Insights

Support Employees With Well-Being Benefits and a Human Touch

January 31, 2022

/Employee Benefits

Woodruff Sawyer’s “Mission to More” series leads you through today’s Benefits news and serves as a guide for everything from competitive programs to compliance. In this first blog post, Brandi Kyle offers a glimpse into how employers need to go beyond employee engagement and support employee social well-being.

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When I hear an employee say, “I love my job,” I know they will stay committed to their employer.

Do your employees love their jobs? Are they committed to growing with your firm, even during the greatest life-changing, economically volatile times on record?

Quite simply, employers are tasked with helping their employees love their jobs so that they feel respected, committed, and valued. We now understand that money, work-from-home arrangements, or traditional benefits don’t keep employees working; employees are reexamining their values and need to enjoy their jobs. That means that employers must value employees in a holistic, human context in order to attract and retain talent.

Social Well-Being in the Workplace

Recently, we’ve heard a lot about wellness and the unique programs that support an employee’s needs for physical and mental health and financial wellness. Moreover, companies are now challenged to view their workforce as unique individuals, not just a homogenous collective.

As a result, corporate cultures are changing fast. No longer a set of top-down driven norms and beliefs, corporate culture must now offer a safe community for people to express themselves individually. Employers must provide social well-being, where employees create a grassroots community that reflects their unique perspectives. Eventually, employers improve retention when they are willing to interact with employees on a different dimension, one that includes respecting and valuing all of their contributions.

Gaining a Holistic Understanding of Employee Needs

For instance, Hewlett Packard recognizes the challenges working parents face. The HP Spirit Program offers health and well-being apps, including an employee resource group and educational resources to help working parents manage homeschooling. This type of program recognizes that for employees to contribute to the workplace, employers must have a holistic understanding of what employees need to be successful.

Employers must first take stock of where they are today. Social well-being goes beyond money and benefits, addressing how employees feel they are treated. This sort of reflection is not for the faint of heart, nor reserved for a corporate committee. The employer’s goal should be to understand and develop a supportive community before an employee heads for the door.

Burnout Is Taking a Toll

Burnout is a telltale sign that employees aren’t respected and do not have a vibrant community to support them. Burnout is on the rise, with over half (52%) of survey respondents experiencing burnout in 2021, up nearly 10% from pre-COVID when 43% of employees admitted to feeling burned out.

Employers are watching people walk out the door, often because they feel overwhelmed by their jobs. A Deloitte study showed that even though 87% of people are passionate about their jobs, 64% are stressed at their job. Overall, 77% have felt burnout, with the biggest drivers being a lack of recognition or support from leadership, unrealistic deadlines and expectations, and long hours and weekends. Unfortunately, nearly 70% feel their employers do not do anything to minimize burnout.

Prioritizing Mental Health and Well-Being Programs

One way to help all employees navigate burnout is to prioritize mental health. By recognizing that employees shouldn’t have to “tough it out,” employers take an active role in helping employees remain productive and create a community that supports their total well-being.

Mental health and well-being programs continue to gain importance. The stressors of the pandemic manifest in new ways, affecting every segment of the workforce. As a result, proactive employers are:

  • Embracing mental health benefits, whether adding an EAP for the first time or providing access to a standalone mental health program
  • Checking the value-added benefits provided by their carriers and communicating them often, since many are free, low-cost, and available to the employee and their households
  • Offering mental health first aid training
  • Having tough conversations about mental health inside the organization

The more mental health is discussed, the more normalized the conversation becomes, potentially saving lives. For example, one employer distributed a mental health hotline to their employees, resulting in an immediate impact:

“Thanks for giving me the text hotline. I’ve had two girlfriends tell me that it came at the right time in their life. Many provided it to their children, especially those they know are currently struggling. But they wanted to make sure their currently ‘healthy’ children had access to it as well. I think it’s safe to say that you’ve already had an impact!” –HR Consultant

For help, contact the CRISIS TEXT LINE – 741741

Inclusive Benefits Can Keep Depleted Employees from Leaving

While not every employee is experiencing a mental health crisis, many are physically, mentally, and emotionally depleted. The pandemic forced many people to examine their core values and whether their employer aligned with their beliefs. Employers who did not recognize their employees’ changing values are paying the price. Approximately one quarter (23%) of the workforce is predicted to voluntarily leave their jobs in 2022 without necessarily seeking new positions, capping a volatile 2021 that saw nearly 9 million people leave in Q4, at an average of 3.9 million per month—a record-breaking year.

