Microsoft XC Research

Microsoft XC Research

Employee wellbeing: The new bellwether of corporate success?

July 20, 2021

By Michele McDanel 

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Image credit: Istock

Some of my colleagues recently examined the way that our extended remote work timeline had affected the workplace, and how companies were adapting. The pressures of extended remote work fundamentally changed how we work and blurred the lines between work and home. Working remotely, combined with taking on childcare responsibilities or helping children with schoolwork, brought the pain points and stressors of the workforce to the forefront of decision makers’ consciousness. Along with those shifts came increased interest in how to enhance well-being, collaboration, and overall productivity experiences for employees. 

For the purposes of this blog, I am defining wellbeing as more than just the absence of illness. It is about optimizing the holistic health of all employees from a physical and emotional standpoint, and the elements that impact it. Experts have condoned expanding the concept of wellness this way, to include the total employee and not just the employee’s health, for some time. This is because issues such as financial worries and job stress can adversely affect an individual’s health as well as job performance. Moving to wellbeing, a more holistic concept, helps companies to evolve their cultures to promote a healthier, more productive, engaged and highly functioning workforce.  

Today’s wellbeing approaches 

With the holistic picture in mind, many companies are providing comprehensive wellness programs that include offerings and programs to support employees’ wellbeing across a variety of areas, some of which are more traditional (such as weight loss), and others that are newer offerings on the menu, such as sleep management: 

Stress management – A stress management program can include resources pointing employees to mediation or yoga classes, mindfulness exercises, and so on. In addition, training employees to recognize the signs of stress and burnout in themselves and team members can be an important early intervention tool to prevent more serious issues. Employees might be able to receive reimbursements for supplies such as a journal, massage sessions, or counseling. 

Healthy eating – Particularly during remote work, employees have reported snacking too much or on unhealthy options. A healthy eating program can help people get back on track with better options, tracking calories, and/or nutritional information. Reimbursements for nutritional supplements or a tracking app might be included.  

Exercise – With gyms closed, many employees lost the key place for remaining active. An exercise program can encourage people to go for walks or runs outdoors, conduct “walking meetings,” and might provide reimbursement for home exercise equipment, workout wear, a fitness tracker, or shoes.  

Sleep management — Poor sleep can affect both physical and mental health by suppressing the body’s immune system, yet many people are reporting poor sleep in the past year. Sleep management programs can help employees connect with sleep experts to get the help they need to get back to healthy sleep habits. Employees might be able to get reimbursement for sleep support tools such as weighted blankets, supportive pillows, or a white noise machine.  

Weight management – This has been an offering in wellbeing programs traditionally but is still needed in light of the weight gain many employees have reported due to unhealthy habits. There are also new programs and approaches that weren’t available in years past, including integrated behavioral/ nutrition / exercise programs for healthy, sustainable weight loss.  

Healthy meetings – Online meeting fatigue is a very real phenomenon. To address this, a healthy meetings program might encourage people to schedule 25- and 50-minute meetings instead of 30 or 60 minutes, to give people a chance to stretch or take a break between calls. Some teams have implemented one day a week that’s meeting free, and employees are responding positively to these changes. 

Turning the post-pandemic page 

A healthy workplace culture that emphasizes wellbeing isn’t just a passing phase. Leaders understand that improving workplace culture is a smart long-term investment in employees. Newer generations joining the workforce are driving a fundamental shift in expectations among all employees around topics including wellbeing, flexible schedules, diversity, and inclusion. Focusing on wellbeing helps people become happier, healthier, and more productive, which are all important. And, when done well, wellbeing programs can also be a recruiting and retention tool.  

The combined threats we have experienced in the past 18 months have been devastating. While illness – the COVID-19 pandemic – was the top-of-mind topic, so much lurked under the surface to challenge wellbeing, from strained relationships to financial difficulties.

But while this past period has been a difficult and painful episode in the evolution of work, there’s real hope for the future. The silver lining is that, instead of focusing on how work should be done, we’re now focusing on people and what they need to be happy and productive. It should be a win-win for both employees and companies in the workplace of the future. 

What do you think? What does your workplace do to enhance wellbeing and what could it do better?  How did the COVID-19 pandemic change your view of wellbeing? Tweet us your thoughts at @MicrosoftRI or follow us on Facebook and join the conversation.

Michele McDanel is a builder, an organizer, and a storyteller with a bachelor’s degree in Communications and an MBA. She is energized by solving problems and meeting business needs through communications and customer experience solutions that raise the bar. Michele enjoys building relationships and managing teams; and overall, just figuring out what the “special sauce” is that will be the competitive differentiator for a business and its solutions. She joined the Customer Insights Research team in 2019 to amplify the great UX research and data science work they do, and to showcase the thought leadership of the team across internal and external communications, events, and social media.