The inequity of well-being at work: how organizations can take action
Well-being in traditionally marginalized groups can look different due to their unique lived experiences. Organizations must work to measure and address well-being gaps in the same way they’d invest in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. We explore how.
In late 2021, the XM Institute conducted a study of well-being levels in the U.S. The research showed that while well-being improved for most populations, scores were unevenly distributed across the population.
According to the study, well-being improved 4 percentage points for African Americans after its fall in 2020; well-being also rose 5 points among Asian Americans. However, Hispanic Americans’ overall well-being dropped a point from 2020 to 58% – the same as African Americans.
Moreover, the study found that all underrepresented groups lagged behind Caucasian Americans.
When we look at other underrepresented populations, we see further inequities when it comes to well-being.
For example, our 2022 Employee Experience Trends Report showed that women are most at risk for work-induced burnout and attrition.
Our research found that overall women’s intent to stay dropped eight percentage points since last year. Meanwhile, women leaders of leaders’ intent to stay dropped even more significantly – by 21 points – meaning they’re 3x more likely to leave than last year.
Also, McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace report states that 42% of women say they have been often or almost always burned out, compared to 32% a year ago. And one in three women has considered leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers.
In addition, persons with a disability represent a very large group – there are over a billion people in the world with a significant disability – who need thoughtfully crafted experiences and accessible tools to fully participate on an equal playing field. But many organizations have little understanding of that dimension of diversity (and the vastness that exists). That gap in understanding leads to inequity – in the employee experience, and well-being at work in particular.
Research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2021 shows just 19% of persons with a disability were employed, compared with nearly 64% of persons without a disability.
BLS also reported that persons with a disability were less likely to work in management, professional, and related occupations than those without a disability; 36.5% of employed Americans with disabilities worked in those occupations versus nearly 43% of employed Americans without disabilities.
As the acceleration of the digital transformation equalizes the playing field in some respects, it is even more important that organizations ensure that experiences at work are accessible to all, and that they work to close experience gaps to improve well-being for every employee.
How organizations can take action
Traditionally marginalized groups are often out front leading the charge when it comes to promoting diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB), as well as well-being at work. And yet, those same groups of people continue to be paid less than their peers, and under-recognized for their contributions. These compound factors, among myriad others, play a role in widening the well-being gap at work.
Part of the reason is many organizations over-index on the policies and programs that will attract employees, but discount the ideologies and behaviors within the culture that make the real difference in whether people stay.
Fostering cultures that truly drive well-being (and inclusion) will require disruption. And that might mean changing the way work is done at your organization.
While not an exhaustive list, here are some ways for organizations to get started on closing that experience gap:
1. Conduct a needs assessment.
Evaluate and assess what is going on in your culture.
Ask the tough questions, like:
- Does our culture set employees up for success in maintaining their well-being?
- Is our work environment physically safe?
- Is our culture psychologically safe?
- Are our managers overworked and under-resourced, and thus filling
from an empty cup?
- Are we relying on sustained grinding and long work hours to achieve success (i.e., putting our people at risk for burnout)?
Keep in mind that asking these questions needs to happen more frequently than on an annual survey.
2. Go to the source.
Tap into your employee resource groups to better understand their lived experiences and to ask for their expertise. Then, leverage those insights to inform how you strategize and design your well-being programs and initiatives.
3. Leverage employee listening tools
To create real, positive change and foster a culture of well-being, every employee should feel empowered to take action.
Our Well-being at Work Solution reveals how energized employees feel, how positive they feel about themselves, and what level of trusting relationships they have at work.
With these real-time insights, organizations are empowered to take top-level actions. Meanwhile, leaders have access to their team’s results; highlighting which factors are making the biggest impact on their team, team-level scores for the four well-being drivers, as well as best practice guidance on how to take action.
Each employee also receives an individual score report, giving them an understanding of their well-being, plus hints and tips for actions they can take to feel more energized at work.
4. Consider the frameworks you need to (re)build to help people.
For example, while many organizations have seen positive gains from a remote/hybrid work model, organizations must consider how the experience impacts all employees, e.g., those with disabilities.
In addition, organizations must frame the parameters around remote/hybrid work to avoid an always-on mentality.
Work with leaders to reassess targets. Work with them to understand what kind of support they need, rather than piling on more pressure. Make sure they know it’s a collaborative process, that you’re hearing their concerns, and will take action to help.
“Often, the processes that need disrupting are the ones deeply ingrained in the way work is done. Organizations should continue to challenge the culture, the norms, ideologies, and implicit expectations that make achieving a healthy work environment unattainable.” - Dr. Lindsay Johnson, Ph.D., Sr. DEI Program Manager, Qualtrics
5. Advocate for pay equity
Employees need to feel that their skills are valued and appreciated – and rewards such as pay and benefits are a big part of that equation.
If employees can get significantly better – or more fair and equitable – pay and benefits elsewhere, it’s more likely they’ll explore moving on.
6. Focus on what well-being means to intersectional communities.
Well-being in traditionally marginalized groups – such as women, women of color, people with disabilities, and those who have intersectional identities – can look different due to their unique lived experiences.
Invest in addressing well-being in the same way you’d invest in DEIB.
7. Recognize those who go above and beyond in the name of well-being.
Recognize those who are doing the work to foster cultures that support well-being. Tell them what you appreciate about their contribution to the company. Be as specific as possible and explain why their work stands out.
Keep in mind that to be meaningful, recognition has to match an individual’s preferred style. Not everyone wants to be brought on stage to rousing applause. Get to know your people and what motivates them.
Consider whether a more personal thank you is appropriate. Kudos that come directly from a manager or team leader tend to be very well-received. It’s important to have individuals who are close to an employee’s work recognize their efforts.
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