Traditional approaches to wellbeing focus on the physical aspect of wellbeing—often integrating wellbeing programs with health plans and biometric screenings. Most organizations want employees to feel better physically and reduce insurance costs. We agree—physical wellbeing is important. However, organizations have an opportunity to make a substantial impact on workplace culture by expanding programs to address emotional and social wellness. What many employees are missing are connections to other people. Facilitating strong bonds with other employees not only benefits the organization in increased engagement and information sharing, but it also benefits the employees. It helps them to belong, feel uplifted, and become more likely to make an impact.
WELLBEING INDEX 2019
Organizations can no longer define wellbeing as simply the physical or financial status of an employee. Initiatives must encompass social and emotional dimensions to truly prioritize individual wellness. We measure Wellbeing using five critical components: employees feel prioritized within the organization, there is a balance between work life and personal life, work does not negatively impact one’s physical health, a sense of belonging, and that work does not hurt an employee’s ability to be happy in their life.
The World Health Organization calls stress “the health epidemic of our time.” Virgin Pulse reports that more than 80% of workers report feeling stressed, adding up to $300 billion annually in lost productivity. People who are stressed at work are 26% more likely to leave and 8.2% less productive.1
Workplace stress also leads to 50% greater healthcare costs, 50% more voluntary turnover, and 60% more errors at work. In addition 60-80% of workplace accidents are attributed to stress, as well as more than 80% of doctor visits. Fifty million workdays are lost each year due to stress on the job.2 Current workplace culture is hurting employees’ ability to be engaged, be their authentic selves, and be happy and fulfilled in other areas of their lives.
While employees appreciate company support for their physical wellness, our study found only 14% believe their workplace prioritizes emotional wellbeing and only 9% of employees believe their organization cares about their social wellbeing. Holistic wellbeing means caring for the employee as a whole—their physical but also social and emotional wellbeing. Virgin Pulse finds that 65% of companies with strategic, holistic wellbeing programs saw improvements in their company cultures.3
The Rise of Tech and Fall of Connection
We now know that the rise of technology initially created to connect us has, in fact, made us more disconnected. This has resulted in higher levels of loneliness and isolation, and contributes to alarming levels of depression, stress, and negativity.4 Loneliness isn’t just unpleasant, but can also lead to decreased motor functions, coronary artery disease, and even an untimely death.5 True wellbeing requires positive human connections, at home and in the workplace.
And it’s not just about physical connection. Wellbeing is also about feeling connected to your peers and the organization. Feeling like you belong. Only 54% of respondents to our study say their organization has an inclusive culture. Yet an inclusive culture brings out the most authentic, passionate, best version of your employees. According to our research, 72% of employees in an inclusive culture believe they can be their authentic selves, and only 46% of employees in a non-inclusive culture believe the same.
53% of employees are forced to respond to work inquiries during personal time, and 38% can’t stop thinking about work when they’re not at work.
RECOMMENDATIONS & IMPACT
A Healthier State of Wellbeing
Harvard Business Review found6 that a positive culture is what affects wellbeing at work the most. Their study showed four factors could build the kind of positivity that supports workplace wellness: fostering social connections, showing empathy, going out of your way to help, and encouraging people to talk to you. In other words, creating a culture that has real, meaningful connection.
“Wellbeing comes from one place, and one place only: a positive culture.”
—EMMA SEPPALA AND KIM CAMERON, HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW
Focus on the bigger picture of wellbeing
We recommend moving beyond just physical fitness to improve employees’ emotional and social wellbeing. Employees have a strong desire to better connect with themselves, the people around them, and the world as a whole. Encourage volunteerism to connect with the community. Foster friendships and fun at work.
Focusing on a holistic version of wellbeing and creating greater social connections helps employees bring their best selves to work. They will be more prepared to handle the challenges of their jobs and find new ways of doing things. They will feel healthier and happier at work, contributing to the positive culture companies are trying to build.
When social and emotional wellbeing are prioritized:
increased odds of scoring above the global wellbeing benchmark
more likely to feel less stress than average
Work-life balance is an important contributor towards overall wellbeing. Our research shows for every increase in feeling they “frequently miss important things because of work”, employees are 26% less likely to feel their organization prioritizes social wellbeing.
Inclusion doesn’t just mean diversity. It’s also more than a policy. Inclusion is helping employees feel they can be their authentic selves. It’s taking steps to positively affect day-to-day employee experiences. It’s making people feel like they belong and are a valuable part of your organization. Inclusion goes beyond tactical programs to a general sense of social connectedness and emotional wellness, regardless of a person’s race, gender, age, or background.
Inclusive workplace cultures allow employees from all walks of life to feel socially and emotionally well. They allow employees to create deep social connections with one another, be themselves at work, and bring their best to work. So organizations must foster a workplace culture where employees can thrive.
