Executives are overestimating how well they’re supporting employees

A new report highlights the gulf between between executives who feel they’re doing a good job of supporting their employees through the pandemic versus workers who actually feel that way.

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

About 9 in 10 executives feel they understand what their employees are going through during the pandemic, and that they’ve made the best leadership decisions for the company. On the flip side, roughly half of workers agree.

The disconnect shows that “what we need to see is the C-suite and the workforce come together” to understand the root causes of employee stress and turnover, says Jen Fisher, Deloitte’s chief wellbeing officer.

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

One thing executives and their employees agree on is that their current job isn’t good for their personal lives, and they just might quit for a better one. Some 69% of C-suite leaders and 57% of employees are “seriously considering quitting for a job that better supports their wellbeing.”

Executives admit not taking enough action to support employee wellness

Nearly all C-suite leaders reported that they feel responsible for the wellbeing of their teams, but 68% admit they aren’t taking enough action to safeguard employee and stakeholder health. Just 1 in 3 employees feel their job has a positive impact on their physical, mental and social wellbeing.

Without listening to employees, companies are investing in resources that don’t adequately address their needs, Fisher says. For example, the pandemic prompted many companies to provide new and improved health benefits like 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 biggest ways leadership can improve workplace wellness, according to employees:

  • Adopt new standards that support social determinants of health (like setting a minimum salary)
  • Focus on the whole-person health of employees (like offering flexible work arrangements or child-care support)
  • Challenge what’s considered “normal” (like a adopting a 4-day workweek or creating no-Zoom-meeting days)
  • Share public health information with employees (like holding town halls about Covid safety)
  • Shape the future of health in coalition with others (like by publicly posting and measuring organizational wellbeing metrics)

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

Executives with power to create institutional change can do a better job polling what employees really need to feel supported, Fisher says. Workers, meanwhile, should understand that big changes won’t happen overnight. “We’re all responsible for the cultures we create,” she says.

It’s possible workers’ confidence in quitting could cool with a potential recession, but the health toll of their jobs won’t go away. If anything, Fisher hopes continued instability will bolster company investments in employee health and resilience.

We continue to live in a world that is disrupted and uncertain, which is another signal to me that wellbeing isn’t a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have from the C-suite on down,” Fisher says.

“What I hope won’t happen is, if there’s some kind of economic downturn, it doesn’t decrease company focus or investment in workforce wellbeing,” she says. “That would be the absolute wrong answer.”

Check out:

How to tell your colleagues they need a vacation: It’s not just saying ‘you look tired’

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

What people get wrong about America’s burnout problem, according to this therapist and podcast host

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