How can employers show they truly care about employee wellbeing?

'Over time, the definition has evolved to be something much more holistic'

How can employers show they truly care about employee wellbeing?

Most good leaders today know much more about individual employees and what they are going through at work and at home, than in the pre-COVID era.

Wellbeing is becoming a much more important topic, and this is leading HR departments to reexamine some of the ways it conducts business.

This is new territory for HR managers to understand and tackle. How do they do it? How can HR departments turn themselves into arbiters of wellbeing on top of all their other functions?

As director of wellbeing, leading the human sustainability index (HSI) in North America, Selma Lalji Khamisa is at the forefront of this issue.

What does it mean?

One of her first tasks has been conveying what is meant by wellbeing, a term that has undergone some evolution in recent decades, with the World Health Organization determining that health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. It is, in other words, a complete picture of health.

 “Essentially, it’s this ability to feel good, to feel balanced, to feel satisfied; over time, the wellbeing definition has evolved to be something much more holistic,” says Khamisa.

She outlines a couple of the questions this prompts: “Do you feel good at work? Or do you generally feel good in life? And there are so many other factors that have become more nuanced around what wellbeing really means.”

Aon recently conducted a survey that showed that employee wellbeing is the top priority for companies for the next five years, beating out attracting and retaining talent, profit, innovation of product, and ESG for the top spot.

While 87 per cent of organizations have at least one wellbeing initiative, 83 per cent have a full wellbeing strategy, which is up more than 25 per cent since 2020. Importantly, 41 per cent of organizations said they had a wellbeing strategy that was fully integrated into their overall business strategy.

The key question here is how HR leaders can successfully implement these plans.

Every single person in an organization should have a wellbeing indicator, like a diagnostic, that marks how they are doing overall in their lives. This would be strictly private to the individual, but it would have the effect of empowering employees with that knowledge, says Khamisa.

“The person then has the ability to go to a manager and have a conversation and say, ‘I'm actually really low on my mental health and my physical health,’ and we know those are connected,” she says.

Starting point

If distinctions between work and home are blurred to the point of indistinction, so too are those between the interests of the company and those of the employee. Companies should consider not only how their staff can adapt to working for them, but also how they can adapt to working with their staff.

This may sound ambitious, but Khamisa stresses that it isn’t as complex as it seems.

“Even if it's a simple training exercise that supports organizations around how to have a conversation about wellbeing, that would be an excellent starting point,” she says.

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