It goes without saying that we have all had it tough recently. Along with the threat of a deadly virus came back-to-back meetings, blurred lines between work and home, increased isolation and a whole host of other stressors such as home-schooling. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the pandemic has highlighted the need for us to re-think wellbeing in the workplace. At a time where almost a third of employees across multiple countries have reported that their mental health has suffered and over a third have felt like they were working harder,  employees are increasingly turning to their employer for support.
reported their mental health has suffered” in the pandemic
felt like they were “working harder now than they I did before the pandemic”
In response to the rising concerns from employees, employers were quick to react, with 96% of companies globally providing additional wellbeing resources to employees. However, only 1 in 6 employees reported feeling supported. As a result, employers are realizing that it is no longer enough to have one-size-fits-all solutions in place and it is time that everyone is treated as individuals with unique needs.
There is a clear need and increased urgency for organizations to support their employees’ wellbeing — to not only create a more caring and inclusive working environment, but to ultimately bridge the gap between being a good employer and becoming an irresistible one. So, how do we meet this demand and get it right?
What is wellbeing and why should we care?
Wellbeing is the “state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy,” as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary. This implies that a state of wellbeing is as much about mental health as it is about physical wellness. It is multifaceted and cannot be treated with a few specific offerings. It must be seen as something that is brought about through a systemic change — changing attitudes and using technology to create a culture that provides a sense of purpose, belonging, flexibility, support, recognition. One which is mindful of the human behind the resources that we work with.
Thus, the primary purpose is to create a happy, healthy, and resilient workforce.
It is imperative for organizations to embrace a culture of wellbeing for many reasons. First, young people aged 18-25 are more likely to seek help for mental health issues and more likely to leave jobs as a result of poor mental health.
In a 2020 study conducted by Ginger, 89% of employees say that mental health benefits are a priority when applying for new job (second only to corporate wellness) and 95% of employees agreed that their employer should care about their emotional wellbeing. As more and more young people enter the job market, employers must place importance on their wellbeing strategies to attract and retain talent.
Furthermore, as health insurance spending continues to rise (Starbucks spends more on healthcare than coffee beans), having the skills and resources to support wellbeing can provide financial benefits. Coupled with the fact that effective mental wellbeing support can prevent stress-related illnesses and reduce absenteeism and presenteeism, it is estimated that $4 is returned to the economy for every $1 spent on mental wellbeing.
Looking after mental wellbeing enables organizations to build and maintain a resilient workforce which is necessary in this rapidly changing landscape. In addition to mental wellbeing, there are other important aspects to consider, since deficits in these areas can negatively impact physical and mental health of employees. These include:
Social wellbeing is the ability to make and maintain personal connections, be part of a community or social network, and deal with conflict. According to a Gallup survey, close work friendships boosted employee satisfaction by 50%. Having deep, lasting social relationships not only makes us happier, but sets us up for success.
Family health and wellbeing: With the lines between work and home blurring and working parents or caregivers juggling multiple responsibilities over the last year, there is a strong case for employers to provide resources, programs and support to not only employees, but their families.
Community/environmental wellbeing: This is about providing the opportunity for employees to create a positive impact for their communities and the environment at large. True giving and happiness are deeply interconnected, and in doing so, employees enhance their experience and gain a larger sense of purpose. Sharing our knowledge, expertise or time with people in need of support has a positive impact on our overall wellbeing and satisfaction levels.
Caring for our people brings many business benefits and prepares organizations for the future. Above all, it’s clear that supporting wellbeing is crucial to providing a great employee experience. It is no longer about slick work devices, fancy collaboration tools and flexible working conditions. Now, more than ever, it’s about creating holistic wellbeing environments where talent can thrive.
What is happening now?
An environment conducive to holistic wellbeing can be brought about by considering wellbeing in technologies, education and culture. Some examples of good practices are:
Often the first area explored when providing wellbeing support especially in our new way of working is technology. There are many technologies that have seen an uptick in implementation since the start of the pandemic. These can be broadly categorized into mental wellness platforms, targeted digital programs and teletherapy providers. Each has its own benefits and drawbacks. For example, teletherapy may be good for employees with chronic conditions but on the other hand, not all employees will require that level of support.
