The business case for well-being has been undeniable for quite a while now; research, conversations, and the anecdotal experiences of companies, including very large industry players, has drawn a clear link between employee well-being and business performance. Just a few weeks ago, for example, the Josh Bersin academy released a report showing that healthy organisations are 2.2 times more likely to exceed financial targets, 2.8 times more likely to adapt well to change, and 3.2 times more likely to retain employees.
And companies are taking that link seriously. Kylie Ward, HR Director Asia Pacific for international design and consulting firm Stantec, shared some perspectives with us about the role of well-being in the workplace.
“We always knew there’s a direct correlation between caring for our people and their performance; the more we care, the more they care. However, the pandemic has made us acutely aware of this and accelerated the business case for well-being to priority status amongst our leaders,” Ward told us.
It wasn't just the stress and uncertainty, either, although that was bad enough – it was the diminution of human contact and the distancing of interpersonal relationships. “Our people benefit from working globally, remotely, and flexibly but, by its very nature, that increases the risk of creating a more transactional workplace,” she said.
Technology is the enabler, data the focusing lens
Looking after the well-being of a dispersed workforce isn't easy, which is why well-being apps have proliferated in the last couple of years – they provide convenience and accessibility when people can't meet up in person. Ward put it this way:
“Technology enables us to reach our people regardless of where they are, which is even more important amidst global, remote, flexible and lockdown environments. It also puts the power into the hands of our people who can decide when and how to access available resources.”
Ward and her team turned to technology for that reason in April 2020, as WFH and lockdowns scattered Stantec employees across countries – they brought in a third-party app, ilumen, to assess employee well-being. The data from that implementation quickly became a key component of the well-being strategy.
“Data gives us focal points, helps us refine our strategies and gives us the confidence to target further actions,” she said. “It also equips our senior leaders with knowledge about our progress in this space who can then make informed decisions about how best to support our people and improve impact.”
“The other benefit is that by collecting real time data, we can take more targeted and purposeful actions."
"The balance comes from managing technology and ensuring we maintain a human element. There’ll always be a need to have a conversation.”
Build the culture and then personalise it
The other aspect of well-being is, of course, creating a culture where employees feel safe talking about it and doing something about it, particularly mental health. This actually started at Stantec several years ago, Ward said, but took a while to gain traction.
“We began by creating a culture that puts a spotlight on mental health, but it wasn’t until we established accredited Mental Health Champions in each office that we started to really ‘normalise’ wellbeing,” she recounted. “Our Champions are there to support our people and put a face to resources like the ilumen tool and our employee assistance programme.”
The next step – which she and her team are now working on – is to increase the relevance of resources to employees. “Now that the broad over-arching culture is in place, we’re personalising it through targeted programmes and resources,” she said.
Throughout all this, there's been an emphasis on communication between the people leaders, the business leaders, and the tech leaders – everyone who's involved in developing and executing the employee well-being strategy. It's all about bringing it to the table, Ward said: the objective to be achieved, the data to substantiate, and the leadership's own understanding of what they need to do.
“When we understand our role, understand the data and listen to our people, we can translate that across to strategic actions and practical applications.”
This interview was first published in October 2021.