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The Future of Well-Being: Three Ways for Companies to Help Employees Thrive in Today’s Uncertainty

Now more than ever, companies play a vital role in creating new environments that nurture the well-being of their people and the strength of their organizations.

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Pressing on the minds of many are dual burning questions: Are we finding equilibrium in our lives and work or does the struggle continue to get harder each day? Many factors will influence where one lands on that spectrum, but for many of us, the answer is a bit of both. Not much of anything seems to be just one thing anymore. It was never simply working from home, but working and parenting (or caregiving) from home, or working and accommodating others like roommates from home. It’s no longer a single-focused fight against coronavirus, but now compounded by a much-needed racial reckoning, the unsettling realities of an uncertain economy, and a tumultuous election cycle on the horizon.

Amidst all of this, taking care of our own well-being has never been more essential. We must manage our work, ourselves, and our teams, in ways that acknowledge and has empathy for where people are in these challenging times. The decisions we make and the precedent we set now will shape our future culture and the well-being of our corporate communities. Companies, and the leaders within them, play a vital role in creating new environments and new approaches that nurture the well-being of their people and the strength of their corporate brands.

1. Create Psychological Safety

In 2015, Google released the results of a two-year, internal study that indicated the number one characteristic of high-performing teams was psychological safety. Dr. Amy Edmondson, professor at Harvard Business School, coined the term “psychological safety” in 1999 to describe “the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.”

At the heart of psychological safety is trust and vulnerability—traits that always are necessary but more essential than ever in times of uncertainty. Together, we are all experiencing some level of trauma. As leaders, it is our responsibility to cultivate environments and cultures where our people feel safe to speak up, speak out, and ask for what they need without fear of judgment or reprisal.

Creating psychological safety starts with listening, opening up, and speaking out when necessary. Over the past several months, our teams have surveyed employees, held town halls, and paused work for a day to plan for actions to better support marginalized people—especially Black people—and fight systemic racism within our organization and in the communities where we live and work. But, in Edmondson’s words, “speaking up is only the first step. The true test is how leaders respond when people actually speak up.”

The reality is our Black employees are hurting, our staff with children are burnt out, and a lot of our young talent are struggling to work out of small city apartments. As many face fear and uncertainty, bringing their authentic selves to work and pretending to be okay causes psychological stress that negatively impacts performance and team morale.

By hearing what employees have to say, acting on their most urgent needs and concerns, and responding with empathy, we can create space where it’s okay to not be okay. A culture of well-being begins by fostering the kind of psychological safety necessary to adapt to challenging times.

2. Approach Well-being Holistically

Historically, we’ve compartmentalized health and well-being—mind, body, spirit—but we are finally seeing them coalesce into a singular idea of self-care. In recent years especially, mental health has gained necessary exposure and we finally are recognizing that the mind is indeed part of the body.

The conversations around mental health as a crucial aspect of well-being continues to rise as many across the country face unprecedented stress and anxiety. Our partners at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) have reported that demand for mental health resources in the United States has doubled. In NAMI’s words, they are “no longer just servicing people with pre-existing mental health conditions—we’re servicing the entire nation.”

We’re starting to understand that caring for yourself is to care for one another. As leaders, it’s essential to encourage our teams to cultivate total well-being, whether providing access to resources like Headspace, giving “mental health” days, or encouraging destigmatizing conversations with your talent.

3. Tune In and Set Your Tone

The last few weeks have reminded us that we can’t afford to sit on the sidelines when it comes to standing up and taking action on behalf of our people. Everyone deserves the opportunity to live well. And perspectives on well-being and how we interact with wellness is shaped by our personal experiences, backgrounds, and beliefs—including our race, national origin, and sexual orientation, among many factors.

For companies, this means adopting culturally relevant resources and offering a wide range of benefits and programs to meet all employees with the resources they need to thrive. In today’s environment, “the go-to diversity corporate trainer who teaches stress management techniques will not suffice.” As diversity and inclusion teams re-evaluate how to accelerate their efforts, tuning in to how personal wellness is uniquely defined by diverse individuals, will set the tone for programs and services that a diverse staff truly values.

Looking Ahead

In recent years, corporate well-being has meant massage chairs, gym memberships, healthy snack bars and dogs in the office. But as our ways of working change, so do our expressions of well-being. The future of well-being is holistic, inclusive, and equitable—and together, we can create it.

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