In challenging times, we contract. We see this in nature as a tree sheds its leaves each autumn to stay alive, but we also can see this in our own socio-political and economic behavior.
This unprecedented time of the pandemic is no different. Within weeks of COVID-19 taking hold of the US, organizations declared reductions in expenses, modified human resource plans, and cut back on diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives, including well-being programming.
Here’s the thing: Cutting back on ways to support your people may be saving you now, but it’s going to hurt your business in the long run. Guaranteed.
Business leaders are in a time where stepping-up for their people isn’t an option; it’s needed for the survival of their business. Now more than ever, employees are more isolated, disconnected, distracted, confused, uncertain, and overwhelmed. Although this is all more apparent in the time of COVID-19, this is not new. Scholars and mental health professionals have cited the correlation between elevated rates of depression and high-stress environments.
“As an organization, there’s many reasons why it’s important to invest in well-being,” said Robin Belleau, director of Well-Being at Kirkland & Ellis. “For starters, it’s the right thing to do.” Indeed, as leaders, you’re being called to immediate action that not only serves your organization, but also your employees.
A focus on well-being does matter
“A well-being strategy is a talent strategy,” noted Diane Costigan, director of Coaching & Well-Being at Winston & Strawn. “Without it, you’re putting everyone [yourself, your team, and your entire organization] at a significant disadvantage.”
Many studies have shown that overall well-being for tax and legal professionals is lower than the average American, especially as it relates to substance abuse, depression, and other physical and mental health challenges. In 2018, the American Bar Association responded with their Well-being Pledge as a call for to firms to acknowledge and address these industry-specific personnel challenges. Although the campaign has produced positive results, there is still a long way to go.
To reach continued levels of success, the industry calls for well-defined strategies that address short-term profitability alongside long-term sustainability. Although the onus is on practice leaders to support the overall well-being of their employees, there is no panacea that cures all. Leadership must prioritize different facets of well-being — physical, mental, emotional, and financial — that have meaning to the entire culture.
“You want to provide your clients with your best team out there, and if they can’t be the best because of wellness, then that’s a problem,” said Belleau. As you devise a plan that benefits your workforce, below are a few important considerations for building a unique well-being strategy. These are not the only considerations, but ones that can help you differentiate against your peers.
Don’t skimp on vacation
Based on a study by the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979, for every 10 additional days of paid vacation, depression in women decreased 29%. Per the research, “a hypothetical increase in the average number of days could avoid an estimated 568,442 cases of depression in women each year and lead to a cost savings of $2.94 billion annually.” That is nearly the same as the annual cost of burnout paid by organizations, estimated to be $300 billion.
As a leader, you not only need to encourage a supportive leave policy where employees can truly disconnect, but also follow that same guidance for yourself. Working in a high-stress environment can make long vacations seem impossible, but there is also a benefit to shorter vacations (at least four nights). Based on a study of middle managers, any kind of short-term vacation, whether at home or elsewhere, has positive and immediate effects on stress, recovery, strain, and well-being.
Rethink how you evaluate your employees
In tax, law and other similar professional service industries, humans are an organization’s greatest asset, but they’re often treated like expendable objects. This way of being goes against the morals of corporate social stewardship.
What if we measured people, not only by billable hours or ability to meet a deadline, but also by how often they were able to go to the gym or the number of steps clocked on their Fitbit? Or days volunteering with charities, such as Habitat for Humanity?
How we evaluate employees should go beyond the standard evaluation. Consider metrics that track workplace responsibilities, personal well-being, and community impact. This is an innovative idea in human capital sustainability, but one that could have incredible returns via engaged employees, decreased risk management, and overall positive impact. Redefining the status quo takes a dedicated, people-focused leadership, but it’s possible.
In fact, if you can obtain favorable buy-in from your employees, almost anything is possible, explained Costigan. “Once positive initiatives take root, they grow” for the growth of your organization, she added.
Invest in empowered trainings, support & programming
Leaders should consider metrics where everyone can thrive — this solution could help your business earn higher profits by reducing employee costs, for example. (When devising your strategy, however, be sure to consider other well-being metrics beyond only physical health.)
Wellness programming has become more popular, and for good reason. Comprehensively designed well-being programs benefits organizations and improves employee outcomes. According to a large-scale review of 42 published studies, well-being programs led to an average 28% reduction in sick days and an average 26% reduction in healthcare costs. Companies that invest in well-being trainings not only lessen their overall healthcare costs, however, they also have healthier employees and improved productivity.
On the other hand, organizations that choose a reactive healthcare approach pay for costs as they arise and can see healthcare costs climb by 6% to 12% each year.
Take empowered action
If your organization does not have a well-being strategy in place, now is the time to create one. Build a committee, determine your budget, and if needed, contact a third-party wellness consultant to help you get your well-being strategy operational as soon as possible.
If you’re a leader that already has a well-being strategy in place, consider reviewing your strategy, and making any changes needed. Like with any business initiative, constant monitoring and evaluation of you well-being strategy is important.
Identify what’s working and what areas need improvement. Don’t just assume — solicit feedback from all levels, ages, genders, and races for a full-view. If something isn’t working, consider both the quality of the program and how your organization is messaging it.
Don’t give up, your team needs well-being more than ever!