Our research shows that when an organization’s culture is inclusive, employees are:
68% more likely to believe they can be their authentic self at work
85% more likely to agree their team knows the “real me”
68% more likely to take time to get to know colleagues personally
141% more likely to feel a sense of belonging
117% more likely to feel enriched by the people they work with
Prioritize connection and work/life integration
Make your workplace one that’s filled with camaraderie and friendship. Encourage in-person communication and interactions. Provide opportunities for employees to get together during office hours. Employees who have a best friend at work are more engaged and happy.
Organizations should allow flexibility in when, where and how employees do their work. Providing technology and establishing policies that allow the employee to decide to what degree they want to integrate their work and personal lives can lead to a feeling of wellbeing and control over their lives. This is especially true for younger generations and working parents.
We found when employees feel forced to respond to work-related issues while away from work, they are:
34% more likely to leave the organization
112% more likely to believe their job has an adverse effect on their physical health
115% more likely to believe their situation at work is hurting their ability to be happy in other aspects of their life.
When employees have control over integration between their work and personal lives, we see:
53% increase in satisfaction with employee wellbeing at their organization
30% less stress at work
Over 3 times less likely to believe they frequently miss important things because of work obligations
Reimagine your space
Workspaces that allow for a variety of work styles help employees be productive depending on their current work—and can be significant drivers of creativity, collaboration, and innovation. Offer spaces with tools like whiteboards and shared screens to collaborate. Provide communal spaces to build camaraderie and impromptu conversations before and after meetings. Give employees personal space if they need to focus or want to have one-on-one conversations. Overall, provide a workplace environment where employees can share, build relationships, and connect.
When an organization’s workspace enables interaction with colleagues, our research shows employees are:
84% more likely to have a close friend at work
92% more likely to feel optimistic about the future
42% more likely to trust team members
109% more likely to have a sense of fulfillment from their work
28% increase in a sense of wellbeing
The Appreciation/Wellbeing Connection
It’s worth noting there is a unique relationship between wellbeing and appreciation when it comes to employee retention. We found in our study organizations that have leaders who foster a sense of wellbeing and appreciation also have employees who were 38% less likely to leave.
“The people I’ve met at work have become like my friends and family. That’s my social network and my social strength. If I have a bad night or something happens in my life, I’m usually talking to my coworkers about it. That means a lot to me.”
—FEMALE FOCUS GROUP PARTICIPANT, TORONTO
By combining wellbeing and recognition efforts, companies create more positive, peak employee experiences. They build a culture that focuses on employees’ overall sense of self. They show the organization cares about its people, not just as a means of production, but as a valued member of the world, which makes employees want to stay for the long haul. A place where employees can be authentic is a place where they can genuinely thrive at work.
When employees experience recognition, either by receiving or giving recognition, they felt an 8.8% increase in their wellbeing.9 Effective recognition also yields a:
29% increase in the feeling of work/life balance
33% increase in a sense of belonging
27% increase in overall self-rated health
Focus on the bigger picture.
Make wellbeing inclusive.
Build connections and work/life integration.
Reimagine your space.
1. “Taking Action against Workplace Stress”, Virgin Pulse.
2. Jason Rentfrow, “Happiness and Physical Activity”, University of Cambridge, Jan 13, 2017.
3. State of the Industry, Virgin Pulse, 2017.
4. Jean Twenge, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?”, The Atlantic, Sept 2017.
5. Cigna, “New Cigna Study Reveals Loneliness at Epidemic Levels in America”, May 1, 2018.
6. Emma Seppela and Kim Cameron, “Proof that Positive Work Cultures are More Productive”, Harvard Business Review, Dec 1, 2015.
7. Sujan Patel, “10 Examples of Companies with Fantastic Cultures”, Entrepreneur, Aug 6, 2015.
8. Eva Hagberg, “Airbnb’s San Francisco HQ Embodies a New Spatial Blurring”, Metropolis, Dec 2, 2013.
9. “Creating a holistic workplace culture through wellbeing and recognition”, O.C. Tanner, Aug 2018.
Loneliness seems to be generational. While older generations are in no way immune to feeling isolated, Gen Z and Millennials are feeling considerably more isolated than Baby Boomers and Generation X.
Chevron’s employees love their company culture because of the Chevron Way, a culture dedicated to safety and encouraging team members to look out for each other. While Chevron does provide on-site health and fitness centers, they also insist employees take regular breaks and communicate regularly how much they care about the wellbeing of their employees.7
CASE STUDY—WELLBEING AT CHEVRON
Airbnb created a working environment inspired by their actual listings. Conference rooms are designed to look like actual Airbnb homes, whether it’s a log cabin, a modern dining room, or an Airstream trailer. Employees can work wherever they want, and employees are encouraged to change their desks every day so they can meet new people and collaborate. They hang pictures of actual customers and homeowners in the halls, and feature work by rotating local artists. The company has no official Presidents, so anyone can use the restored 1918 President’s office. It’s a workspace that fosters collaboration, innovation, and wellbeing and helps employees live the company’s purpose— to help people belong anywhere.8
CASE STUDY—WELLBEING AT AIRBNB