Employee well-being and productivity: Striking a balance

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The rise of modern HR tools has propelled us into what many HR professionals call the “age of productivity.” Employees can work more efficiently and accomplish more, from their office or home, and that has certainly created valuable benefits for many companies. But in a chaotic, unpredictable year like 2020 – in which people are facing nearly unprecedented levels of disruption and stress – HR and business leaders must rethink the balance between productivity and employee well-being.

Until now, too many companies have offered an ad-hoc, inconsistent, and reactive response to these employee needs. “I rate it on a spectrum of inadequate to very bad,” states Dr. Tanvi Gautam, CEO of Leadershift Inc.

“Historically the relationship between employee well-being and the workplace has been fractured. We don’t really have a template for normal times, much less in a pandemic. There is so much more that can be done to make sure companies offer an integrated, strategic response to the challenges facing employees.”

The good news: With the right insights, HR leaders can make it better

“We have a unique opportunity right now to figure out what’s working and what’s not,” offers Minda Harts, Founder and CEO of The Memo, LLC, and Adjunct Assistant Professor at NYU. “We should ask ourselves whether innovation is thriving in our environment.

Do our procedures and processes meet the demand for the future of work? Are we communicating in ways that work for everyone? In today’s environment, we have a chance to be really intentional about employee well-being.”

Technology  plays an important role. Modern human experience management (HXM) solutions can help improve both individual productivity and employee well-being. “There is an incredible number of tools across the landscape of HXM,” agrees Lars Schmidt, founder of Amplify and cofounder of HR Open Source.

“Nudging tools that prompt managers to check in with workers can really help.” Tools that facilitate routine employee-manager one-on-ones can drive more meaningful interaction and dialogue. In addition, tools that provide mentoring and professional development opportunities can support employees in navigating their career journey and focusing on the bigger picture.

But making empathy central to company culture is also essential.

It’s important to recognize that many people – especially those who have shifted from the office to remote work – are burdened with extra responsibilities and stress. Allowing employees to create buffers, including spaces for them to do deep work or no work at all, is in everyone’s best interest. “Ultimately, those employees will be more engaged and productive in the long run,” says Schmidt.

This topic was just one of the issues recently discussed as part of our LinkedIn Live series, The Rise of HXM, in collaboration with SAP SuccessFactors. This week we talked about finding the balance between employee well-being and productivity. You can watch this week’s whole replay or read on for the highlights and comments from the audience.

Make the effort to build community and connectivity to boost employee well-being

Most companies use multiple communication tools – everything from e-mail and LinkedIn to Slack and WhatsApp. HR provides these tools to support human connectivity but remember that real communication requires asking the right questions.

“I recently found that only 40% of employees who work from home feel they have what they need to do their jobs,” says Harts. “We’ve given them Zoom, Microsoft Teams and other tools. But maybe we need to ask these workers, ‘what do you need to do your job?’”

Working in a pandemic has also disrupted employees’ sense of social connectivity – the impromptu conversations people have in the break room or company hallway. “How can you continue to build your social capital if you’re not having these organic interactions?” asks Harts.

Recognizing this issue, some organizations are beginning to create new opportunities to build community. Scheduling virtual hangout hours at the end of the work day, bringing teams together to do an online Zumba workout, or offering a virtual tour of an executive’s home are just a few ways that businesses are trying to address employees’ cravings for connection.

Follow your professional instincts

Surprisingly, there is very little academic research on managing employee emotions in the workplace. “When I moved from the corporate world to academic 15 years ago, I was shocked to discover this gap,” says Gautam. “People have long believed that emotions should be kept out of the workplace.”

Traditional HR approaches and HCM models were built to emphasize systems of efficiency management, not systems of emotional management. “Yet in the world we live in, emotions are front and center,” she adds.

“Employees are dealing with the trauma of caregiving and losing loved ones – and often they can’t even attend their funerals. I don’t need ROI and research to tell me that we need to show up for our people.”

This recognition seems to be more common among younger, more progressive CHROs. “Legacy HR leaders needed to look at the research to validate their strategy,” says Schmidt. “Modern professionals don’t need research to tell them that employee well-being is important. It’s just a given that employees who feel safe, supported, and heard will be more productive, loyal, and impactful.”

What can employers do to improve employee well-being?

  1. Look to industry leaders to get ideas for new approaches that address employee needs while still supporting productivity. Starbucks, for example, offered its employees 20 complementary therapy sessions to better cope with the stresses of 2020.
  2. Twitter encouraged employees to take more days off outside their scheduled holidays and vacation time. Unilever launched a 14-day mental health resilience training program for its 62,000 global employees, and some companies paid for meditation apps for their workers.
  3. Companies across the globe are tapping into their learning management systems to provide well-being courses to employees, for example, to increase mindfulness and improve resiliency.

Viewers of our LinkedIn Live series offer some additional advice. “The areas that I believe organizations need to dedicate more resources to are in the purpose, social, and community components,” says Sharlyn Lauby, president of ITM Group and author of HR Bartender, a popular blog on workplace issues. “Technology can help with each of these. If organizations create initiatives related to each component and employees do the same, it would generate a win for all of us.”

Learn what employees really want

Not every program or tool is right for all employees, though.

“In Asia, 60% of employees are suffering from depression, anxiety, or stress, but only 4% are willing to take advantage of the available mental health services,” says Gautam. They worry that using the services could be seen as a sign of weakness that might cost them their jobs.

“Sometimes we have to drop beneath the surface of the technology and ask whether there are cultural issues or stigmas associated with a particular service,” she explains. “We need to prioritize our responsiveness to the end user over everything else.”

One increasingly popular practice is to survey employees on a regular basis using employee experience management tools such as Qualtrics. By finding out how employees are feeling and discovering what’s inhibiting their wellness, growth or engagement, for example, HR teams can learn how employee needs are evolving and adapt programs as necessary.

“Employers have lots of options if they want to take employee mental health more seriously and make tangible commitments to employee well-being,” says Schmidt.

What moments matter most to employees? 
Download the report to find out HERE

Laurie Ruettimann
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Laurie Ruettimann

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