Whichever technologies are selected, the benefits and drawbacks must be assessed, and the end user perspective must be at the center of the decision-making process to facilitate adoption and realize benefits.
Organizations should also utilize the investments they have made in collaboration platforms during the pandemic to allow employees to build strong social connections. Being able to share and celebrate success stories and encouraging peer-to-peer recognition will help create meaningful bonds within the organization.
The backbone of any systemic change is education. With mental health issues presenting themselves with very subtle signs, it is important to educate people on how to identify issues and methods of providing support.
Organizations are increasingly investing in training programs and tools to educate management on how to have conversations around wellbeing and pick up signs of employee distress.
Even with the right technology and education in place, a wellbeing strategy will not be as effective without a supportive organizational culture. Some organizations have implemented simple yet innovative methods to foster a culture of wellbeing. One Spanish bank has implemented a policy to stop emails and messages during the lunch hour to allow employees to rest, while other organizations have shortened meetings from 30 minutes to 25 minutes to encourage breaks.
Simple policies can show employees that they are in a caring environment and enable them to help themselves.
Wellbeing has also become an essential leadership capability. For example, at Autodesk, managers are encouraged to take the employee’s family life into account when providing career counseling, because it helps tailor their support to what the employee really needs. A key enabling factor to bring about a cultural change is buy-in and promotion of wellbeing from the leadership level.
What we are doing at Atos
At Atos, physical and mental wellbeing is supported through custom programs with life coaches and resiliency programs. We also observe and celebrate a range of events — from World Mental Health day to Atos Global Wellbeing week — as we strive towards a culture of openness and encouragement around wellbeing.
Social wellbeing is supported through building strong collaboration platforms, celebrating successes through instant Spot Awards and building strong communities within the organization to empower and enable the exchange of ideas and thoughts.
To support family wellbeing, Atos held a virtual summer camp to entertain children and provide support for Atos parents and caregivers during the lockdown.
To support community/environmental wellbeing, we actively encourage our employees to participate in fundraising and volunteering activities, through paid time off for volunteering. Atos is also proud to have an internal Green Network which runs initiatives to enable employees to be more environmentally friendly through webinars, competitions, and our very own Green App to help colleagues reduce their environmental impact in a fun and collaborative way.
We are witnessing an integration of wellbeing efforts across all enterprise areas, including learning and development, diversity, equity and inclusion, corporate social responsibility, environment, health and safety, and facilities. When people are well, they can perform well.
What needs to be done and why?
Despite increased awareness, technology developments and small shifts in organizational culture (mainly in response to the pandemic), several challenges remain.
First and foremost, there is still a stigma associated with talking about mental health in the workplace. A survey conducted by Lyra Health shows that over a third of employees would feel uncomfortable talking to their managers or peers about mental health concerns. Moreover, although mental wellbeing is discussed more in the workplace now, just under half of employees surveyed (49%) indicated that this was the case. Both the stigma and the misdirected communications can be detrimental to any wellbeing strategy and can negatively impact the adoption of mental health tools or resources.
Second, although some cultural shifts have taken place, there is room for more change. Many organizations can implement support for wellbeing, but this will not negate the impacts of the working environment. A striking example is that working 11-hour days as opposed to 8-hour days increases the likelihood of having a major depressive episode by more than 2X for someone with no history of depression. Wellbeing must also be embedded into working practices for any interventions to work.
The final challenge lies in how we measure our impact. Research conducted by Great Place To Work showed that 52% of organizations had measures in place to support executives with stress, but only 26% had mechanisms to measure stress levels in the first place. Combined with Lyra Health’s findings that only 21% of HR leaders take clinical outcomes into consideration when it comes to the effectiveness of wellbeing programs, it appears that organizations are not only unable to effectively assess the impact of interventions, but are also unable to set meaningful targets.
What needs to be done?
To combat all these challenges and get wellbeing at work right, we need to fundamentally change the way we view wellbeing. Forward-thinking organizations should focus on the employee, empowering them with the right tools and skills suited to their unique needs.
