How To Improve Wellness In The WorkplaceAdd bookmark
Since the pandemic began, mental health and wellness have come to the forefront as feelings of isolation increased and social interactions dwindled. Employers made it a priority to include initiatives that address the overall wellbeing of their employees. However, with a year behind us, some of these solutions aren’t cutting it and employees are still feeling high levels of burnout.
Investment banking firm Goldman Sachs recently came under fire after a group of analysts created a presentation seeking a reduction in their 100+ hour workweek. Although this schedule is not unheard of in the banking industry, it’s allegedly causing a severe deterioration in employees’ physical and mental wellbeing -- with one analyst noting that they barely had time to eat or make space for anything in their schedule besides work during most of their waking hours.
This is obviously alarming, but it’s even more so during a time when mental health is driving business models. And while the banking industry, and its history of extensive hours and a culture of ‘putting in the work’, is an intense example, it uncovers some of the issues we’re currently seeing in wellness solutions as a replacement for real cultural change.
One of the most common themes of wellness in the workplace is its emphasis on open communication and discourse. When addressing the analyst feedback, Goldman’s Head of Corporate Communications Nicole Sharp stated that the firm is pleased to have built a culture that allows employees to share their ideas and concerns with management. Additionally, she noted that they are continuing to focus on active dialogue in addressing future concerns. And while this all sounds great, is reactive dialogue enough?
When creating a space that fosters open communication, we typically focus on reactive dialogue. Because of this, we can begin to frame responses as an apology rather than focusing on the real issue at hand. To be successful, communication must be both open and genuine, meaningful conversations will focus on finding solutions for change not act as a reaction to the past.
Additionally, sometimes this standard of open communication may not actually be utilized if employees think it will reflect on their performance or character. Therefore, focusing on addressing individual concerns rather than pushing a culture of true openness can be better suited to some employees.
Perks Shouldn’t Replace Culture
While we saw a pause in over-the-top workplace perks like in-office baristas and unlimited organic snacks, many companies shifted their focus to include wellness perks like mindfulness workshops, yoga classes, and virtual therapy sessions. Investment banking firm Jeffries is even offering their junior staff a Peloton bike and year-long subscription as a thank you for their hard work throughout the pandemic.
And while these efforts don’t hurt, at times they simply act as a bandaid for deeper cultural issues within the workplace. BBC’s latest article on workplace happiness notes that it’s not as straightforward as simply receiving benefits or perks and then instantly seeing improvements in mental health.
Research continually emphasizes the fact that personal spending on experiences rather than material items fosters much higher levels of happiness and overall satisfaction. Therefore, taking steps to improve the employee experience through training, development, and productive support will likely correlate with improvements in wellbeing. Implementing a culture that allows for opportunity and provides adequate resources and training for every employee will see much greater improvements than one that focuses on lavish gifts.
Support Should Be Accessible
Another notable problem with the implementation of wellness benefits is their relative accessibility. A recent study on mental health found a major disparity between the level of access and awareness of mental health resources for upper management versus lower-tier workers. 70% of managers reported using their company’s mental health resources, as compared to only 31% of their lower-tiered counterparts. Additionally, many of these lower-tier workers were not even aware that insurance actually covered the cost of these services.
The research concluded that the main reason is not just a lack of awareness, but a concern about their employer’s overall impression of them and even worse -- that they may actually lose their job because of it. This is particularly alarming; if employees are actually more anxious about accessing these helpful benefits there is clearly a deeper issue in workplace culture.
This research indicates that comfort around discussing and accessing mental health resources still has a long way to go. Employees need to feel encouraged to utilize support when needed, not avoid it in fear of losing their job.