As originally published in Forbes here.
Since writing about the three M’s of employee experience strategy, I have been frequently asked about the key moments in the employee experience that managers and organizations need to focus on and apply emotional intent to. As organizations bring employees back to work and/or look at ways to elevate their employee experience, health and well-being must be prioritized. And because of the pandemic and how younger workers view the world, companies need to understand that employees want to be engaged in meaningful work and living a good life and therefore are less inclined to sacrifice either for the sake of a job. So, here are seven moments organizations need to recognize when it comes to employee health and wellness.
1. Does my manager care about my health and well-being?
If you are serious about employees’ health and wellness, understand that how a manager interacts with their people each day is more important than any benefit or perk you can offer. Managers affect an employee’s heart, mind and energy level more than any other thing at work. So, before considering specific health and well-being programs and offerings, start by understanding how your managers treat their teams. A manager who is inconsiderate, disrespectful and overly critical and commanding can do more damage to an employee’s health and well-being at work more than almost anything else.
2. Does my manager ensure I get a break?
Breaks significantly affect an employee’s energy levels throughout the day. So, if a manager cares about their employees’ well-being (and, honestly, performance), they will ensure their people get regular breaks to recharge. Note that certain things can happen during a break that enhances a person’s well-being and energy, such as drinking cold water, eating a healthy snack, avoiding caffeine, taking a walk outside and disconnecting from technology to engage in a meaningful conversation.
3. Is my manager empathetic when I need time off or call in sick?
When things are busy, it can be challenging for a manager not to get frustrated when someone calls in sick or must take time off. But how you respond at that moment sends a loud and clear message to any employee about whether you care about their health and well-being. Managers must learn to demonstrate empathy and concern when someone needs time off, regardless of the impact.
4. Am I always expected to be available outside of work?
Downtime, time with loved ones or doing things a person enjoys and, of course, sleep all play a part in a person’s physical and mental well-being, but when work interrupts this, it often causes additional stress. Managers must explicitly communicate and then back up with their actions and responses that only in an emergency or crisis is an employee expected to be available outside of work hours. The opposite will only erode an employee’s health and well-being.
5. Does the company care about my health and well-being?
When we talk about health and well-being, a company needs to consider safety. The pandemic has made safety a top consideration and priority for all organizations, regardless of industry. While some industries with high-risk jobs have always made safety a priority, Covid-19 requires every business, regardless of location, to have safety protocols in place to help protect their employees and let them know they care.
Companies that understand sick or unhealthy employees are less productive, support an array of programs and interventions to get employees to take on healthier habits. Although some companies have been exclusively activity- or exercise-focused as part of their healthcare approach, they fail to capture everything that employees need today. Mental health must be integrated into any programming with tools, training and understanding to help alleviate the impact of stress, anxiety and fatigue, especially with the continuing pandemic. Offering various programs, services and memberships sends a clear message that health and wellness are essential. I have often been asked what the best programs or benefits are to offer an employee, and I always reply, “It varies, but the best way to get it right is to ask your employees what would mean the most to them.”
6. Does my company provide me enough time off?
We reviewed how breaks are an important guide for employees to gauge whether their managers care about health and well-being, but companies need to prioritize bigger breaks in the form of time off, vacation days and holidays. We are seeing companies take the lead in recognizing that they must be more proactive in encouraging their employees to take time off. While there are still issues with workers taking days off, at least we see more companies sending the message that health and well-being are priorities, which includes taking vacations. Taking more time off is part of the solution to making that priority a reality.
7. Does my company allow me to disconnect from my technology and work?
While managers control the message regarding whether an employee feels they must always be connected and available for work, companies are starting to realize they need to take a stand and address this issue. Companies are recognizing the information and technology overload that has been created and, as a result, are implementing meeting- or technology-free workdays, turning off emails at lunch or overnight and even implementing tech-free vacation days.
The most important step a company can take to support the health and well-being of their people is always to listen and have a pulse on how they are feeling. With regular employee insights and feedback, a company can consider what moments are causing frustration or disengagement and determine whether it’s a manager, mechanism or both. Focus on fostering more emotional intent with your managers, moments and mechanisms, specifically those impacting health and well-being. In doing so, you will take the necessary steps toward building the culture you want and your employees need.