Employers must rethink their benefits strategies after spending the last two renewals just getting by in an uncertain climate. The focus has been on limited disruption and communicating changes within a disjointed workforce. Looking beyond 2022, we expect the requests for more inclusive benefits to continue. Employers will not be able to wait and see. The job market is tight, and employees will change jobs and accept new ones based on their benefits. In fact, Paycheck and the Future Workplace November 2021 report named well-being benefits as a key factor for 62% of employees applying for a new job, and 67% for Gen Z applicants.

Learn to Ask Tough Questions

At the executive level, it’s time to have tough conversations, including the question, “Why are our employees leaving?” We can’t fix what we don’t know, and money cannot solve every problem. In fact, a raise on its own may be well intended by the employer but can have the opposite effect, with employees realizing that they have been underpaid, underappreciated, and undervalued for too long.

Creating a healthy social community requires honest and transparent communication. This can be a challenge for companies that have developed an indirect communication style or aren’t used to telling the whole story. Employees have less tolerance for vagueness and a greater need for clarity.

As a result, difficult conversations are part of the new employment landscape. Managers may require training to help them interact honestly and respectfully with employees regarding career and work issues, including ongoing performance feedback.

For instance, career development helps employees feel appreciated because people value the personalized guidance to help them grow as individuals. Well-defined goals, clear paths, and timely feedback are essential. What if there are limited or no career opportunities? Telling employees upfront— providing an honest, human response to an important question—allows them time to decide their path forward. Providing access to mentors and influencers in the organization helps champion change and gives employees more than traditional HR guidance.

“Retention is as critical as recruiting. Make sure you continue to ‘recruit’ those still working hard for your team.” – Chase Johnson, Director of Talent Operations

Social Well-Being Acknowledges Diversity

Building a healthy community requires recognizing an employee’s life after they log off for the day. Employees bring their lives to the workplace and expect employers to address their individual needs. Respecting diversity in the workplace is required to build a healthy community but must also be extended to benefit plans that support employees’ 24/7 lifestyle.

Workforce training is a simple way to start acknowledging a diverse workforce. Suggested training includes pronoun awareness, sexual orientation, gender identity, and transgender workplace inclusion. For more ideas on how leading employers address these issues, these best places to work exemplify how to ensure diversity across the workforce.

Benefit programs should also reflect workforce diversity, such as LGBTQAI+ unique needs and family-focused benefits that include:
  • Paid parental leave in addition to traditional PTO and state leave programs
  • Child and eldercare benefits
  • Fertility benefits

Comprehensive Benefits Plans and Resources Support Diverse Employees

However, plan design and state filing constraints can present challenges, making it essential to work closely with benefit design consultants. A comprehensive plan helps employees feel supported and heard. Policy change does not happen overnight, but incremental moves demonstrate commitment to diversity at work and home.

Recognizing and supporting diversity goes a long way toward helping employees and their families feel respected. It’s no secret that everyone has had challenges in recent years. Benefits go a long way to helping people face new issues and achieve their dreams. Carriers often have additional resources that are low-cost or no-cost and included in current benefit plans. Promoting such resources to your employee community increases awareness and use of these opportunities.

Employee benefits aren’t the only source of support for a diverse community. External resources like hotlines, apps, and nonprofits provide information beyond traditional benefits. Publicizing these resources gives employees more ways to feel heard and respected.

Employees Want to Feel Valued and Heard

My desire for employers is that they don’t lose people, especially if they can offer a stronger community that recognizes employee strengths and unique contributions. People just want to be respected as human beings and not be just another cog in a wheel. Employees also want to align their values with their employer. Approximately half of knowledge workers would quit their job if their values did not align with their employer, and a staggering 75% would not apply for a job without aligned values.

It would be great if everyone loved their job. It would mean that they felt respected, valued, and part of something bigger. It would mean that they had a community to support them and felt valued for their individuality. They would know that they had an employer who was not afraid to be transparent, set clear expectations for their job, and was honest about their future opportunities.

People want to be paid what they are worth, and employee benefits are a big part of that package. At Woodruff Sawyer, we like helping employers solve big challenges, creating the right benefit package that aligns with their employees’ values. I love my job because I get to help employers make their people feel valued, heard, and respected for the individuals that they are.

Are You Ready for More than Benefits?

Employees need a spectrum of total wellness benefits that help them be seen, heard, and valued in your organization. A Woodruff Sawyer benefits consultant can help evaluate if your plan design meets the needs of your evolving employee population. Reach out to us for more information.

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All views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the position of Woodruff-Sawyer & Co.

Brandi Kyle

Vice President, Employee Benefits

With over 17 years in the insurance industry, Brandi specializes in consulting solutions in employee benefits for companies with large complex risk.

503.416.7765

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Brandi Kyle

Vice President, Employee Benefits

With over 17 years in the insurance industry, Brandi specializes in consulting solutions in employee benefits for companies with large complex risk.

503.416.7765

LinkedIn