Holistic Strategy: Shift to Total Employee Wellbeing

July 21, 2021

Since late spring of this year, employees have been returning to the workplace in ever-increasing numbers, as COVID-19 vaccination rates have risen and pandemic restrictions have eased. But the workplaces to which we’ve been returning are different from the ones we left in pre-pandemic 2020 — in ways both large and small.  

Structural and layout changes designed as temporary adaptations have become permanent. New rules and procedures have become routine. Some longtime co-workers have moved on.  

Many of us are different, too – our perspectives altered by the losses, sacrifices and, in some cases, unexpected gains we experienced after COVID began its global rampage 18 months ago. What we considered to be of paramount importance before may seem relatively trivial now. Something that previously might have been merely attractive now may be regarded as essential. And options that once appeared forbiddingly remote today may be well within reach. 

All these developments have brought about inexorable change to the employer-employee dynamic, with the balance of power having shifted in many cases to the employee. As HRO Today observes, “COVID-19 accelerated the future of work as employers adjusted to a new normal overnight. In a moment of severe disruption, wellbeing became a core focus for most organizations, with flexibility, health, and work-life balance emerging as key parts of the employee experience.” 

Employers who ignore or resist this shift toward a holistic HR strategy that prioritizes total employee wellbeing do so at their own peril. You might not be offering flexible work schedules, work-enhancing tech tools, extensive mental-health support and child care benefits, but your competitors are. 

In an April article for Harvard Business Review, “The Pandemic Is Changing Employee Benefits,” Care.com CEO Tim Allen writes of his company’s “The Future of Benefits” report: 

“Those we spoke to confirmed the toll the pandemic has had on their employees and their business: decreased productivity and retention, increased absenteeism, and declining mental health. That’s why almost all (98%) of the leaders we surveyed plan to newly offer or expand at least one employee benefit, prioritizing the ones workers deem most essential, like child and senior care benefits, flexibility around when and where work gets done, and expanded mental health support.” 

This new world of work and benefits is the subject of the upcoming Alera Group webinar “Holistic Wellbeing: Shifting Total Wellbeing Strategies.” During the August 19 presentation, we’ll discuss how to adjust your organization’s total wellbeing strategies to integrate top trends and support an evolving workforce. We’ll provide you with practical tips for implementing these strategies and achieving your recruiting and employee-retention objectives, helping you navigate what the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and others have dubbed the “Turnover Tsunami.” 

Employer Response 

According to the Achievers Workforce Institute’s 2021 Engagement and Retention Report, 52% of employees said they intend to look for a new job this year — up from 35% in 2020 — with one in four of those respondents citing work-life balance as the main reason they planned to job hunt. Work-life balance also was a key factor among those planning to stay in their current job, according to the report, with 23% of respondents citing that as a determining factor. The No. 1 reason for seeking a new job, according to the report: better compensation and benefits (35%). 

Between February and October of 2020, the Manufacturing Institute’s Center for Manufacturing Research and the American Psychological Association teamed up to interview leaders from 14 manufacturing companies and survey 578 employees from five of those companies about motivating factors that influence worker retention. While survey participants’ top reasons for staying with their employer were enjoying their work (83%) and job security (79%), family-oriented culture (69%) and work-life balance (68%) also scored high. Here’s what the organizations had to say about key retention practices in the executive summary of their 2021 report “Manufacturing Engagement and Retention Study”: 

“The most sophisticated retention efforts described by manufacturing leaders focus on actively involving employees, ensuring that every individual understands how their efforts are linked to overall company success and equipping frontline managers to support workers. Successful approaches also included formal employee development plans and clear career paths, cross-training with opportunities for broad and challenging assignments, comprehensive employee recognition, a supportive organizational culture with close ties to the community and competitive pay and benefits.” 

Employers have been paying attention. And responding. 

In an article by Principal Global Investors published by the Washington Post, Principal Vice President for Business Solutions Mark West cites “5 factors that help businesses and employees stick together:” 

  1. Compensation: This may be especially important regarding jobs, such as skilled trades, for which remote work is not an option. 

  2. Benefits: While retirement savings and Health Insurance remain staples of benefits packages, West says, the pandemic has brought about heightened appreciation for the value of other employee protections, such as Life Insurance and Disability Insurance

  3. Culture: More than ever, workers want to be part of an organization that reflects their values, with many citing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). 

  4. Individual fit: Taking the time to match the right person with the right role will help avoid additional turnover down the road. 

  5. Flexibility: This factor, West says, “has grown exponentially,” with employers prioritizing productivity over “presenteeism.” 

Empathy and Mental Health 

Productivity — as Alera Group colleague Thomas Showalter noted in his Mental Health Awareness Month blog post “No Single Solution for Post-Pandemic Return to Workplace” — is largely dependent on employee wellbeing, making employer empathy another major factor in an organization’s ability to attract and retain talent. And if that wasn’t apparent before the pandemic, it certainly should be now. 

Empathetic leaders have seen a hard-working employee try to run a Zoom meeting with a toddler throwing a tantrum in the background. They can relate to the worker who cares for an elderly parent while managing a key account. And having experienced more than their own share of pandemic-related stress, they understand the risk of burnout and the need for holistic wellbeing, including mental health.  

But while empathy has long been a trait of great leaders, simply being empathetic isn’t sufficient for the challenges organizations currently face. Spearheading uncomfortable conversations, detaching the stigma from difficult topics, allowing employees to bring their whole and vulnerable selves to work — these are the actions that be necessary to foster a culture of total wellbeing. 

Employee Benefit News recognized this in a recent opinion piece titled “Employers can lower turnover through health and wellness benefits,” sharing these observations and tips: 

  • “Ongoing education about and promotion of mental health offerings is essential. It’s also important to let employees know how to access these benefits and programs and how their privacy is protected when they use these offerings. 

  • “Mental healthcare can be expensive. Employers can help make the cost more affordable by setting moderate co-pays for this care or adding dollars to employee HSAs or HRAs to help defray the cost. 

  • “Because of the increased demand for mental health services, getting an appointment can take weeks or months. To help employees cope in the meantime, consider providing free or low-cost access to on-demand digital mental wellness tools and online therapy options.” 

At Alera Group, our support of employee wellbeing includes regularly posts of available resources, such as our June 21 release, “Making Work More Effortless and Supporting LBTQ+ Professionals.”  

Employee Engagement and Additional Resources 

Of course, all the resources and all the benefits in the world won’t matter to your employees if they’re not aware of them or don’t understand how to use them. Alera Group addressed this topic in our July Employee Benefits webinar, “Employee Engagement: Do Your Policies and Communications Meet Your Goals?,” covering how to make employees active participants in communications regarding company policies and procedures, and how to quantify the results of such communications. To view a recording of the presentation, click here

Our August 19 webinar, which has been approved for SHRM credit, promises to be an invaluable complement to the July session. To register for “Holistic Wellbeing: Shifting Total Wellbeing Strategies,” click on the link below. 


About the Author  

Elisabeth Euglow

Senior Total Wellbeing & Engagement Consultant

Boston Benefit Partners, an Alera Group Company 

Liz Euglow joined the Boston Benefit Partners team in 2018 to assist clients in building and growing their total wellbeing and engagement programs by leveraging data and aligning strategies with core HR and business values. She previously worked at Marsh & McLennan Agency, partnering with employers and their HR teams while leveraging data analytics to build lasting and effective health management and wellbeing programs. 

Contact information: