A Research Paper By Dominique Hawkins, Career and Work Wellbeing Coach, UNITED STATES
How to Establish and Design Organizational Well-Being Programs
Employee well-being is a topic that has gained widespread importance in large part due to the global pandemic. Countless workplace surveys and polls have found that employees and organizational leaders recognize that well-being is a top priority. However, far too few organizations implement strategies or create programs that support worker well-being. Those that do often focus on providing tools to improve physical and mental health at the individual level without taking a holistic approach to cultivating and supporting well-being on an organizational level. With stress and burnout at all-time highs and individual resiliency at such low levels, it’s time for organizations to create cultures of well-being and think beyond conventional wisdom.
In a pandemic and post-pandemic world, organizational leadership should not only create well-being plans that put frameworks into place to support individuals and build resilient cultures but should think of well-being more broadly. Work-life integration is the key to unlocking individual well-being and the starting place for leadership’s consideration. The future of work must include well-being, and both build and support work-life integration. Organizational leaders that fail to implement holistic well-being programs, that include work-life integration at the core, will risk retaining and attracting talent.
Organizational Well-Being Programs
Workplace Well-Being: What Is It and Why Does It Matter?
What is workplace well-being? Despite the historically narrow view of well-being at work as simply the physical and, more recently, the mental health of an employee, the International Labour Organization describes it as “relat[ing] to all aspects of working life, from the quality and safety of the physical environment, to how workers feel about their work, their working environment, the climate at work and work organization.”[i]According to Jeanne Meister, “employee well-being has expanded beyond physical well-being to focus on building a culture of holistic well-being including physical, emotional, financial, social, career, community, and purpose.”[ii] Meister believes each of these domains is the seven pillars of “holistic employee well-being.” Meister’s seven pillars complement my organizational development model that encourages organizations to include the following in their well-being programs: work-life integration, flexible work arrangements, equitable compensation, holistic benefits, leadership practices, psychological and physical safety, career development, coaching, job crafting and redesign, connection to meaning and purpose at work, equity, diversity, inclusion, belonging, accessibility, resource support, values, mission, and sustainable business practices. These examples are additional important pieces to complement mental and physical wellness initiatives in the workplace.
In the years leading up to the pandemic, many workers were already experiencing low levels of work-life integration. Worker stress and the threat of burnout were already concerns for many individuals and employers. As a result of the pandemic, workers found their personal resources further depleted. A 2022 research survey conducted by MindBody found that 50% of people reported that the pandemic impacted their mental well-being.[iii]During the pandemic, workplaces scrambled to figure out how to support workers, which put renewed focus on well-being and accelerated shifts in the world of work that would have otherwise taken decades to manifest (e.g., widespread remote and hybrid work models). Furthermore, the research found that although many organizations understand burnout is a major threat to their workforce, only 48% had employee well-being programs in place and only 26% had a well-being strategy.[iv]People Operations and Human Resource departments are often the centers within an organization that understand how important well-being is for employees. A survey of senior HR leaders found that 68% rated both well-being and mental health of employees as top organizational priorities.[v] However, having human resource support is not enough; executive leadership from across the organizations must embrace well-being, too.
Many organizational leaders focus on what employees can do to support their own wellness and reduce stress, without regard to the organizational environment (including policies, processes, culture, context, etc.). These approaches are typically ad hoc and tout remedies such as getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising, taking breaks, taking vacations, and getting help through employee assistance programs, to name a few of the most popular examples. While these items are all important in their own right, without an organizational framework to support a culture of well-being through providing high levels of work-life integration, employees often fail to feel whole and organizations fail to receive high levels of employee engagement and performance. It is imperative that organizations focus on well-being to combat burnout by creating healthy work-life integration for individuals.
It’s also important to recognize that how you show up in your workplace and the levels of well-being that you experience are dependent on your identities. If you are part of a dominant culture at work (e.g., a particular race, gender identity, educational level, etc.), you likely experience higher well-being levels in general as compared to someone from a non-dominant group. It is important that well-being programs are inclusive and provide the opportunity for belonging for everyone at work. These factors must be taken into consideration when constructing an organizational-wide well-being program.
