Feel like your wellness program is losing steam? You aren’t alone. And you probably aren’t wrong.
Even though the C-Suite continues to prioritize overall well-being, and HR professionals work diligently to create and promote the best possible plans, some front-line managers are killing the wellness program.
Not intentionally, of course.
The disconnect seems to be the nature of the beast: Managers – and thus, their direct employees – are often so task-oriented, they’re too busy to focus on well-being. So your well-planned wellness programs get ignored or forgotten.
More than 80% of employees and 75% of executives run into obstacles in pursuit of better physical and mental well-being, according to research from Deloitte and Workplace Intelligence. Thirty percent say their heavy workload gets in the way, and 27% say long hours prevent better self-care.
Demand’s too large and time’s too little to take full advantage of HR’s wellness programs.
“Not only is it important for front-line managers to address mental wellness, it’s important for all levels of management – from front-liners to the CEO,” says Jenn Lim, CEO of Delivering Happiness and author of Beyond Happiness. “If managers invest in wellness, employees will invest in them by way of increased loyalty, retention rates and productivity toward shared goals. In other words, if you show them what’s in it for them, they’ll perform for all.”
You can keep your wellness plan alive by helping front-line managers recognize it’s far more than mental health benefits: It’s about helping employees maintain wellness at work and in life.
“Just that shift in company culture, recognizing the mental health challenges your employees face even if they are not a diagnosable mental illness, will help engage and retain employees,” says Dr. Bill Hudenko, Global Head of Mental Health at K Health, a digital primary care app.
Front-line managers can help improve overall employee well-being by embracing and promoting HR’s wellness programs. Here are several ways to get them onboard.
Add wellness to leadership training
Managers are still employees – and like employees, some may not be interested in your wellness initiatives. Perhaps they never felt the need to access benefits. Or they aren’t too familiar with what’s available.
And when managers aren’t familiar with – or a fan of – what’s available, they’ll be less likely to make it part of their team operations.
That’s where your leadership development training comes into play. Use it as the springboard to normalize mental wellness on teams and in the entire organization.
First, stress the stress: Nearly 45% of employees say they experienced a lot of stress on any given workday, according to Gallup research. Many employees are reluctant to tell the boss they’re stressed. This shows nearly half of any manager’s team is overwhelmed and can use some help.
From there, include these critical pieces on mental wellness in leadership development training:
- Product/benefit/access knowledge. HR likely teaches employees about your available benefits and how to access them. You also probably update and promote the details throughout the year. And many people participate half-heartedly or don’t access what they can. Train managers more regularly on the benefits and access so they can be the first line of defense when employees have questions.
- Awareness. Also give managers tools to increase awareness of benefits and how to access them. It might be the same promotional tools you have. Those tips and tools can get more attention when they come directly from managers. Plus, when managers have easy-access tools, it deters them from putting well-being initiatives on a back burner.
- Talking tools. To improve mental wellness, give front-line managers tools and training on how to start and facilitate conversations about mental well-being, stigmas and biases. For instance, at Siemens USA, managers learn how to initiate Courageous Conversations, where employees are invited to opportunities to talk about traditionally sensitive topics – such as mental wellness – learn more, share experiences and pursue other resources, when appropriate.
Use carrots, not sticks
The best way to keep your wellness plan alive – and robustly used – is to incentivize managers and employees to use it. The rewards for staying ahead of mental wellness should speak for themselves. But you might offer other rewards, too.
“All companies have to confront issues that are highly linked with mental health, such as poor worker productivity, burnout and stress,” says Dr. Hudenko. “Consider shifting your focus toward prevention instead of reaction. How can you better incentivize high performance? Are you adequately celebrating worker achievements? Are you recognizing the compassionate acts of your employees?”
Unfortunately, many companies prioritize mental well-being. Fifty-six percent of employees say their company doesn’t help them incorporate well-being into the flow of their workday or activities, according to the Deloitte survey.
But HR and front-line managers can help work well-being initiatives into the typical day in many forms. For instance:
- Mandate breaks, especially for employees working remotely, possibly sending reminders or setting timers so employees step away
- Ban after-hour messaging, and remind leaders to set the example with this
- Encourage and support Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) that pursue and promote healthy habits such as meditation, yoga, exercise, healthy cooking, reading, etc.
- Provide ergonomically fit workspaces because physical well-being affects mental wellness, and
- Communicate healthy living and working tips each week (many benefits brokers and providers have these available for you to use and disperse).
Cover all your bases
Employees and executives agree: The workplace affects all aspects of well-being – physical, mental, financial and social. But, according to the research from Deloitte, there’s a disparity. Most leaders say work positively impacts each aspect. Most employees consider the impact to be negative.
“If we want our employees to be performing their best, we need to help them be at their best. What that means now is different from 2020, before COVID,” Lim says. “People aren’t just bringing their skill set, they’re bringing their mental, emotional, physical, and purposeful states too. In other words, managers need to tend to the whole person, not just one or two aspects of it.”
With the help of front-line managers, you might be able to have a more positive impact on each aspect. Tips for each:
- Physical: To improve physical well-being, 77% of companies add or enhance online and virtual medical services, a Willis Towers Watson study found. If front-line managers try those first, and share positive experiences, they might get reluctant employees onboard. Plus, managers set the tone for well-being by making their wellness a priority.
- Mental: Nearly all benefits providers offer some sort of virtual and/or online mental health and screening services. Make sure your managers know how to access and direct employees to those.
- Financial: Employees’ paychecks are just the starting point. You can help employees by adding or enhancing financial well-being benefits. Managers and employees can benefit from wellness programs on savings, budgeting, loans and debt counseling. Schedule sessions for each team and their leader.
- Social: Many employees want opportunities to improve their social well-being. Try to provide time and resources for teams to participate in volunteer opportunities, peer recognition, ERGs and socialization outside the office.