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Health & Well-being

Well-Being by Design: How to Design Work to Support Employee Well-Being

June 22, 2021

Well-being has come to the forefront for many organizations in light of the ongoing pandemic and the world’s new work reality. Yet many leaders still struggle to move beyond health and wellness programs and truly make well-being a part of the employee experience, weaving it into the fabric of the organization.

In the 2021 Deloitte Human Capital Trends survey, which is a report released every year from Deloitte in which executives share how their organizations are positioning themselves to thrive, one important trend emerged: Integrating well-being into the flow of work will be vital in a post-pandemic world.

Well-being was rising on the organizational priority list even before the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, well-being was the top-ranked trend for importance in the 2020 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report, with 80% of the nearly 9,000 survey respondents identifying it as important or very important to their organization’s success.

Big idea: If you are an organizational leader, consider how supporting holistic employee well-being can be woven into work to allow employees to perform and feel their best.

Consider this quote from Michael Marmot, professor at University College London, to help shed light on another way to think about how work impacts well-being.

“It is unreasonable to expect people to change their behavior when the social, cultural and physical environments around them fully conspire against them.”

Your workplace may not fully conspire again your employees, but think about how social norms and physical environments impact their health and well-being – stress, ability to be physically active, working long hours, etc. To allow employees to perform and feel their best more and more companies are shifting from “wellness” being just a “program” to designing well-being practices and norms into the work itself.

How to design work to support employee well-being

There are five important elements to consider when approaching well-being by design for your organization. There is no magic formula and it will look different for each company, but these elements are a great place to start the process.

Keep in mind that these are small shifts or micro-steps – new ways to make decisions and approach work across all levels of the organization, including the individual, team and total organization.

1. Listen (really listen) to employees

It all starts with good listening. Not just with surveys (although that can be an important part) but asking and really listening to what challenges people have and observing those challenges at all levels. It’s important to seek to understand and use empathic listening and strategic feedback methods. If you don’t know what the real challenges are for your people, you can’t design solutions that will be effective for them

2. Elevate the team leader position

We saw the importance of the team leader come to light during the height of the pandemic – middle managers or team leaders had the biggest opportunity to have a pulse on individual well-being. Empowering and training team leaders is vital in designing work for well-being: The team leader can make or break the culture and support system you are trying to build in an organization. Can your team leaders’ model what well-being looks like to prioritize self-care and care for others that are struggling?

3. Policies and resources

Build well-being into your policies and processes. Examples may include:

  • Adding well-being goals into performance reviews – do you have a goal you want to achieve?
  • Reward those employees that model the behaviors (i.e. consider in promotions, etc.)
  • Offer flexible schedules and remote working opportunities
  • Provide resources – expand mental health benefits, offer health/mental well-being coaching, etc.

4. Cross departmental collaboration

Well-being can’t only live in HR if it’s a true organizational priority. Well-being touches so many areas of the organization, from facilities to marketing to training. For well-being programs to have a widespread impact, it can’t just be the responsibility of HR team. Bring leaders from all areas to the table.

5. Shifting work norms

The fastest way to shift norms is through open dialogue and transparency from leadership. It speaks volumes when leadership communicates that individual well-being is a priority and models self-care. If leaders are not afraid to ask for help or admit when they need support, it gives permission for others to do the same. This may even look like permission for employees to set healthy boundaries or to take a break in the middle of the day for self-care.

Practical examples of well-being by design on all levels

  • Individual
    • Setting boundaries in employee schedule (if possible, with position) to prevent burnout and over working
    • Taking ownership over well-being by being proactive and vocal about their well-being needs
    • Leveraging wearable technologies and apps to help master distractions
    • Learning to increase mindfulness and build resilience
  • Team
    • Facilitating healthy dialogue around team norms that support each other’s well-being
    • Modeling well-being behaviors, such as taking micro-breaks
    • Checking in on colleagues
    • Giving empowerment of choice by allowing teams to adopt well-being practices best suited to their needs – have a healthy dialogue around what the norms are
    • Leveraging physical workspaces that promote team collaboration and performance
    • Rethinking standard meeting times and formats (i.e. make meeting lengths 25 and 50 minutes to build-in recovery time, make only certain meetings video-based, holding walking meetings, etc.)
  • Organization
    • Investing in and promoting well-being as an organizational priority
    • Embedding well-being criteria in work scheduling, performance management processes, leadership evaluations and rewards and recognition programs
    • Designing work environments to support workers’ physical, mental and emotional health needs

Again, these are small shifts – it doesn’t have to be a widespread organizational initiative, and it may just start within your team and then move organizationally.

Ask yourself as a leader: How do weave well-being into the design of the workplace and employee experience instead of making it a “check the box” program? Are we doing this in a way that allows the employee to embed their well-being as a priority in the context of our work? How can you view decisions, revisiting policies, making schedules, building teams, and setting up meetings through a well-being lens. Adding well-being into as many aspect as possible is what can make the difference.

Don’t miss this opportunity.

This is the time to join so many organizations that are reimagining what work looks like to better support the employee as a whole. Employees need well-being built into the design of the jobs and the workplace more than ever before. There is currently a backdrop of mental health challenges, social isolation needs, physical health needs and the door is open to think differently about how we design work.

Reach out to myself or your Hylant rep for more information on how to start thinking about well-being by design today.

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