Worker Well-Being Programs Growing In Importance, But Implementation Challenges Remain

Many workers are struggling with mental health issues, like burnout and isolation, brought about by the pandemic. A study by The Conference Board found that while organizations recognize the importance of a holistic wellness strategy in helping employees at all levels to better manage stress and feel engaged, many are struggling to build a fully integrated approach, with low program participation and limited resources cited as the top barriers to success.

The Conference Board’s research found that most businesses recognize well-being as a strategic priority, with buy-in from executive leadership. More than three-quarters of practitioners responsible for their organizations' wellness initiatives agree that holistic well-being is a strategic priority, two-thirds believe that executive leaders understand the importance of holistic well-being, and a little more than half believe they have a good understanding of their workers' well-being needs.

"The COVID-19 crisis accelerated the evolution of workplace well-being efforts. Organizations are now enhancing their offerings to support multiple aspects of well-being, beyond just mental and physical health; social connectedness and professional well-being are just as important," says Rebecca Ray, PhD, EVP, human capital at The Conference Board. "These businesses recognize that stress and burnout can take a toll on worker engagement, productivity and job satisfaction. There is a clear business case for fostering well-being initiatives of all types."

Mental and physical well-being are top priorities for both organizations and individual workers. Financial well-being—financial literacy, tuition support, etc.—ranked third on the list of organizational priorities but not as high among workers' concerns; social well-being ranked third for workers.

While most practitioners surveyed believe workers are aware of and seem comfortable using well-being programs, there is still room for improvement. Only about 40 percent of practitioners believe workers are "strongly aware" of programs and "very" or "completely" comfortable using them. More than half believe that workers are only somewhat or moderately aware of the programs that are available to them.

Low program participation and limited funding are the top barriers to a successful wellness strategy. Limited participation or uptake and limited resources or funding were cited by almost half of respondents, and the lack of integrated wellness strategy was cited as a barrier by one third.

"Heavy workloads and time constraints pose major barriers to using well-being programs—more so than other factors," says Laura Sabattini, PhD, principal researcher, human capital at The Conference Board. "Implementing a successful wellness strategy starts with looking at your work culture. Are there communications, policies and practices that might reduce workers' ability to engage with these initiatives or lead to burnout? Are senior leaders and managers modeling healthy behaviors? For any holistic well-being strategy to succeed, companies must nurture a work culture that supports and values these healthy behaviors."

According to the U.S. workers surveyed, their participation in well-being offerings, including those to support mental health and well-being, stalled or decreased during the pandemic, although usage of online tools and participation in social activities increased.

"These variations highlight the importance of crafting and implementing more customizable solutions to meet the needs of different businesses, departments and workers," adds Sabattini. "Providing a wide range of offerings and using surveys and other data to understand the specific needs of your workforce will help to address the urgent challenges workers face."

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