Companies looking to attract and retain top talent need to start with prioritizing well-being — here's how

Erica Sweeney, Insider

Nov 8, 2021

"Most people have had to grapple with some form of trauma over this past year, which is a sort of prolonged experience of distress that impacts your wellbeing," Shanna Tiayon, founder and chief practitioner of consulting firm Wellbeing Works, said during the event, which was moderated by Insider senior correspondent Rebecca Knight.

At a session titled "Focusing on Worker Wellbeing" during the "HR Innovation & Prioritizing People" event, presented by Insider Events with Workplace from Facebook on November 4, panelists said that when employers prioritize the physical and mental health of their workers, it creates a happier, healthier workforce, which drives business growth, productivity, and engagement.

"Most people have had to grapple with some form of trauma over this past year, which is a sort of prolonged experience of distress that impacts your wellbeing," Shanna Tiayon, founder and chief practitioner of consulting firm Wellbeing Works, said during the event, which was moderated by Insider senior correspondent Rebecca Knight. "Some employers are not aware that they're actually managing trauma, but that's what they're dealing with in a workplace context as the way we work continues to shift and evolve with the pandemic."

To cope with the anxiety and depression caused by this trauma, Tiayon said many employees, especially younger workers, employees of color, and workers of lower socioeconomic status, are increasing alcohol use and obsessively eating.

"Over the past six months, employees just said, 'I've had enough,''' Liz Fosslien, head of content, author, and workplace expert at Humu, said during the session.

Companies need to support people with better policies and higher pay and create cultures that are inclusive, empowering, and instill a sense of belonging. Tiayon and Fosslien outlined several ways to do that during the session.

Companies should rethink their value systems to put employee wellbeing at the center, as it's a major driver of "organizational citizenship behavior," or simply being a good person to work with, Tiayon said. They need to focus not just on physical health but on psychological and emotional health, too.

Employers also need to simplify their cultural values, Fosslien said, who mentioned a company that she'd worked with that pared their values from 20 to four and attached specific behaviors to each one. Too many values bombard employees with information, further stressing them out.

Leadership must model those values, too. "If you want people to take more vacation and take care of their mental health, you need to be doing that first," Fosslien said. "You can tell someone day in and day out that they should be taking more time off, but if their manager isn't taking it off, you actually haven't created a culture in which they feel safe taking that benefit."

Flexibility and autonomy also boost worker wellbeing. Tiayon said forward-thinking companies realize that employees know what works for them the best and let them choose how to work, while making adjustments and accommodating them as long as they still meet performance standards. Setting clear timelines, milestones, and success criteria and then stepping back — but being available to answer questions — is the best approach, Fosslein said, and avoid monitoring and tracking computer clicks or usage.

Managers and human resources need more training to truly support employee wellbeing. Tiayon said leadership needs to shift from a "performance lens," where employee behavior is viewed from a workplace conduct or performance perspective to a "mental-health lens," where the objective is support for that behavior.

"Giving managers opportunities to develop those skills and holding them accountable is really important to be able to shift the workplace culture to align with a more employee wellbeing-focused practice," she said.