It requires a cultural shift to think of wellbeing not as just a health benefit but as an all-encompassing experience for social good. This shift must be brought about by educating employees at every level of the organization that wellbeing is an important life skill. A workplace environment that prioritizes wellbeing will provide employees with exercises and tools to practice these skills every day as per their individual needs — and measure their improvement.
To create strong social bonds, we must use agile ways of reward and recognition, celebrating successes and encouraging peer-to-peer recognition. Encourage a culture of self-development where wellbeing is seen as an essential responsibility for all.
We must also select meaningful metrics to assess our progress towards creating a wellbeing environment, because we can only improve what we can measure. There must be a shift in thinking because humans are not productivity machines. The focus must change from increasing productivity and reducing absenteeism to measuring clinical outcomes and improving wellbeing skills.
A cultural shift is required at every level — and to be effective, this attitude change must be championed by leadership. Wellbeing should be a crucial part of the organization’s overall strategy. Managers and leaders should be trained to have conversations about wellbeing and actively encourage an environment of openness, safety and free of stigma.
The future of work and wellbeing is about moving beyond employee experience to a new horizon that is more about the overall life experience of employees. Some corporate leaders are thinking more progressively and looking beyond employee experience at how they can positively impact the lives of their employees at work and after hours. Forward-looking companies should view wellbeing as a force for social good, including social responsibility, inclusion, philanthropy, and volunteering in their wellbeing culture.
Across every industry, sustainably implementing a work environment conducive to wellbeing is undoubtedly a challenge. For those embarking on this journey or re-assessing their approach, the most successful strategies will recognize every individual’s technology, education and culture needs. In this way, we can create environments which actively encourage openness at every level of the organization, create shared responsibility and empower individuals.
Mini is an HR Strategist and a transformational leader with strong passion for building workforce solutions that are aligned with business outcomes. Armed with broad base knowledge across IT & ITES industry along with specialised human resource expertise, Mini has driven customized interventions for the success of the business. Digital enablement has been a focal aspect while driving huge ‘Workforce Transformation’ programs across the organization. She has institutionalized key and strategic programs on capability building by initiating Competency Framework, Performance Management programs among many others.
Mini is a multi-faceted professional and is currently providing overall people leadership for KPO business, HR Shared Services and Analytics at Atos Syntel. She is passionate about Workplace Inclusivity and Wellbeing. She leads the Diversity & Inclusion Charter for Atos Syntel in addition to leading the Wellbeing Essential Program at the Group level. Since then, she has driven a wide spectrum of initiatives to remove biases from workplace and create a culture of holistic wellbeing with a pursuit to integrate wellbeing of each employee into the larger business strategy.
Nasir is a Global Digital Workplace Consultant at Atos. With firm interests in business, technology and sustainability, he supports in programs to deliver operational excellence to our clients through the use of technology.
Passionate about wellbeing, diversity and inclusion, he is also a member of the Atos Together and Adapt Networks where he drives internal initiatives to enable dialogue across all levels of the company; he is a firm believer that creating a culture of togetherness is a key driver for business success.
 McKinsey, Diverse employees are struggling the most during COVID-19—here’s how companies can respond, November 17, 2020
 Statistics provided by the National Institute of Mental Health
 Ginger, Workforce Attitudes toward Mental Health
 CFO Magazine, You Run a Health-Care Business Whether You Like It or Not, November 7, 2017
 Harvard Business Review, We Need to Talk More About Mental Health at Work, November 1, 2018
 American Psychological Association, Employers are increasing support for mental health, January 1, 2021
 Josh Bersin Academy, 2021 Wellbeing Market and Trends
 Lyra Health, The State of Mental Health at Work in 2021
 Virtanen, Stansfeld, Fuhrer, Ferrie and Kivimäki, Overtime Work as a Predictor of Major Depressive Episode: A 5-Year Follow-Up of the Whitehall II Study, January 25, 2012
 Great Place to Work Institute, Stress & Wellbeing at Work: A European Outlook