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COVID-19 has uprooted millions of lives worldwide. With the majority of office workers now isolated at home with their families, many are anxious about juggling their personal and professional responsibilities during the lockdown. Workers are also concerned about their health and how this pandemic may affect their financial well-being.

Good business leaders know that employee well-being is vital to business success, especially at a time like this. Even so, implementing the best well-being supports — and evaluating their success — is no easy task.

Employees Want Well-Being Supports

In recent years, there has been a monumental shift in how employers view investing in health and well-being programs. What may have once been seen as a perk is now increasingly viewed as a necessity. Environmental, social, and governance reporting has also shone a spotlight on how good corporate governance procedures correlate with high corporate financial performance. For many, employee health and well-being are the new barometers for success.

At Morneau Shepell, we conducted a survey of 8,000 workers in the US, the UK, and Canada to better understand global workplace perspectives on mental health. According to our survey, employees expect a certain level of support and are willing to change organizations to get it: 77 percent of respondents would consider leaving their employers for a job that pays the same but offers better well-being support. Sixty percent of respondents even said they’d take a pay cut for better care.

These results are not necessarily surprising when one considers how the line between the personal and the professional has blurred over the years. Many employees now look not only for a decent salary, but also for a company that shares their core values, has a healthy office culture, and treats individual employees as valuable contributors.

Mental Health Is a Critical Component of Any Wellness Program

While gym memberships and other physical fitness benefits are important components of any wellness program, mental health support is equally crucial.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, depression is the leading cause of disability for Americans aged 15-44. Meanwhile, our survey found that workplace stress is increasing for a significant number of workers: 45 percent of respondents said their mental demands at work had increased over the last 18-24 months, while 22 percent indicated work was their primary source of “extreme mental stress.” Given that happier, more satisfied employees are more productive, it’s not hard to see why supporting employee mental health is in a company’s best cultural and financial interests.

It’s also important to include financial well-being under the mental health umbrella, as employees struggling with financial stressors often see their workplace performance dip. For example, 36 percent of respondents to our survey said financial concerns negatively impact their productivity, while 24 percent said financial concerns have caused them to miss work.

Establishing a comprehensive well-being program that supports employees’ physical, mental, and financial health is one of the most impactful decisions a business leader can make, but it’s important to invest wisely. Most organizations have established basic “safety net” well-being supports to help those employees who are feeling particularly precarious. However, it is now possible — and advisable — to widen the net of support to the entire workforce.

Through digital technology, especially mobile apps, employers can offer wellness programs that consistently engage all employees in positive ways, like encouraging healthy habits, offering access to key benefits, and providing advice and support whenever and wherever needed. By offering support to all employees at all times, these digital-first wellness programs can mitigate issues before they become major crises.

How to Measure Well-Being in Your Organization

Implementing a comprehensive wellness program is only half the battle. For any program to fully succeed, you also need a way to consistently evaluate its performance. However, many organizations struggle to identify and track the appropriate metrics. That’s understandable, as many well-being programs available today lack the appropriate tools.

That said, organizations can make up for that lack by following a few simple steps:

1. Define the Program’s Objectives

What specific purpose do you want your well-being program to achieve? This will largely depend on your organization’s unique aims, but try to think in terms of concrete outcomes rather than something generic like “improve employee well-being.”

Toward that end, it’s helpful to consider participation as an important factor in wellness program efficiency. If you have a program in place already, look at how many employees actively use it. Get granular with the data: Which aspects of your program see the most utilization? Which aspects could use some improvement?

2. Audit Your Current Support Structures

What kind of support do you currently offer? What kinds of supports should you start offering?

The most impactful solutions aim to take care of the whole individual by offering mental, physical, social, and financial support. Progressive firms also offer a “continuum of care,” meaning they provide help and guidance for all employees, not just those in crisis.

3. Evaluate Support Performance

Track whether your program is reaching its stated objective. If your aim is to decrease absences, track absences. If you want to boost retention, track retention. Whatever outcome you’re aiming for, evaluate how well your program is delivering on that outcome.

In addition to tracking hard data, it’s important to periodically survey employees about their perceptions of your wellness program. Check in with staff on a regular basis to determine whether they are aware of the support available, whether they have been accessing it, and whether they find it effective.

4. Investigate the Impact

Once you have established participation and perception, you need to investigate the impact your program is actually having on people’s lives. Is it reducing stress? Is it improving physical activity? Is it encouraging a better work environment through better communication and collaboration? By establishing certain key performance indicators, you can see how your employees are being affected by your wellness program — and how your program could be improved to deliver stronger results.

The ROI of Wellness

For many employers, improving people’s lives for the better is a valid enough reason to invest in a wellness program. However, it’s also important to note the significant positive impact a wellness program can have on business performance.

Some organizations still see well-being programs as a bottom-line cost, but studies have shown that good employee support can actually cut costs. According to a Deloitte analysis, businesses can expect a return of roughly $6 for every $1 spent on employee wellness, in terms of reduced absenteeism, presenteeism, and turnover.

Well-being programs have been shown to improve employee engagement, bolster company culture, and encourage collaboration across teams. They can also help you attract and retain key talent.

In short, work just works better when you invest in employees.

Paula Allen is the senior vice president of research, analytics, and innovation for Morneau Shepell.

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