To Stem Well-Being Decline, Focus Turns to Action and Accountability
Workspan Daily
June 30, 2023
Key Takeaways

  • Well-being has worsened across the board. Most employees say their well-being either worsened or stayed the same last year, according to a new survey of employees, managers and C-suite leaders by Deloitte and Workplace Intelligence, 
  • A disconnect exists. More than 3 of 4 executives inaccurately believe that their workforce’s well-being improved, illustrating that leaders don’t have a firm grasp on how their employees are really doing. 
  • A turning point on accountability has arrived. Wider metrics and public reporting are gaining ground as necessary moves to spark well-being change. 

When it comes to boosting employee well-being, employers have their hearts in the right place. Unfortunately, the efforts to get it done are falling short, according to a new report.

Advancing Workforce Well-being”, a March 2023 survey by Deloitte and Workplace Intelligence, found that employee well-being has worsened across almost all dimensions. Less than two-thirds of 3,150 employees, managers and C-level executives across the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia rated their physical and mental well-being as excellent or good (63% and 58%, respectively), and an even lower percentage rated their social (45%) and financial (35%) well-being positively. 

What’s more, in an effort to improve declining well-being, 85% of C-suite respondents said companies should be required to publicly report their workforce well-being metrics — but only around 50% are doing it. 

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According to Jen Fisher, Deloitte’s U.S. chief well-being officer, a path forward for employers will likely require a strong focus on delivering immediate impact but ultimately should shift toward a more long-term view — one that prioritizes people over profits.  

“With employee well-being worsening, it’s clear that organizations may be at a turning point right now,” Fisher said. “If they don’t act, workforce well-being may continue to decline, which could have a negative impact on retention for employees, managers and executives.” 

Some key findings from the report include: 

Workforce well-being is declining, but, in general employees feel that some executives don’t recognize this. Most employees feel their health worsened or stayed the same last year — only around one-third say their health improved. However, more than 3 in 4 C-suite leaders believe their workforce’s health improved. 

For some employees, work remains an obstacle to well-being. Eight in 10 respondents are struggling to improve their well-being, with a heavy workload and stressful job topping the list of obstacles they face. The result is that compared to last year, an even greater number of people — 60% of employees, 64% of managers and 75% of the C-suite — say they’re seriously considering quitting for a job that would better support their well-being. 

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Managers can play a pivotal role in employee well-being, but they’re lacking organizational support. Seven in 10 managers say obstacles like rigid company policies, a heavy workload and an unsupportive workplace culture prevent them from doing more to support their team members. Only 42% feel completely empowered to help their company achieve its well-being commitments. 

“Leaders should increase their support for their managers, and they also should hold themselves and their organizations more accountable,” she said. 

“Leaders should be immensely concerned that work continues to be the primary reason why people are both physically and mentally unwell,” added Dan Schawbel, managing partner at Workplace Intelligence, an independent research firm.  

“Employees need to be able to take time off and disconnect, and they shouldn’t be in a constant state of stress and exhaustion due to their jobs. Work can and should be compatible with well-being — and it’s up to leaders to deliver on that promise.” 

The Metrics Challenge 

According to Fisher, the main challenge with measurement is that it’s hard to know whether worker well-being — actual well-being, not just employers’ investment in it — is high or low.  

“Well-being metrics don’t have to be based wholly on self-reporting, though self-reported data would likely be a crucial input,” she said. “Along with gauging workforce sentiment with surveys and interviews, organizations can measure observable proxies that assess well-being in an empirical way.” 

Fisher cited the example of organizations possibly tracking the percentage of workers who use their entire time-off benefit, the amount of overtime people put in, or the volume of work-related emails sent on weekends. She explained that attrition rates also could shed light on the quality of workers’ relationships with their supervisors.  

“Organizations operating in company-provided facilities can use frameworks such as the WELL Building Standard to gauge workers’ likely physical well-being at work,” she said, adding that employers also could analyze insurance claims to understand whether workers are seeking more or less medical attention over time. Combining metrics like these with explorations of workers’ lived experience, Fisher explained, could likely help leaders develop a “nuanced, actionable understanding” of well-being across the organization. 

The Accountability Push 

Fisher asserted that publicly reporting well-being metrics or making public commitments to well-being goals are two ways to hold organizations accountable. And, as the survey indicates, leaders agree that they should be held directly accountable for the health of their people.”  

Nearly three-quarters (72%) of executives went so far as to say they believe executives’ bonuses should be tied to workforce well-being metrics.  

“These strategies not only help to make organizations more accountable, but it also moves well-being to the top of executives’ priorities and makes them personally invested in creating positive change.” Fisher said. 

She emphasizes the importance of human sustainability, not only in making a significant impact on workforce well-being, but also considering the well-being of society as a whole.  

“Investments in well-being programs and benefits often fall short because they don’t address the underlying, deep-rooted issues that are creating problems in the first place,” Fisher concluded. “When leaders shift their mindset from ‘nice to have perks’ to long-term human sustainability, they are better positioned to create the systematic environment that is necessary to address well-being issues and make real, impactful change.” 

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