Have you ever tried to run with a rock in your shoe? At first, you tell yourself you can keep going—it’s a small rock, after all, and you’re in the zone. Sooner or later, though, what was a small rock causing mild discomfort will cause real pain. You have no choice but to stop and remove it, breaking your focus and halting your momentum. But now that the rock is gone, you can get back in step and finish the mile, pain-free.
You can’t perform your best if you don’t feel your best—something any athlete knows very well. Of course, the same is true in the workplace. And while most employers offer sick leave and health insurance—both of which are very important—these benefits address just part of a person’s well-being. Organizations that take an interest in employee wellness derive benefits beyond lower healthcare premiums—they actually help to increase productivity, heighten morale, and create a happier, more engaging workplace.
We’ve seen time and time again the positive outcomes of organizations’ putting people first. According to Gallup’s latest State of the American Workplace report, business units that score in the top quartile of their organization in employee engagement experience 20% higher sales and 21% greater profitability. In short, the bottom-line benefits of engaged and healthy employees can’t be ignored.
Unfortunately, though, the current state of employee well-being around the world is cause for concern. My company recently surveyed 3,600 employees globally, and over half (52%) said their organization cares more about productivity than its people. Perhaps even more troubling are the 36% who said their job has a negative effect on their physical health.
An organization’s leadership should keep a pulse on employee well-being across all departments. But, according to our survey findings, people in certain workplace categories are more likely to report a negative impact on their physical and emotional health:
Customer service is a tough job. These professionals must remain level-headed no matter the circumstance, even when an angry customer is fuming for reasons out of the employees’ control. Some customer service teams, particularly those that function as a “call center,” are held accountable for the average time it takes to resolve a customer’s problem. Given the intense environment, it makes sense that employees in this role are more likely to report negative effects on their health. According to our survey, 40% of employees working in a customer service role agreed their job negatively impacts their health.
Those managing a customer service team should remain keenly aware of employee well-being—including physical, emotional, and social wellness—or face the revolving door of staff changes. Smart leaders should schedule regular one-on-one time to recognize accomplishments and discuss challenges and concerns facing each employee. Encouraging active breaks, like 5-minute walks around campus or a quick stretch between calls, is a simple way to help employees feel in control of their day and less overwhelmed by angry customers. Additionally, supporting teambuilding activities—such as catching lunch with a coworker or sending a personal note to a colleague recognizing a job well done—can work wonders for promoting a healthy workplace culture.
Of survey respondents who agreed their job has a negative effect on their physical well-being, executives ranked far higher than any other level of employee—at 50%. This isn’t too surprising—top-level leaders carry a lot of responsibility, tasked with defining and driving an organization’s big-picture initiatives that keep people employed.
The principles for improving employee well-being are the same, regardless of leadership level. C-suite executives benefit from taking adequate breaks during the workday and disconnecting during personal time just as much as a frontline manager or junior associate. The differentiator here is reporting to a manager of some kind who is responsible for making employee well-being a priority. It often falls on the shoulders of the executive to keep his or her own well-being in check, and that can be difficult to do. Often, C-suite leaders have trouble modeling what they preach; just as they encourage their employees to maintain a work/life balance and identify with things outside of their job, executives need to do so as well.
There is a lot of negative—and often misguided—commentary surrounding the Millennial workforce. Before jumping on the Millennial “blame train,” consider this: 39% of Millennial survey respondents said their job has a negative impact on their physical well-being. Compare this to 36% of Gen Xers and 32% of Baby Boomers who feel the same way, and the disparity is significantly less dramatic. It’s true Millennials are a driving force of the changing world of work, challenging traditional philosophies behind the role a job plays in a person’s life. But, is that a bad thing? As organizations implement practices to improve employee well-being, who’s to say older generations don’t benefit as well?
It’s also not just unhappy employees who report negative physical effects. Of those satisfied with their current job, 32% say it still has a negative impact on their health. What’s more, among employees who feel their organization positively influences the lives of others, one in three says his or her job has a negative effect on his or her physical health.
You may ask, “What’s the point if even the happy employees are taking a hit? Should we just expect a certain level of negative impact?” Of course not. Like a runner who stops to remove a pesky rock, organizations that take a proactive approach are much more likely to avoid pain down the road. Leadership should never underestimate the role it plays in the wellness of its employees. Formal well-being programs—those with a clear strategy that truly resonates—communicate to employees that their organization values their health as much as their individual talents.
According to our findings, companies that implement well-being programs experience a 17% increase in new ideas and innovation from employees and a 14% increase in employees’ overall feeling of well-being. Additionally, employees are also more likely to make their physical health a priority, with a 20% increase in employees who see a doctor for a general checkup and a 13% increase in those who see a doctor when they are ill.
Companies that care for the whole employee see increased well-being in their people and, in turn, a positive impact on the bottom line, retention, and other areas. With a program in place, organizations can make a difference and in doing so will reap the benefits of an engaged workforce.