Over the last decade, job burnout, then consequently employee wellness, became some of the biggest issues and talking points within the working world, giving rise to meditation applications like Headspace and Calm to help folks find even just five minutes a day for themselves.
Then, there was the proliferation of morning routines –– various habits you build to set yourself up for a highly productive day between your full-time job and your side hustle.
The ability to hack productivity became popular memes like “You have as many hours in the day as Beyonce,” and spawned professional titles at tech organizations like “growth hacker.”
A wellness-savvy consumer rises
Today, things have changed. Former multi-tasking, always-on guru Arianna Huffington has started a new media company dedicated to wellness called Thrive Global. The publication was born after a burnout incident that nearly killed her. She recently quoted this The Atlantic piece in her newsletter that goes out to hundreds of thousands:
“Marina Koren writes that there is a ‘sinister’ side to all this predawn perfection. Koren rightly notes that our morning routine mania is fueled by a culture obsessed with early-rising self-optimization. In this definition of success, productivity is king. Our culture celebrates people who start their day very early —“rising with the sun,” as the Peloton ad instructor puts it. We define ourselves by how early we wake up, celebrate how little sleep we get and equate our value with how much we can accomplish.”
Neither Arianna nor Marina at The Atlantic are alone. Consumers themselves are equally adept at spotting false wellness claims.
Peloton’s holiday advertisement that showed a husband giving his physically fit wife a Peloton for Christmas had many loyal Peloton customers wondering if their favorite brand understood them at all – and savvy stars doubling down on what “wellness” actually means:
Retail publications called the backlash “cultural schadenfreude.”
“At the heart of this is a disconnect. ‘In politics,’ Rabia said, ‘this class warfare is emerging.’
Meanwhile, brands like Peloton become ubiquitous on platforms like Instagram, democratizing a certain type of lifestyle — so long as people can afford it. ‘This wellness elitism has just been brewing,’ Rabia said; Peloton represents ‘a different type of luxury brand.’”
The new era of employee wellness
This cultural understanding of what wellness is and what’s advertised as wellness but actually elitism isn’t just happening with consumers upset with brands for their ads or actions.
It’s also taking place in the office, where ping pong tables are being replaced with therapists you can text, chaplins to help manage grief, and much more.
Brands like Honor and Eterneva, for instance, were both started by former technology employees. These days, the at-home care group (Honor) and the ashes to diamond memorialization brand (Eterneva) have a heavy focus on internal wellness and wellbeing given their difficult emotional environments.
“We know that word of mouth is our best marketing channel, and that begins with us internally. We have to maintain our own mental health so we can help our customers in their times of need,” said Adelle Archer, Eterneva’s CEO and co-founder.
Outside of these organizations, data shows that teletherapy is on the rise as employees look for ways to manage burn out and work anxiety.
“‘The concept of separation between work and free time doesn’t exist for a lot of us,’ says one millennial Manhattan attorney who did not wish to be identified. He says he spends three-plus hours round-trip commuting to his job from a Connecticut suburb.‘Thanks to technology, we’re expected to be responsive regardless of where we are or what we’re doing,” he says, adding that “disconnecting only leads to feelings of guilt and anxiety.’”
How brands begin to counter this in order to balance their internal employee wellness (and recruit top talent) – as well as how they market wellness and their own activities to consumers to win loyalty – remains to be seen.
Some organizations, like Buffer, publish everyone’s salaries to help level the playing field. Others offer 16 weeks of maternity leave. Others still offer unlimited vacation.
But those steps are only the beginning. Millennials are wising up to the health penalties of an always-on culture. Generation Z won’t even consider it.
The case for dogs at work: Ways to improve employee wellness
The next decade will change internal work culture as well as customer expectations around how a business treats their employees.
As employers look to improve employee wellness, here are some surefire ways to get started:
- Openly discuss mental health awareness and make counseling easily accessible
- Make recognition a stronghold of employee culture and team meetings
- Create flexible work hours, and institute work from home policies
- Foster purpose in the workplace – allow employees to follow their passion wherever possible
- Encourage employees to take breaks and use all of their vacation time
- Discourage late night emails or meetings that start after hours
- Allow the freedom for people to get up and walk around; consider adding standing desk stations
- Provide access to volunteer opportunities
- Dogs – is there anything they can’t do? Studies confirm that dogs at work boost morale
In the experience economy, it’s important to remember that employee wellness directly contributes to the experience that customers receive – not paying attention to internal factors will only cost businesses in the long run.