How health-savvy executives can go beyond workplace wellness to workplace well-being—for themselves and their people.
Work often works against well-being. What can C-suite leaders do about it?
There’s no question that well-being is at the top of the C-suite agenda right now. While the pandemic brought worker safety into the spotlight, there’s also been an increased focus on the overall poor state of workforce well-being and the role that organizations play in determining quality of life for employees and their families.
In fact, most companies now recognize the need to invest more in the holistic health of their employees, because it’s clear that workers are fed up—with outdated norms like the nine-to-five schedule, the expectation that they should be “always on,” substandard wages and benefits, and the idea that they should be willing to sacrifice their health and their personal lives for their job.
C-suite executives themselves are not immune. Although far less attention has been paid to well-being among the C-suite—how they’re faring, the increased demands placed upon them, and whether these factors are influencing their desire to stay in their leadership roles—some recent research points to increasing quit rates among executives.
And as we’ve seen with the Great Resignation, many people are no longer willing to tolerate jobs that leave them unhappy and in a constant state of stress and fatigue. Indeed, there’s been a notable power shift over the past few years, with workers demanding more from their employers than ever before and companies scrambling to adapt their employee value proposition to avoid a looming talent shortage.
How can C-suite leaders improve both their employees’ and their own well-being? To understand these issues and trends better, Deloitte partnered with independent research firm Workplace Intelligence to survey 2,100 employees and C-level executives across four countries: the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. The survey results revealed eye-opening findings, including that nearly 70% of the C-suite are seriously considering quitting for a job that better supports their well-being.
In fact, we uncovered that both employees and the C-suite are struggling to prioritize their well-being—and for most people, work is to blame. However, executives are significantly overestimating how well their employees are doing and how supported they feel by their leaders. And there are other disconnects as well, indicating that the C-suite should be doing much more to understand the needs of their workers and demonstrate that they truly care about their holistic well-being.
Fortunately, our research confirmed that health-savvy executives have the ability to turn things around and reimagine well-being for themselves and their people. But it won’t be easy, and they should consider relying on other leaders and health experts to help chart a new path forward for well-being at work.
The pandemic has worsened everyone’s health, but executives don’t realize how much their employees are struggling
It’s well known that the pandemic has had a negative impact on our collective mental as well as physical health. Well-being may now be at an all-time low among both the C-suite and rank-and-file employees: In our research, more than three-quarters of the C-suite (76%) said that the pandemic has negatively affected their well-being, and fewer than two out of three employees rated various dimensions of their health as “excellent” or “good”.
Moreover, a substantial proportion of both groups reported experiencing fatigue and a variety of mental health issues, with C-suite executives identifying most of these issues just as frequently (or in some cases more often) as employees—proving that well-being, or the lack of it, does not discriminate by rank.
However, despite struggling with well-being themselves, it’s clear that the C-suite doesn’t appreciate the extent to which their employees feel the same way. In contrast with what employees reported, more than eight out of 10 global executives believe their people are thriving in all aspects of their well-being.
Many employees don’t feel that their executives have been supportive during the pandemic—but the C-suite sees things much differently. For example, only 47% of workers believe their executives understand how difficult the pandemic has been for them, yet 90% of the C-suite say they do recognize how challenging it’s been. Similarly, while only 53% of employees feel that their company’s executives have been making the best decisions for their well-being during the pandemic, 88% of the C-suite believe their decision-making has been exemplary.
Perhaps most alarmingly, we discovered that only 56% of employees think that their company’s executives care about their well-being. However, the C-suite sees things in a much different light: Ninety-one percent believe that employees feel their leaders care about them. It’s a notable gap, one that the C-suite must work to address.
Well-being is a top priority right now, but there’s one major obstacle: Work
Despite the ongoing challenges of the pandemic—or even partly because of them—people across the globe are laser-focused on their health in 2022. The vast majority of respondents (91%) have goals for their well-being, and 75% of employees and 89% of the C-suite say that improving their well-being is a top priority for them this year. Most people noted that right now, this is more important to them than progressing their career!
Overall, 63% of employees and 73% of the C-suite reported that they aren’t able to take time off and disconnect. When asked why, respondents said that they have too much work to do (24%), they want people to know they’re dedicated to their job (22%), and no one would be able to cover for them while they’re away (22%). One out of four executives said they don’t disconnect because their workload would be unmanageable when they return (25%) and they’re afraid they would miss out on important messages or emails (24%)
A strong focus on well-being is critical for employee and executive retention
In one respect, the C-suite does enjoy an advantage over employees: in the way that work affects their physical, mental, and social health. Not surprisingly, 91% of employees and 97% of the C-suite say their job plays a role in determining their well-being, but whether this is a positive or negative effect differs significantly between these two groups. Perhaps also not surprisingly, employees were far less likely than the C-suite to say their job is beneficial for their well-being.
For the C-suite, challenges and opportunities lie ahead
Given evolving employee expectations and the clear benefits of prioritizing well-being at work, why is it that 68% of the C-suite aren’t taking enough action around employee and stakeholder health? Executives reported several key reasons: Twenty percent are overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, 18% don’t feel qualified to take ownership of these areas, and some don’t have enough funding (17%) or support from other executives (16%).
Nearly eight out of 10 leaders also highlighted that the expanded focus on health has personally affected them, with respondents reporting both positive and negative outcomes (figure 7). While one out of five feels that it’s made their job more difficult and it’s worsened their well-being, a significantly higher percentage believe that this shift has benefitted them personally and professionally.
To make more progress in this area, 86% of executives say they’d welcome some type of support. Nearly half (48%) would like an executive training program focused on matters of health, 44% would benefit from seeing other executives prioritize matters of health, and 40% need more support from health experts within their company (e.g., a CHO).
Courtesy Deloitte By Jen Fisher Paul H. Silverglate and Steve Hatfield
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