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The importance of employee well-being and how technology can help

Technology can serve an important role in promoting employee wellness. Here's a look at why that matters and who should be involved.

Technology can be either a drain or a support to employee well-being. The key is creating strategies to make sure it's the latter.

When office workers abruptly shifted to remote work as a result of the pandemic, a spotlight shone on technology's role in how, when and where work gets done. Even some leaders who were previously reluctant to support remote work have now acknowledged that it can often be as effective as in-person meetings and collaboration.

But, as helpful as technology has been, technology has also added to employee stress. Many who are suddenly working from home as a result of the pandemic have lost the downtime once provided by commutes or regular business travel, along with vacation getaways. Many workers feel the need to be always on, with their laptops tethering them to work even more fully than their smartphones used to.

This takes a toll. Even before the pandemic, four in 10 employees reported experiencing high levels of stress, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Add to this the challenges of life amid the pandemic, such as severely limited face-to-face social interactions, the need to support children's remote learning and worries about family members in need or in isolation. Anecdotally, it's clear that many workers are stressed to the limit. Organizations need to be intentional about helping them promote their well-being.

Employee well-being is a business imperative

Investments in employee well-being produce bottom-line results: Employees who feel less stressed demonstrate more resilience, perform better, and feel more engaged and satisfied with their work. Properly designed employee well-being programs can also complement diversity and inclusion strategies to enhance each individual's feeling of belonging and understanding, which enhances performance across the organization.

Indeed, organizations with positive well-being scores were, on average, 16% more profitable and experienced 25% less employee turnover, according to the Global Council for Happiness and Wellbeing's "Global Happiness and Wellbeing Policy Report 2019."

Eight in 10 respondents to Deloitte's 2020 Global Human Capital Trends survey identified well-being as an "important" or "very important" priority for their organization over the next 12 to 18 months. Yet, only a fraction of these companies -- just 12% -- said they were "very ready" to address the issue.

Our research suggests that companies that integrate well-being into the work itself, rather than treating it separately, can help their workers feel and perform at their best.

Where's the disconnect? It may be in the old saying: "What matters gets measured." More than six in 10 organizations do not measure the impact of well-being on their organizational performance, according to the same Deloitte survey. This may explain why fewer than half the respondents believe that their well-being programs positively affect business outcomes.

But our research suggests that companies that integrate well-being into the work itself, rather than treating it separately, can help their workers feel and perform at their best. An integrated, holistic approach to well-being strengthens the tie between employee satisfaction and organizational outcomes. Rather than detracting from what employees consider meaningful work, an effective well-being strategy drives meaningful work and fosters a greater sense of belonging overall.

Why tech leaders must be involved in well-being

Since technology has become so entwined with our work, it's even more important to engage technology leaders in addressing complex well-being work challenges, including how people and machines engage to get work done. And integrating technology and well-being can make it easier for employees to access tools and resources, make it more enjoyable to use them and generate more comprehensive metrics for business decision-makers.

8 steps to integrate technology and well-being

Tech leaders should join forces with HR, well-being and business leaders to design and execute a holistic strategy that embeds employee wellness into cultural norms, workflows, processes and technology decisions. Here are eight steps to help make that happen:

  1. Define the employee well-being strategy. Perhaps the most holistic strategy is to link the well-being program to the organization's core values. That way, although the program itself may be new, employees will already be familiar with the purpose driving it.
  2. Build the business case, and market the need for wellness. Leadership isn't the only group that needs to understand the ROI of well-being; managers and employees all down the line need to know that well-being and good business results are inseparable.
  3. Identify high-value strategies and technology. What results are leaders prioritizing: business results or employee satisfaction? Leaders should get buy-in on the plan and look for the strategies and technologies that address it.
  4. Design with purpose in mind. Leaders should find the best technology for the challenge they've identified. They shouldn't insist on building proprietary technology if there's already software available in the market.
  5. Support diverse users. Leaders should give people the flexibility to decide how and when they want to use the technology and let them tailor the experience to their unique needs. There should be screenings for unintentional bias in how people access the platform. For example, is it accessible to people who are visually impaired?
  6. Ensure scalability in a remote-first work environment. The pandemic taught many leaders quickly that having the infrastructure and technology to support remote work is not a nice-to-have feature; it's vital. Will the technology work across global time zones? Could all employees access the apps at once, if needed? Is the software priced so that it's affordable for organization-wide use?
  7. Provide remote user support. Leaders can avoid worker frustration and stress by deploying self-service apps, supporting chat, and finding other ways for users to help address employees' issues across time zones and flexible work hours. Leaders should also support access to ergonomic equipment and furniture to promote healthy bodies while working remotely from home.
  8. Measure and report. Leading organizations integrate well-being measurement and reporting into their overall reporting and performance systems, such as how many employees have bought into well-being programs and how have employees' healthy habits changed as a result. And leaders shouldn't forget to quantify the well-being program's effects on more traditional metrics, such as the talent pipeline and retention.

Technology plus empathy

No matter how good a particular technology is, it will never replace actual leadership. Leaders need to step up and make it clear what their expectations are in this new normal -- whether that's marking off an hour midday for people to unplug or enforcing a "no email after 5 p.m." policy, sending text alerts only if something essential arises. And leading by example is essential to counter the always present fear that employees will be penalized for not doing enough -- whatever that is.

As business and technology become increasingly intertwined, technology leaders can help integrate technology and well-being since they are uniquely positioned to be the guides and catalysts in using technology to intentionally support organizational well-being. Doing this thoughtfully -- and measuring the results -- benefits everyone.

Jen Fisher is Deloitte's chief well-being officer in the United States. She focuses on driving work-life, health and wellness strategy so the company's workforce can be healthy and productive.

Anjali Shaikh is senior manager at Deloitte Consulting LLP and experience director for Deloitte's CIO Program. She leads teams and delivers programs that advise CIOs and technology leaders on strategies to manage the ever-changing enterprise technology landscape.

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