A general health crisis drives home the importance of integrating wellness into work culture. Past platitudes have become new imperatives for employers.
“Our job is to set up the environment so people can continue that journey of improvement,” said Arthur Matuszewski, vice president of talent at Better.com, which specializes in making homeownership simpler, faster and more accessible.
In just five years, the company has gained a reputation as a disruptor in the mortgage industry not known for its innovative culture. Matuszewski noted that Better.com “connects its own growth to its employees’ growth and well-being.”
“Helping people work better means giving them opportunities with the tools they need to do just that,” he said. “They feel like the athletes who managers expect them to be.”
Meghan M. Biro, analyst, brand strategist, podcaster and TalentCulture chief executive officer, talked with Matuszewski about organizational wellness and how the needs and wants of employees should define work culture.
Many companies struggle with employee wellness programs. Organizations naturally focus on their bottom line—their primary path to success, with wellness secondary. If someone can’t perform, turn to the next person. It’s the next-man-up mentality seen—and expected—in sports teams, also not noted for wellness first.
“Employee wellness isn’t a one-time message or a silver bullet,” Matuszewski said. “It’s an ongoing commitment to do right by employees in practice and deed. Most organizations aren’t built to put employees before process, and that’s usually the first miss.
“Emotional well-being is employee experience,” he said. “Being enabled to do your best work is not kombucha and ping pong, it’s knowing that your team is there to help you through challenges you’re facing. Asking for help and getting it is a sign of individual and organizational strength.”
Clear and reassuring
Amid a world of noise and conflicting messages, anxious workers seek plain truth.
“Great work comes from a place of clarity even amidst uncertainty,” Matuszewski said. “Employers should be direct in calling out what is different, explaining how we are responding to that, and providing training, resources and support to reduce the confusion.
“Conflict creates character, but consistency compounds it,” he said. “We’re all striving to bring a ‘Better’ self to work every day, day in and day out.”
Organizations are paying the price today for brushing off workers’ concerns in the past.
“The struggle is real,” Biro said. “I pin it on lack of clear purpose, lack of vision around what people need and lack of culture. All work together.
“Organizations don’t ask, ‘What’s our intention when it comes to employee wellness?'” she said. “Often, wellness wasn’t the intent. It just wound up being part of the layers of benefits accrued over time but without any clear purpose.”
It took a worldwide crisis to spotlight the problems.
“The pandemic threw everything into stark contrast with employees thrown into high-pressure, frontline risks or into remote work with new tech, with family or partners, or in isolation,” Biro said. “Such situations are often poorly addressed by current wellness programs.”
Well-considered strategies can effectively improve employee wellness.
Employers must realize that the health of employees is directly related to the health of their companies. That applies to physical and mental health. Remote work is no excuse to take advantage of greater accessibility to “take work home” after hours.
“Start taking employee well-being seriously by asking employees what they need and want,” Biro said. “Be transparent about your willingness to retool your wellness program to make it better.
“Anxiety levels are understandably through the roof now,” she said. “One strategy to radically transform a wellness program: mental health: therapists, coaches and meditation.”
Cut out excess
Any changes should be meaningful and make sense.
“Improve by trimming off the fat,” Biro said. “Exchange relevant for out of touch, updated for outdated. What your people need right now is also about not trying to make them use what they don’t need.”
Matuszewski prefers the three C’s: communication, community and confidence.
“Employees need to be reminded we care by being involved in the process of deciding what works for them to work best,” he said. “We’ve maintained existing offerings while building out much-requested solutions like our virtual childcare program, BetterBirds.
“We’re providing a mix of magic, music, arts and crafts, and age-appropriate lesson plans daily over Zoom,” Matuszewski said. “This enables our employees to support our customers while we support their families.”
Cultural strategy derives from business strategy.
“Our human capital is a top-line asset for us,” Matuszewski said. “Our cultural strategy is to provide opportunity to those who crave it and the resources to make good on that opportunity.”
Leaders should take advantage of the times to innovate better employee wellness programs now.
The most effective leaders know what it’s like to be in their employees’ shoes. After they understand their workers’ challenges on the job and off, managers can appreciate and design programs—in collaboration with the workforce—that address work-life balance.
“Holistically, make employee wellness part of the whole culture,” Biro said. “How? What is your purpose? What are your expectations for your employees? How could wellness better support both?
“An agile approach is a big asset for leaders right now—agile as in flexible and adaptable without being encumbered by process,” she said. “That goes double for revamping employee wellness programs, given the impact on your people.”
Adjust today for tomorrow
Any changes should have the long term in mind.
“There’s a huge opportunity here for leadership to realize pressing concerns now will be important in the future, too,” Biro said. “We’ve learned a lot over the past few months about well-being. We need to take those lessons to heart.”
The most successful improvements come from employee inputs.
“I always come back to the basics—listen and learn to help your team members grow, and always hire based on values and abilities,” Matuszewski said. “Every hire is an investment for the future of the company. If you hire right and listen, the innovation will follow.
“Surveys are the basics, and we’re grateful for them,” he said. “There’s no supplement to conversation. Create an environment where employees can make sense of things for themselves and leaders can serve.”