Caroline Fanning is Chief People Officer at Avanade where she is focused on making all employees feel inspired, confident and cared for.
I have talked before about the importance of employee well-being. Ensuring team members know we care about them, their families and their communities is not just the right thing to do; it’s also something that has significant business benefits.
When I initially broached the subject, we were experiencing a period of growth in the technology sector. Companies were competing ferociously to attract the skilled talent they needed to sustain and expand their businesses. But now we’re in a different part of the economic cycle. Companies in some sectors are experiencing layoffs, while others are still finding it difficult to fill open jobs. Across the board, uncertain market conditions mean companies are tightening their belts and reprioritizing projects and programs. So in this current landscape, does it still makes good business sense for employee well-being to be a strategic priority? Absolutely.
The top recommendation in MetLife’s 2023 Annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study is a commitment to well-being, or “employee care.” The study shows that an employee’s well-being is directly tied to their productivity, level of engagement and sense of loyalty. While it can seem easy to trim well-being programs, once lost, an employee’s trust is hard to regain.
Employee care, or the continued focus on well-being, doesn’t have to be expensive. It can come in many forms. Here are three strategies that my teams and I have focused on.
1. Communicate early and often.
In times of economic uncertainty, employees may feel concerned about their job security. This is often compacted by the additional stress from external forces like inflation and higher living costs. During tough economic times, frequent communication can help managers pick up on early signs of concern or stress.
At Avanade, for example, we have held team meetings, talking about all the factors at play and assuring employees that our commitment to their well-being doesn’t waiver. We’ve provided training to our people managers so they communicate with their teams with empathy, compassion and support. Another strategy we’ve used is introducing all-employee training on the importance of well-being, what employees can do to address burnout and stress and how the company can support them.
Here are some additional communication strategies:
• Encourage your executive team and line managers to lead by example. For instance, rather than the typical internal out-of-office notice, perhaps add a reference to the importance of time away: “I am taking time away to recharge my batteries. Your well-being is important, and I encourage you to do the same when you can. While I am out, contact…”
• Consider incorporating automated communication technologies that remind users to take periodic rest breaks, set quiet time or engage in mindfulness exercises. Have remote workers build in a “virtual commute” so they have an intentional process for transitioning into the workday, rather than jumping online immediately.
• Ask career managers to make workload maintenance part of their routine check-ins with employees. They can ask, “How’s your workload? Do you have the bandwidth to get everything done and still get out of here on time?”
• Introduce an anonymous well-being survey into your communication strategy, then be transparent about the results—especially regarding areas where your company can improve.
• Try setting up a group of well-being champions who can be your ears on the ground and help reinforce well-being messages in local communication channels and communities.
2. Emphasize psychological safety.
There’s a lot going on in the world: the continued effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, global economic uncertainty, social unrest and a rising cost of living. Conversations about navigating these challenges can help instill a greater sense of safety and security.
One important indicator of psychological safety is the ability to rest. During periods of uncertainty, people may feel unable to take the time they need to recharge. Some may fear that their jobs could be at stake if they aren’t seen working overtime or if they take their earned vacation. Others may need help balancing ambition and well-being.
According to Microsoft research, taking breaks between meetings is directly related to reduced stress, increased focus and higher levels of engagement. So your employees need to feel able to switch off. It’s up to us as leaders to make it clear we value their health and well-being. We want them to take frequent breaks and periodically sign off so they can shut down and rest. When communicating with ambitious people in particular, our job is to acknowledge and express appreciation for their contributions while still encouraging downtime. Let them know that they’ll also be recognized for keeping their well-being top of mind.
I strongly advise that leadership also stay aware of their own well-being. As leaders, we feel the strain of steering our companies through periods of uncertainty. And just like the oxygen mask guidance we hear on every plane trip, we must take care of ourselves to ensure we can take care of our teams. Moreover, when we lead by example, our employees can feel safer about making time to rest.
3. Encourage flexibility.
Every industry is different, so flexibility is more possible in some instances than others. So finding what works for your company or individual teams requires a lot of collaboration.
As a tech company, we told Avanade employees that we trust their ability to gauge whether their professional or personal needs mean working remotely. They have the flexibility to not only make the choice but to change it later as their needs shift. So encourage your employees to evaluate what they need as individuals and as teams, and allow them to collaborate on what works best.
The goal, as it is in more prosperous times, is to make sure we’re not just surviving but thriving. At some point, the economic cycle will move on. Markets will recover and demand will return. By continuing to focus on the well-being of our people now, we’ll be ready to take full advantage of new opportunities in the future.