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Employee Experience

3 steps every organization can take to boost employee well-being

Well-being is an essential part of the employee experience. Here’s how to support your people and meet their evolving needs in the year ahead.

Read the report: Explore the trends shaping employee experience in 2021

Employees are more cognizant than ever of needing to manage their own well-being – a need fueled by the increased blend of work and life, managing feelings of pandemic-related isolation, and divisive political conversations.

When we spoke to people as part of our global study of more than 11,800 participants at the end of 2020, well-being emerged as one of the strongest drivers of employee engagement – ahead of typical drivers like trust in leadership and ability for career growth – and right behind our top drivers of belonging and corporate social responsibility.

Well-being is an essential part of the employee experience, particularly in times of disruption, but how do you measure the well-being of your people? And once you’ve done so, how can you support well-being to help drive employee engagement? We answer these questions – and more – below.

How do you measure well-being in the workplace?

In 2020, well-being became a major focus for most organizations, and alongside engagement and enablement, became a core outcome of our engagement model.

At Qualtrics, we measure well-being using a five-point system of indicators:

  • Feeling calm at work
  • Feeling energized at work
  • Rarely feeling overwhelmed by responsibilities at work
  • Feeling positive about yourself at work
  • Having trusting relationships at work

If you’re looking at that list and thinking: ‘Those indicators are the exact opposite of how I felt at work in 2020’ – you’re not alone. Only 67% of employees rated their well-being favorably.

Only 67% of respondents rated their well-being favorably. This highlights how critical it is to avoid burnout as we continue to live with uncertainty.

Yesenia Cancel, XM Scientist, Qualtrics

What factors impact employee well-being?

What are some of the reasons for this well-being gap? In the past year, employees had to – often simultaneously – manage pivoting to remote work; adhering to evolving quarantine and/or shelter-in-place requirements; supporting children with virtual schooling; adapting to an always-on culture; and dealing with newly blurred lines between work and life.

Our research also revealed a couple of surprising takeaways about what impacts employee well-being:

#1 Senior leaders report a higher sense of well-being than individual contributors. We saw this in our 2020 Global Workforce Resilience Report (conducted mid-2020), as well. There’s a substantial gap between senior leadership and individual contributors – and our data suggest a trickle-down effect: senior leaders have a greater sense of what’s impacting the business – as well as what’s coming, i.e. how work might be impacted in the future. Being better informed of what’s coming versus individual contributors plays a role in boosting their well-being.

#2 Well-being varied by family situation. In particular, single employees with no dependents reported the lowest sense of well-being. While it was a tremendously challenging year for employees with families (e.g., balancing remote work with childcare and/or remote schooling), our research also demonstrates that those who live alone – i.e., employees who had felt a sense of community and belonging at their workplace – have been impacted more than expected or predicted during the pandemic.

Just how much does a sense of belonging influence well-being? According to our research, employees who feel like they belong are almost three times as likely to have a greater sense of well-being: 78% versus 28%.

With that community stripped away due to the pandemic and remote work, employees who live alone may be more vulnerable than those with families to losing their sense of belonging.

The HR leader's guide to creating a culture of well-being

What steps can organizations take to boost well-being?

Given the data, there’s no one size fits all solution to well-being. Instead, organizations should listen to the needs of your people and then act on that feedback accordingly. This is more than guessing at the needs of employees – and who we think has those needs – by being more intentional with our actions.

In order to help employees feel supported and a greater sense of well-being and belonging, leaders can:

Step #1: Define well-being: Align your company’s definition of well-being with your company culture. Make it meaningful to your people.

Step #2: Manage workload: Workload is a powerful buffer to workforce safety and resilience. Research from our 2020 Global Workforce Resilience Report revealed that employees who were at capacity in terms of workload felt the best about safety and resilience. Those employees with workloads far below their capacity expressed negative views of safety and resilience. The same applies to well-being.

Step #3: Meet employees where they are: Employees’ concerns – and what’s important to them – will change over time. Listening tools will allow leaders to tune in to those evolving needs.

Employee well-being remains critical as organizations continue to recover from this time of disruption,”

Lauren Rice, XM Scientist, Qualtrics

“Whether it’s providing flexibility to employees as they juggle work and personal responsibilities, supporting employees as they attend to any family health concerns, or just taking the time to listen to employees’ concerns, it’s a necessity at this time for organizations to care and support employees’ well-being.”

Case study: Employee well-being in action

Well-being is closely tied to the mission of Johnson & Johnson. During the pandemic, the organization ran a tailored survey to not only tune into their employees, but also more closely align their culture of well-being with their employees’ needs.

The result? They listened and took action on the feedback employees shared by:

  • Making improvements around internal communications and prioritization of work.
  • Expanding flexible work programs – and creating an employee toolkit to support those new programs.
  • Introducing an employee equipment purchase plan to meet employees’ remote work needs.

In the year ahead, companies that focus on well-being – enabling employees to recharge, set boundaries, and engage in fulfilling work – will fare the best in their efforts to attract and retain top talent.

Learn more about the trends shaping EX in the year ahead