The Costs of Ignoring Well-Being
Since the onset of the pandemic, we have all seen countless headlines and articles discussing the “Great Resignation” or “Great Reshuffling;” these terms refer to individuals who have reevaluated their careers and are pivoting toward greater flexibility and work-life integration. And, then there was the talk of the danger of the “Hidden Resignation;” those employees who have stayed on the job but are no longer engaged or who are suffering from low levels of engagement. Even now, amid heightened layoffs, the headlines now point to a new pandemic: “Quiet Quitting.” Quiet Quitting is seen as a rewriting or correction of the “work social contract”(the unconsciously accepted conditions of employment that are a part of the employer/employee relationship). Many employees are now only willing to do what is expected in their role without going above and beyond. No more late nights or weekends, it’s about treating a job as a “9 to 5” and a means to an end. As employees resign, reshuffle, suffer disengagement, quiet quit, or are laid off, they will be highly sensitive in their evaluation of organizational cultures in their search for future employment. Organizations not only need to be able to authentically message their well-being cultures to potential hires but will also need to walk the talk; without a well-being program in place with broad company-wide acceptance from the top down, candidates will look elsewhere.
In addition to the risk of attracting and retaining talent, there are other quantifiable costs to ignoring employee well-being. According to Gallup, beyond how employees feel, poor well-being can mean more days calling out sick, lower job performance, health impacts, and other lost opportunities.[vi] The effects of unregulated stress over time can impact our health leading to chronic medical problems. Gallup found that 75% of medical costs were the result of preventable conditions. Moreover, it is estimated that there are $20 million in lost opportunity costs for every 10,000 workers when employees experience low levels of well-being.[vii] Globally, turnover and lost productivity due to employee burnout is a whopping $322 billion![viii] While there are some very real costs to individuals and organizations for ignoring well-being, the flipside is that there is uncapped potential for coaches and other professionals to be part of the solution.
The well-being market is poised to grow as more and more employees and organizations seek expertise in combatting stress and burnout and increasing employee engagement. The lingering effects of the pandemic will continue to impact the way we work, live, and travel. The well-being market is forecasted to grow to $87.4 billion by 2026 (up from $20.4 billion, the current estimate).[ix]As individuals continue to seek out ways to integrate their work and personal lives, they will need experienced coaches to help them along their journeys.
Why Work-Life Integration?: Beyond Harmony or Balance
When we experience work-life integration, we’re able to be committed to all aspects of our work, our lives, and ourselves. I believe that people who experience higher levels of work-life integration, also experience higher levels of well-being, and motivation, and perform better at work. Everyone at some point or another in their career has had the difficult experience of trying to juggle work and personal commitments. Conventional wisdom has taught workers to perform a balancing act between the two. But work-life “balance” is a misnomer; often it creates more unbalance the harder we try to achieve it. People often feel anxious stressed, or trapped in “either/or” thinking as they struggle to find balance. The longer people live in this unbalance and try to compartmentalize work and life into separate boxes, the more likely they are to experience both guilt and shame. These feelings can surface when individuals repeatedly sacrifice work or personal commitments for others. Moreover, the newer buzzword replacing balance, work-life “harmony,” can often feel aspirational and, as a consequence, unattainable. Harmony can feel like a far-off ideal that may not be sustainable in reality. Work-life integration, on the other hand, allows individuals to accept that both work and personal commitments can coexist in the same space and are not in competition with one another.
Work-Life Integration, the UNIFY Model, and Powerful Reframing
By focusing on work-life integration, a holistic but very individualistic approach that focuses on what supports the individual in their work and personal life, employees can achieve greater well-being overall. In the workplace, coaching should be a part of an organization’s well-being program. Organizations can use coaching to support employees on their journey toward work-life integration through the UNIFY model I created.[x] The UNIFY model supports individuals through a holistic exploration that leads to a more integrated and unified self to create overall well-being over the course of one’s career.
