Want a productive workforce? Focus on Wellness in Workplace

Productivity is key to recovery, but the risk of anxiety and burnout has never been higher. That’s likely to intensify as school ramps up again and the election gets closer. Bhushan Sethi, Global People & Org People Co-leader at PwC, explains why focusing on your employees’ wellbeing can help your firm recover faster.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, business leaders scrambled to help provide confidence to employees and customers about what mattered most – safety. Keeping workplaces safe from the virus and people productive in their jobs demanded a massive reset of business practices. Leaders had to focus not just on profitability and productivity, but on the mental health and well-being of employees in a time of intense anxiety.

Wellness in Workplace

As the pandemic rages on, schools reopen in fits and starts and a contentious political environment as the US election approaches, organizations can’t afford to pull back on meeting the well-being needs of their people if they want to be in position to recover faster. That means more than just having a program here or there, but a corporate reset of how to measure success and reward employees.

60% of CHROs say their companies plan to increase support for well-being and mental health of the workforce.

PwC Pulse Survey, September 3, 2020.

World Mental Health Day is a good reminder to companies that one of their most precious — and precarious — commodities is their employees’ well-being. And companies are moving to protect that resource: Some six in 10 companies say they would increase support for mental health, according to a recent PwC Pulse Survey. About the same number are offering new benefits, including caregiver support, reduced hours and temporary leaves of absence. And these firms also plan to change rewards, compensation and benefits strategy, the survey found.

Wellness At The Workplace

employee wellbeing at work PwC Bhushan


Wellness At The Workplace

The pandemic will end eventually, but its repercussions will likely dramatically change the way people work. That’s why every company should be pushing the reset button now — beefing up mental health and wellness services, finding new ways to measure success for employees and rethinking what genuine productivity looks like. Here are some key considerations: 

  • Prioritize well-being and mental health. A recent study found that utilization of mental health services will likely increase as a result of the pandemic as employees tap resources for mental health issues, including new ones stemming from the pandemic. The risk of burnout is high: 51% of HR leaders cite employee anxiety and burnout as the biggest challenge for delivering on workforce priorities.

Workers aren’t just worried about losing their jobs or taking pay cuts. They worry about their kids going back to school – or not going back to school. They fret over the upcoming election and its potential impact on their families and finances. They are concerned about their personal safety and that of their loved ones amid the pandemic. All of this contributes to how well employees perform. So communicate regularly and openly — from the top and across levels — about mental and emotional health benefits available to employees. Consider expanding the well-being programs you do have in place; it often makes good business sense to do so.

  • Know that not all productivity is the same, or sustainable. Companies can’t focus narrowly on productivity alone. Many industries celebrate productivity gains achieved by workers spending longer hours on the job because there are fewer distractions – and greater fear of being fired. That may be true for executives as much as the rank and file. In many companies, however, the greatest gains are often driven by the superstar performers. One PwC analysis showed that productivity in the workforce was propped up by a small cohort of super-achievers, which disguised a decline in productivity among the rest. Relying on superstars — or on slashing salaries and jobs — to boost productivity is unsustainable. Haven’t seen a drop in productivity yet? It’s likely coming. We’ve seen it in past periods of economic uncertainty. So think ahead and lay the groundwork to take care of people before they burn out and become less productive.
  • Rethink how you measure business performance. Profitability can’t be the only measure of success. Businesses need new measures to determine how well they are meeting their customers’ and clients’ needs. Consider all the factors facing your people, and assess how to improve the performance of your business — and of your employees now. Consider including employee performance metrics for achievement against these new initiatives. Many companies, for instance, are creating new programs to encourage diversity and inclusion, a widely accepted societal benefit and business imperative. New metrics should measure employees’ performance in meeting those goals.

As another example, the World Economic Forum recently released a new set of metrics focused on environmental, social and governance (ESG) indicators and disclosures for financial markets. Within those metrics, the “people” pillar reflects a company’s equity and its treatment of employees. Metrics can include diversity reporting, wage gaps, and health and safety.

Productive Work

Remember too, there are many ways you can help reduce stress and anxiety for employees in their day-to-day work. Encourage screen breaks and exercise time. Redistribute workloads to help people relax away from work most evenings and weekends. Make a point to track vacations — and remind people of the value of taking that time. Lead by example in all these efforts, with those in authority and supervisory roles pushing the message through your organizations.

Sure, there will always be “heroes” in every workplace – the folks who believe that the office can’t survive without them. Bosses need to send them a gentle message: It can. And it will while you’re on vacation. At PwC, we have implemented no-video Fridays where no one is expected to appear on camera for internal meetings. Our partners and staff have been challenged to reduce all meetings by 25%, and senior leaders have been very open about their use of available mental and emotional well-being resources. This is not just about rest and recovery, it’s about changing the way people work and care for themselves.

Productive Workforce

As the pandemic subsides, consider which changes you want to keep — there may be more than you think. Many employees will seek greater flexibility to work remotely. Those who plan to go back to the office will need restored confidences that offices are safe and that protocols are in place to protect everyone.  Companies that manage these stresses and help their employees cope now will be better positioned to thrive. Investing in employees’ mental health can help firms retain their leading talent as well as burnish their brand.

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Bhushan Sethi
Bhushan Sethi is Global People & Org People Co-leader of PwC’s People & Organization practice, where he shapes and drives the firm’s global network strategy across 11000+ practitioners in 150+ countries delivering standalone and integrated solutions across strategy, management, technology and tax consulting disciplines. He has been featured in WSJ, Bloomberg, CNBC, Forbes, Yahoo Finance, World Economic Forum, American Banker, The HR Digest, Human Capital Institute and spoken at G20/T20 summits, UNDP, Wharton, MIT and multiple industry conferences, webinars and podcasts.

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