Executives are overestimating how well they are supporting employees

A new report highlights the chasm between executives who feel they are doing a good job of supporting their employees during the pandemic and workers who truly feel that way.

More than 8 in 10 global executives believe their people feel “excellent” or “good” in their physical, mental, social and financial well-being, according to a February survey of 2,100 people from Deloitte and Workplace Intelligence. However, employees rate performance in each category much lower. In a major misalignment, while 81% of C-suite leaders think their employees are doing well with their finances, only 40% of employees actually feel that way.

Nearly 9 out of 10 executives feel they understand what their employees are going through during the pandemic and that they have made the best leadership decisions for the company. On the other hand, about half of workers agree.

The disconnect shows that “what we need to see is for the C-suite and the workforce to come together” to understand the causes of employee stress and turnover, says Jen Fisher, director of wellness at Deloitte.

A contributing factor to the gap may be that “many C-suite leaders haven’t had to deal with wellness and wellness programs, which historically have been the responsibility of human resources,” says Fisher. “Now, they’re being told that it’s every C-suite leader’s responsibility.”

One thing executives and their employees agree on is that their current job is not good for their personal lives, and they can quit for a better one. Some 69% of C-level leaders and 57% of employees are “seriously considering quitting for a job that better supports their well-being.”

Executives admit not taking enough action to support employee well-being

Nearly all C-level leaders reported that they feel responsible for the well-being of their teams, but 68% admit they are not taking sufficient steps to protect the health of employees and stakeholders. Only 1 in 3 employees feel that their work has a positive impact on their physical, mental and social well-being.

Without listening to employees, companies are investing in resources that don’t adequately meet their needs, says Fisher. For example, the pandemic has prompted many companies to provide new and improved health benefits such as teletherapy and wellness stipends.

But employees say the biggest barrier to improving their health is the job itself, especially managing stressful workloads and long hours.

Here are the top ways leadership can improve workplace well-being, according to employees:

  • Adopt new standards that support the social determinants of health (such as setting a minimum wage)
  • Focus on the health of all employees (such as offering flexible work arrangements or childcare support)
  • Challenge what’s considered “normal” (like adopting a 4-day workweek or creating Zoom meeting-free days)
  • Share public health information with employees (how to hold town halls about Covid safety)
  • Shaping the future of healthcare in coalition with others (such as publicly publishing and measuring organizational well-being metrics)

Will employee health take a back seat in a cold job market?

Executives with the power to create institutional change might do a better job of researching what employees really need to feel supported, says Fisher. Workers, in turn, must understand that big changes don’t happen overnight. “We are all responsible for the cultures we create,” she says.

It’s possible that workers’ confidence in quitting may cool off with a possible recession, but the health cost of their jobs won’t go away. Either way, Fisher expects the continued instability to bolster the company’s investments in employee health and resilience.

We continue to live in a world that is troubled and uncertain, which is another sign to me that wellness is not a nice thing to have, it’s a must from the C-suite down,” says Fisher.

“What I hope doesn’t happen is that if there’s some kind of economic downturn, it doesn’t lessen the company’s focus or investment in the well-being of the workforce,” she says. “That would be the absolutely wrong answer.”

Output check:

How to Tell Your Colleagues They Need a Vacation: It’s Not Just Saying ‘You Look Tired’

How to respond to coworkers who interrupt their vacation with a non-emergency situation

What People Get Wrong About America’s Burnout Problem, According to This Therapist and Podcast Host

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