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Employee Well-Being Depends on the C-Suite — Here’s Why

published6 months ago
6 min read

For this week's Workplace Intelligence Newsletter, I interviewed Jen Fisher, the chief well-being officer in the United States at Deloitte Services LP. In her role, Jen drives the strategy and innovation around work-life, health, and wellness to empower Deloitte’s people to be well so they can perform at their best in both their professional and personal lives.

In our conversation, we discussed Deloitte’s eye-opening new report, The C-suite’s role in well-being: How health-savvy executives can go beyond workplace wellness to workplace well-being—for themselves and their people. The report is based on a study Deloitte conducted in partnership with my company, Workplace Intelligence, and it explores the C-suite’s role in organizational well-being and examines how an overall poor state of health is affecting retention for workers and executives alike.

Read on for Jen’s insights about this remarkable study and its findings.

1. One of the most surprising findings from the study was that nearly 70% of executives (versus 57% of employees) are seriously considering quitting for a job that better supports their well-being. What does this tell us about the impact that work is having on our collective well-being, and what are the implications of such high turnover rates at the executive level of leadership?

The Great Resignation isn’t confined to just employees. Following 2 years of pandemic burnout, everyone is reassessing their relationship to work and what they truly value in life. And truthfully, this reassessment isn’t just the result of the pandemic itself. Workplace culture has been plagued with stress-inducing issues, including unmanageable workloads, long hours, lack of support from managers, no autonomy, and more.

While executives may have more control over some of these contributing factors, they’re certainly not immune to the always on, constantly connected culture we’ve all been living in. With increased demands put upon them, they’re exhausted just like everyone else. In fact, our survey also found that 89% of the C-Suite say that improving their well-being is a top priority for them this year.

The way we’ve been working isn’t sustainable, no matter what level you’re at, and now organizations are feeling the impacts of losing top talent as a result. Sometimes we forget that leaders are people too. If they’re struggling with their own well-being, they won’t be able to lead in a way that supports the well-being of their people.

2. Why is it so important that executives set a better example for their people by taking care of their own well-being? And how does having a healthier workforce (and healthier leaders) translate into better business outcomes?

Everyone in an organization impacts its culture, but leaders play a critical role in helping to set the tone. When it comes to well-being, words matter, but visible actions matter more — employees won’t feel like they have the permission to prioritize their own well-being if they don’t visibly see their leaders doing the same.

This also happens when companies introduce new programs to enhance employee well-being but they don’t have the culture to support them. Take for instance, flexibility. The intent of the benefit is to support employees to create a work schedule that better complements their life. But if the culture of the organization doesn’t reinforce and promote its usage, the benefit doesn’t really help anyone.

This is where leaders modeling behavior can have a real impact. And why shouldn’t leaders take advantage of these benefits that will help support their own well-being and also set a great example for others to follow? It’s not surprising that our survey also found that around half of employees say it’s important to see the C-Suite taking care of their well-being (50%) and facing some of the same struggles (51%), and they say that seeing the C-Suite do this would motivate them to improve their well-being (48%).

When both leaders and employees are making well-being a priority, it’s not only great for the culture, it's also great for the long-term success of the organization. A leader’s role is to remove the barriers that prevent employees from doing their best work — and more often than not, when these barriers are removed, the outcome is improved well-being.

Research has shown that a healthier workforce is also more innovative, engaged, resilient in times of uncertainty, and productive. The C-suite and employees know this to be true too. In fact, our survey reported that 75% of employees and 82% of the C-suite believe that having a job that supports their well-being would boost their productivity.

3. The study revealed some notable disconnects between employee and C-suite perspectives. For example, just 56% of workers feel that their company’s executives care about their well-being, but 91% of the C-suite think they’re perceived as caring leaders. The C-suite also incorrectly reported that their employees are thriving in all aspects of their health and well-being. What can executives do to get a more accurate understanding of their people, and why is this so important?

I think one reason for this disconnect is that if a leader’s well-being is suffering, despite their best efforts to hide it, employees will likely see and feel it. Our survey showed that 70% of executives are willing to quit for a job that better supports their well-being, so if the leaders aren’t thriving, neither is their workforce.

The C-suite can address this by first making well-being a priority in their own lives and a priority for their organization. It can’t be treated as a “nice to have” or a bolt-on to the way we have always done things. It needs to be a priority for all leaders in the organization, including themselves!

Secondly, there needs to be open lines of communication between employees and leaders. Employee surveys can help, but they often don’t dig deep enough to uncover the real challenges that employees are facing. Whether it’s through open forums or small focus groups, the key is providing a safe environment for employees to share their voice. Really understanding employee sentiment is critical if you want to make changes that have a positive impact.

Our survey also uncovered that just 61% of employees are satisfied with the well-being benefits at their company, but 90% of the C-Suite thinks their employees are satisfied. This tells me that what organizations are offering may not be what employees actually want or need. This mismatch leads to money and resources being spent on things that aren’t actually having a positive impact on the people in the organization.

4. In the report, you talk about the need for health-savvy leadership. Can you tell us more about what this looks like?

Health-savvy leaders, first and foremost, understand the connection between work and health, and the impact that work can have on our well-being. They also understand that well-being is holistic. It’s not just about physical health, it’s also about mental, emotional, social, and financial health.

Health-savvy leaders recognize that well-being goes beyond benefits. That’s not to say that benefits aren’t important because they are, but culture is a critical component that is often overlooked.

To truly integrate well-being into the fabric of the organization, leaders need to embed well-being into the flow of work. It needs to be a part of how we work daily, and incorporated into every part of the organization, from how we conduct performance reviews to how we use technology in the workplace.

Health-savvy leaders also understand that their well-being, and how transparent they are about it, is key. People at all levels of an organization need to feel they can make their well-being a priority and the C-Suite sets the example for everyone else.

5. The study uncovered that 55% of employees and 77% of executives believe companies should be required to publicly report their workforce well-being metrics. How does this reflect changing expectations around organizational transparency, and what will the implications be if this level of transparency is required?

This is an area that I’m personally passionate about. In fact, I authored an article on this very topic for our latest Deloitte Insights magazine. I think that publicly reporting on well-being metrics could be a game-changer by not only making well-being an organizational priority, but also a societal imperative. It would give leaders a better understanding of the employee experience and it could hold organizations more accountable for creating positive workplace cultures.

Organizations can benefit from sharing well-being metrics internally as well. People want to feel they can be open about their well-being, and transparency among the C-suite is especially important to employees. Our survey reported that 72% of the workers at organizations whose executives were transparent about well-being rated their own well-being above average.

Publicly disclosing metrics on worker well-being may seem radical, but it has a precedent: the evolution of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reporting. The same could happen with well-being as public interest grows. Well-being touches every worker and their families, and many want something done about it.

It remains to be seen if well-being reporting will follow in ESG’s footsteps. But the growing recognition of well-being’s importance may mean that the process is already underway. Reporting on well-being could be the next evolution in disclosure — with the prospect of benefiting workers, employers, and society as a whole.

Thanks for reading. And if you’re a leader who is ready to take charge of your well-being, I’d invite you to take my LinkedIn Learning course, Managing Your Well-Being as a Leader. With in-depth advice and real-world examples, the course is a great tool to help you make progress on your journey to better health.