The basis for the UNIFY model is rooted in both my own personal journey toward work-life integration and well-being, and my post-graduate studies in the field of organizational Psychology. Prior to the onset of the pandemic, I realized that well-being was integral to being able to uncover purpose and create meaning in one’s life. In pivoting my career to focus on coaching and consulting work, I knew I wanted to focus on well-being in the workplace. I was uncertain how I would “sell” organizational leadership on the importance of well-being; however, the pandemic has highlighted the importance of well-being for workers. I wanted the model to be constructed within a well-being framework and to offer flexibility in delivery. The UNIFY model can be used for both individual and group coaching with a facilitator. Additionally, the model can be used for self-applied coaching for any individual interested in personal self-development.
The UNIFY model is based on psychological principles and guided by my own personal experience. It leads an individual through five non-sequential phases that lead to action: Uncovering, Narrowing, Identifying, Flourishing, and Yearning. These five phases include frameworks, exploratory questions, and activities to aid the individual in understanding who they are, what they need, and the things that help them find meaning and fulfillment on their journey toward work-life integration and well-being. The clarity the process brings allows anyone to acknowledge the supports, needs, and experiences that create wholeness for them in their work and personal lives. It is only through a unified and integrated self that we can achieve well-being. Objectively, after going through this process, an individual might uncover that the work, role, career, or organization they are with does not support their well-being. The result could be as simple as working with a supervisor to redesign a role, or to create a clear plan for career development that is more in line with who the employee is. It could also result in a more complicated journey with multiple steps, like an entire career pivot. The important thing to remember is that the UNIFY model brings both clarity and insights for both the individual and the organization. When individuals understand who they authentically are and what steps they need to take to move toward where they want to go, they not only experience a more unified self that is capable of redesigning their life to support their own well-being; but they understand the importance of co-creating well-being in the world around them.
Organizational Well-Being Programs Creating Holistic Cultures
As individuals continue to pursue well-being in their personal and work lives, it’s time for organizations to focus on creating holistic cultures of well-being by supporting employee work-life integration. Research has demonstrated that there are both quantitative and qualitative costs to both employees and organizations when well-being is ignored. Whether lost job productivity, high levels of stress, or burnout, there are ramifications for leaving well-being unaddressed. While many employers understand the threat of burnout and low levels of well-being on employees, very few have a program or strategy in place to help employees integrate their work and personal lives in a holistic and healthy way. Coaches are poised to be able to help individuals on their career journeys toward a more integrated self and achieve well-being in their work and personal lives.
When individuals redesign their life for better work-life integration, they are able to accept that both work and personal commitments can coexist without being in competition with each other. Coaches and organizations can use the UNIFY model to support an individual’s exploration toward creating a more integrated and unified self and cultivate well-being over the course of one’s career.
While the focus of this research paper was to discuss work well-being plans with a focus on work-life integration and a model for achieving increased personal well-being, there are many other approaches that could be beneficial for individuals to pursue. The UNIFY model is just one of many different tools out there for self-awareness. Other tools like mindfulness, meditation, assessments, etc. could be useful aids for individuals in search of well-being. Organizations have many constraints like time, staffing, and financial limitations that often prevent them from being able to invest in robust well-being programs. This research paper is not an exhaustive look at the well-being landscape, the business constraints, or even the benefits of a well-being-focused work culture. However, by focusing on one aspect of well-being at work, work-life integration, and its importance to individuals and organizations, I hope this paper sparked new insights that could be useful for the reader on their own personal journey toward well-being.
Meister, Jeanne. The future of Work is Employee Well-Being. Aug 4, 2021.
MindBody 2022 Wellness Index.
Segal, Edward. Employee Well-Being Was Low Priority For Many Companies In 2021: New Survey.
Meister, Jeanne. The future of Work is Employee Well-Being. Aug 4, 2021.
Why Wellbeing is Important. What is the cost of poor well-being?
Meister, Jeanne. The future of Work is Employee Well-Being. Aug 4, 2021.
Hawkins, Dominique. Coaching Model Portfolio Paper.