Bersin: Why org health matters in our ‘partially open’ economy

By: | November 15, 2021
Josh Bersin writes HRE’s HR in the Flow of Work column. Bersin is an analyst, author, educator and thought leader focusing on the global talent market and the challenges and trends impacting business workforces around the world. He can be emailed at hreletters@lrp.com.

The pandemic’s continuing effects have left us with an economy that is “partially open,” ever-changing policies for vaccines and masking, and employees fatigued from remote and hybrid work, as well as staffing shortages, irate customers and caregiving worries. So, it’s no surprise that research finds almost half of people are still feeling high levels of stress.

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In response, companies are investing in new benefit offerings, resilience tools, mindfulness programs and flexible work options to help people recover. But, overall, HR and business leaders don’t really know which practices and programs actually make a difference when it comes to employees’ stress levels, productivity and engagement.

In research we conducted over this past summer, we came up with the concept of “healthy organizations”: companies that have transitioned from the traditional focus on employee benefits to one that encompasses job and work design, rewards practices, a demonstrated commitment to psychological safety and fairness, and a culture of employee listening.

Companies taking this holistic, people-centric approach see significant benefits. Our research shows healthy organizations are 2.2 times more likely to exceed financial targets, 2.8 times more likely to adapt well to change and more than three times more likely to retain employees and reduce absenteeism and health insurance claims.

But, only about 15% of companies have implemented corporate-wide strategies to achieve these benefits; 57% are still focusing on the basics of employee safety and traditional health benefits. Our research shows that, in order to achieve maximum positive results, leaders need to apply a lens of health and wellbeing to every corner of the business.

While every practice and program studied (91 in all) has some positive impact, our research identifies specific factors that can help companies become truly healthy organizations. For instance, the research finds that several key practices are instrumental in helping companies “win the war for talent,” a significant benefit in the current job climate. Companies see much higher rates of employee retention and outpace their competitors in recruiting when implementing practices that foster virtual and face-to-face communities, help employees continually develop and grow, create a helping culture, and ensure equitable and fair pay.

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Read more insights from Josh Bersin here.

The research also finds that leadership behaviors and actions have an outsized impact on every performance outcome measured. Companies with leaders who engage in regular dialogue on health and wellbeing are four times more likely to outperform their peers. However, only about a third of companies actively are encouraging leaders to engage in such conversations. Fewer than 20% of people managers focus on ensuring employee workloads are manageable and less than half assess and simplify work processes regularly.

Healthy organizations also implement practices that go beyond company walls. Such practices include organizing community give-back activities, giving employees paid time off to volunteer and choosing supply chain partners that demonstrate a commitment to environmental sustainability. Measurable benefits include higher levels of customer satisfaction and loyalty, better ESG ratings and an employer brand reputation of being a great place to work.

When it comes to employee wellbeing, technology can be a double-edged sword. With the corporate wellbeing technology market set to reach $70 billion in 2021, there’s almost no limit to the variety of tools, offerings and services employers can present to employees and candidates. Two things matter most when it comes to making wellbeing technology “sticky” enough to have an impact: simplicity and transparency. When companies implementing wellbeing technology strive for simplicity and transparency with both the employer and employee in mind, they score consistently higher in a variety of outcomes and are two times more likely to see a decrease in insurance costs.

Overall, here’s what companies are doing well:

  • 77% of survey respondents said their organizations are prioritizing the physical and psychological safety of employees;
  • 75% cited a focus on the wellbeing experience; and
  • 70% pointed to clear communications regarding how employee health data is used.

And here’s what companies are not doing so well:

  • Only 13% of respondents said their companies regularly survey their employees to assess financial health;
  • 18% said their organizations actively balance employee workloads; and
  • 15% cited localized health and wellbeing resources for questions and information.

I’ve been writing about the importance of taking a broader focus on employee wellbeing for years, and this research has only strengthened my convictions. As HR professionals, we must help business leaders at all levels understand why employee health and wellbeing should be viewed broadly and underlie all aspects of work. Let’s make it one of the top resolutions for 2022.

If interested in learning more, for a limited time you can download a complimentary copy of the research findings here.