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Achieving total employee wellbeing: What does a healthy workplace look like?

By Michael Rogers

Even before the pandemic, awareness was growing about the need to support employees in their quest for wellbeing. With the arrival of COVID, employers had a front-row seat as employees and their families struggled with their physical, emotional and financial wellbeing. This has led many organizations to adopt the goal of total employee wellbeing and to embrace a holistic approach to becoming a truly healthy place to work.

Recognizing the role they have to play in supporting employee wellbeing, employer investments have surged. The total budget for wellbeing programs increased by 22% in 2021 – and showed no signs of slowing down in 2022. In what is clearly a sign of the times, nearly two-thirds of companies are concerned about the mental health of their workforce. U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murphy even released a 30-page framework for workplace mental health and wellbeing, raising the profile of wellbeing in the workplace and providing a foundation for employers to build upon.

Read more about the importance of erasing the stigma of mental health in the workplace – and what Alight is doing to help our employees manage their own mental health challenges.

What is “total wellbeing?”

Across the HR community, “total wellbeing” is emerging as the new rallying cry. A growing number of employers are embracing the concept of wellbeing as an integrated confluence of factors that comprise the cornerstone of someone’s life. Yet for all the talk about the importance of wellbeing, there has yet to be developed a universally agreed-upon definition of total wellbeing and, more specifically, what a healthy workplace actually looks like.

At Alight, our focus is on what we call the “four pillars” – healthy mind, healthy body, healthy wallet and healthy life – grounded in inclusion, all intricately intertwined and interdependent.

When colleagues understand and have easy access to the benefits and resources available to them within these four pillars, they are more likely to use them, both preventatively as well as in times of need. Wellbeing is the equilibrium between those resources within the four pillars being able to meet the demands of life.

Culture has a large role to play in employee wellbeing. In organizations where the culture is toxic and wellbeing is little more than a check-the-box exercise, it has a real, detrimental effect on wellbeing. Likewise, a culture that prioritizes wellbeing, where people feel included, supported and valued, creates an environment in which wellbeing can flourish.   

Our friend, Josh Bersin, writes of the importance of healthy culture as one of the factors that contribute to what his company has branded “The Healthy Organization.” Specifically, “building a shared vision for employee health and wellbeing right into their company’s business strategy and culture” supported by “human-centered leaders and managers who exhibit empathy, listening, learning, and caring,” thus inspiring people to be their “best, healthiest selves.”

As organizations seek to attain total wellbeing, it’s crucial to apply an inclusive lens. What does wellbeing mean to different ethnicities? Different genders? Different communities? There are a lot of barriers to be crossed before we can talk about wellbeing in the same manner as we talk about other aspects of work.

Making the connection

As the importance of wellbeing is increasingly gaining traction, I feel the time is right to address one taboo subject. That is, the unfortunate truth that some C-suite executives do not fully comprehend the need to make wellbeing a priority. In part, it is related to the outdated mindset that the only way to achieve business success is to keep your nose to the grindstone, forfeit vacation days and make work the center of your life. While, of course, working hard is - and will likely always will be - necessary to achieve hard things, balance is also required. Leaders and organizations must focus on proactive and preventative wellbeing measures as well as more short-term solutions when a wellbeing issue arises.

Until these leaders grasp the business case for wellbeing, we’re not going to get anywhere near achieving the total employee wellbeing for employees that organizations have a duty to strive for.

One of the ways to help push more focus on employee wellbeing is to help C-suite executives understand why they should care more about it and, specifically, how it will benefit the business to make the investments. This can be achieved by drawing from multiple studies, such as those referenced below, that draw a direct line between wellbeing and the bottom line, helping leaders see the value of committing to a wellbeing strategy.

Companies that integrate wellbeing into their organizational purpose, mission and values tend to have a competitive advantage in the marketplace. According to research from The Josh Bersin Company, organizations that leverage the right wellbeing strategies are more than twice as likely to outperform their peers financially, more than five times as likely to have lower annual healthcare claim costs and do three times better at engaging and retaining their employees.

In a study published by the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, a group of researchers established a clear link between companies that invested in health and wellbeing programs and stock market performance. Over a 14-year period, the stock values of C. Everett Koop National Health Award winners appreciated 325 percent compared to average market appreciation of 105 percent.

What you can do now:

  1. Take stock of what you’re doing today to understand current programs.
  2. Solicit feedback from your people on what’s important to them.
  3. Consult with a thought leader to define your wellbeing vision and a joined-up strategy and define key success metrics.
  4. Build a single point of entry/digital storefront to access tools and resources.
  5. Find a way to smartly and easily understand measures and performance.
  6. Report back to colleagues, leadership and the board on impact achieved to date.

For many organizations, wellbeing is still in its infancy. Their investments may extend solely to an EAP and fruit bowls. They are years away from achieving total wellbeing. The important thing is they have started on their wellbeing journey. As they build upon those early wins, it’s crucial to have someone who owns the wellbeing strategy (and it cannot simply be that “wellbeing belongs to HR”), studies best practices, measures participation and charts return on investment. Tools like Alight’s Wellbeing Index are invaluable for plotting where they are along the path to becoming a healthy company.

Michael Rogers
Michael Rogers
By Michael Rogers

As chief human resources officer, Michael is responsible for leading Alight’s global HR function and defining and executing its people and talent strategies. With nearly 20 years of HR leadership experience, Michael is focused on growing and retaining exceptional people to help drive the success of Alight while ensuring its 16,000+ colleagues across the globe have fulfilling careers. Michael is focused on improving employee experience while driving a high-growth and performance culture.

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