Employee Well-Being: Attention To the Human Behind the Job Description

Employee Well-Being: Attention To the Human Behind the Job Description
Employee well-being will be one of the hot topics in the boardroom in 2024, according to Stefan Duran of insurer elipsLife. The theme seamlessly aligns with current actualities and contributes to several ambitious goals that large corporations and organizations have expressed.

‘We care about employee well-being’ is the motto for my conversations with experts and executives of large companies for Management Scope in the coming months, on one of the significant boardroom topics of the coming year. The well-being theme will be a top priority in many boardrooms—or at least it should be. Why? Due to the increasing realization that business success is nearly impossible if the health and well-being of employees are ignored or neglected. Also, paying attention to employee well-being improves life for everyone. In the coming months, I will delve into the ins and outs of the topic. As a ‘kick-off,’ I will touch on some key concepts from the ‘employee well-being alphabet.’

The M of Movement
The importance of well-being is confirmed by research done by Aon. The international consultant conducted a survey among 1,100 companies in 46 countries, revealing that 87 percent of companies prioritize employee well-being over attracting and retaining talent and improving financial margins. This is not without reason. We can speak of a ‘well-being movement’, a movement that organizations want, or even need to be part of to bring out the best in themselves. Younger generations often choose their work environment based on purpose and well-being aspects. So, it can be said that a high score on well-being increases competitiveness in the job market.

The ‘R’ of Risk Mitigation
There is a direct link between employee well-being and mitigating organizational risks. By improving the well-being and health of employees, the ‘people risk’ within the organization is reduced. This risk is often in the top 3 of operational risk self-assessment for many companies. Working on well-being significantly reduces this risk, benefiting both employees and employers. Risk mitigation involves a good work-life balance. Are there enough opportunities within the organization to occasionally ‘switch off’? Are employees left in peace outside working hours, or are they expected to be ‘on’ all the time? Is there sufficient understanding for the ‘P’ of ‘Private’?

The ‘T’ of Tertiary Employment Benefits
The Netherlands is doing quite well in terms of employee well-being. On various international lists on life satisfaction and job enjoyment, the Netherlands—along with Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries—usually scores exceptionally well. Traditionally, in the Netherlands, collective labor agreement (CAO) negotiations pay attention to ‘tertiary employment benefits,’ including items such as company outings, Christmas packages and a cozy coffee corner. However, the word ‘tertiary’ also carries a direct danger—well-being might be seen as too much of an extra or optional benefit. Employee well-being should certainly not be relegated to the realm of extras. Of course, salary, working hours, and pension plans are extremely important for employees. But employee well-being is equally important.

The ‘S’ from the ESG Objectives
All of this is confirmed by the ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) agenda, which almost all organizations have. All policies made today are evaluated based on environmental, social, and governance criteria. While the emphasis in recent years, under the pressure of regulations, has been on the ‘E’ and ‘G’ in the acronym (‘Environmental’ and ‘Governance’), the ‘S’ (‘Social’) will demand attention in the coming period too. Companies will need to define and implement social responsibility. This always begins with the question of how the organization relates to society. From this, various questions can arise. Does the workforce within the company reflect society well? Do all employees feel ‘at home?’ If not, it is necessary to work on personnel policy and strive for better relationships and more inclusivity. Employers can also support less privileged groups in society. Or adopt a strategy to support the local economy as much as possible. Or closer to home: being there for their own employees and their families. What is already happening, and what can be done to increase their well-being?

The ‘S’ of Skills
The World Economic Forum publishes an annual top 10 list of important employee skills. Four of the ten skills (of which three are in the top 5) published in the most recent ranking are related to the well-being of the employee. Elements such as resilience, flexibility, agility, motivation, and lifelong learning are all skills from the top 5. Other elements published in the top 10 (such as creative thinking and attention to detail) only come to their full potential in an environment where the employee feels at ease.

The ‘P’ of Psychological Safety
Employees can only excel if they experience psychological safety. Only then can they fully utilize all their qualities, and only then can they be resilient, flexible, or agile. Insurers have seen an increase in employee absenteeism due to mental health issues caused by a toxic combination of high demands, high work pressure, and social pressure. The lesson of recent years is that employee well-being goes far beyond physical health alone. Significant strides have been made in this area in recent years, such as employers offering gym memberships and access to healthy food in the workplace. Now is the time to take mental health seriously and consider programs for stress management and meditation, for example. Supporting advisory services on the emotional well-being of employees is also an option.

The ‘T’ of Technology
We must be aware of the significant advantages of technology, and at the same time, we must be open to human limitations. Revolutionary technological developments are happening at an unprecedented speed which a human with an evolving brain simply cannot keep up with. At the same time, technology offers interesting new possibilities. In Denmark, I saw an inspiring example of a large cleaning company that successfully used data and Artificial Intelligence to address back problems, one of the main causes of absenteeism. The project resulted in less sick leave and an increased work- and life satisfaction. Wellness apps and digital platforms have made it easier for employees to monitor their health and access assistance. We can certainly make use of these.

The ‘L’ of Leadership
Focusing on employee well-being places a significant responsibility on the leadership of organizations. It requires a different kind of leadership from what we are accustomed to. It calls for leaders who pay attention to the person behind the job description. The leadership team must be open to well-being initiatives, listen to the needs of the employees, and pay attention to global trends. Leaders also need to promote and participate in these initiatives to set a good example.
Employee well-being will be a top priority on my agenda in the coming period. Over the next few months, I will delve deeper into the terms discussed in the employee well-being ABC here. Undoubtedly, new important terms will emerge as there is much happening in this field. I will seek practical tools to sustainably improve the well-being of employees, with the added benefit of a better-performing company.

This essay was published in Management Scope 01 2024.