-being also has emerged as a vital part of an organization’s employee value proposition (EVP). According to a study from the American Psychological Association, more than 80 percent of employees said they will seek companies that prioritize mental health when they look for future work.

Obstacles to Success

There are some obstacles that stand in the way of success with digital wellness tools. Among them are ensuring the resources made available are targeted to employees’ most pressing needs, giving workers time to use the tools and sustaining use of the solutions after they’ve been introduced.

“Digital tools aren’t a silver bullet, and they sometimes fall short of goals or expectations,” Brassey said. “Often this is because the tools don’t address the real needs that exist among employees and therefore don’t resonate with them.”

Brassey said organizations need to survey employees to get a clear understanding of what support they think is most helpful in the form of digital solutions.

“Another reason use of digital tools fall short of goals is employees are not empowered to actually use the tools they need the most,” Brassey said. “For example, if it’s too difficult for employees to find time in their day for a break to pause for a short meditation or to access a financial planning tool, then the resources may go underused.”

Employers investing in digital wellness technologies also need to continually champion them to workers, Brassey said, with well-conceived adoption and engagement strategies.

Marsh McLennan uses approaches like gamification to keep employees engaged and regularly using its @Your Best app and website. “There also is a social component to the app so employees can interact with colleagues across the organization that have similar areas of interest regarding their well-being," Murphy said.

The company also uses team activities to keep workers engaged in well-being.

“Right now, there are 23 such teams running globally engaged in four different well-being activities,” Murphy said. “Those activities are focused on well-being topics employees signaled interest in, allowing them to come together to support each other and work on incorporating well-being habits into daily routines.”

Murphy said the idea is to introduce new activities or gamified concepts every month to ensure that employees stay interested and the program doesn’t grow stale. Gamification allows employees to gain points and rewards for using well-being resources.

“There are three levels to the concept, and employees can challenge themselves to reach the next level by accumulating points,” Murphy said. “Employees get swag, and there are celebrations when they reach a new level.”

As the Marsh McLennan initiative moves into its second year, there will be a new focus on getting managers more engaged in supporting their teams’ well-being, Murphy said: “We know employees are at their best when focused on their own well-being, and we want to ensure our people managers are encouraging that behavior and acting as role models themselves."

Dave Zielinski is principal of Skiwood Communications, a business writing and editing firm in Minneapolis.


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