Addressing the Wellbeing Disconnect With a Data-Informed Strategy
Companies recognize that wellbeing is more important than ever. But the programs they offer don’t always match what their employees need.
Wellbeing programs, especially in financial wellbeing, are frequently disconnected from the needs of employees.
In order to bridge this gap, companies need an integrated, data-informed wellbeing strategy.
By focusing on data and employee concerns, needs and interests, employers can make better decisions about wellbeing programs.
When rolling out wellbeing programs, key decisions tend to depend on the cost and complexity of implementation. While these are important aspects to consider, it is critical to also question whether a particular program addresses what it set out to do in the first place — fulfill a company’s employee needs and concerns. In order to do so, both relevance and targeting are essential. With limited resources, data can help companies discover where the maximum impact can be achieved.
Our 2022-2023 Global Wellbeing Survey found some degree of mismatch between the programs companies offered versus the programs that would meet the perceived needs of their employees. In the starkest example, financial wellbeing programs mostly revolved around retirement savings, instead of solving problems for the here and now.
Regionally, the disconnect is even more stark. In Latin America, two-thirds of respondents listed living paycheck to paycheck as a stressor — more than in any other region. In Asia Pacific, a similar number listed current compensation as an issue. In Africa and the Middle East, job security, the inability to create an emergency fund, and affordability of healthcare and healthy food all ranked statistically higher than the global average. While these are all short-term stressors, programs to address them globally are rare. It’s important to note that aspects of wellbeing aren’t completely independent of each other. An employee who has financial wellbeing concerns, for example, may experience issues with emotional and social wellbeing as well.
Even when programs are offered, there can be a disconnect. When it comes to emotional wellbeing, companies are discovering that their current program options aren’t having an impact. An employee assistance plan (EAP) has become standard, especially in North America. Many companies are also offering virtual therapy to improve access, but these programs aren’t well understood or used.
Despite all the progress made in wellbeing over the past several years, just under 20 percent of companies address all five wellbeing dimensions (physical, emotional, social, financial and career)
Source: Aon 2022-2023 Global Wellbeing Survey
A Rapid Shift in Priorities
Some of what has occurred in the wellbeing space over the past few years has been a game of catch-up. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed shortcomings in how we deal with mental health, and employers have had to pick up the slack. Now that the dust has settled, companies are noticing that the programs they have implemented aren’t moving the needle as much as they’d hoped. That may well be because traditional programs are designed to address clinical issues like anxiety, depression and substance abuse, whereas the pandemic revealed the prevalence of conditions like burnout and languishing — which do not warrant immediate clinical attention, but still affect many employees. Other challenges lie in the fact that companies have taken a top down approach to wellbeing programs. They often assume they know what employees need without listening to their people through a data-led approach. This mismatch in priorities shows up in low utilization, and more importantly, a lack of overall wellbeing improvement.
Eight Ways to Keep Wellbeing Programs Relevant
1. Develop an integrated strategy. Employers are increasingly turning to an integrated wellbeing strategy. Integration means not only bringing together programs from the different dimensions of wellbeing, but also integrating with the larger company strategy. Making wellbeing an integrated part of a company’s overall strategy can help gain support from senior leaders and make the strategy more successful. Aligning with talent and safety stakeholders can help wellbeing programs share and incorporate resources.
2. Take a data-led approach. Data on who is using current programs is a good place to start. Making sure successful programs are expanded or emphasized is important, but finding out what employees say they need is crucial. Conduct employee focus groups, listening sessions and surveys in order to drill down into specific needs that can be solved.
3. Changing the culture around wellbeing. Employers need to create a culture of wellbeing as well. This is especially true when dealing with emotional wellbeing. The last few years have led companies to pay lip service to employee mental health without really supporting it by creating a psychologically safe workplace. Sometimes the foundation of an employee’s struggle with emotional wellbeing is work stress, a bad manager or an overwhelming workload. In those situations, an EAP can help repair the damage but not prevent the problem. An indicator of how well a wellbeing program will perform is how well it is supported by management — from supervisors and line managers all the way up to the C-Suite.
It’s not just the C-Suite. We believe involvement from all levels of leadership contributes to greater effectiveness and interest in wellbeing.
4. Build an infrastructure around wellbeing. It’s important to create and maintain a wellbeing infrastructure consisting of a diverse network of champions across the organization. They should connect with employees, understand needs and report back to senior management. They can also be a great communication vehicle to ensure employees are aware of the resources available to them.
5. Keep one eye on the bottom line, and the other on the big picture. Make sure that as many of the pillars of wellbeing are covered as possible. But there is also a need for balance. Getting rid of low impact programs and focusing on an overall wellbeing strategy that incorporates the needs of employees will optimize spend and begin to make a bigger impact on employee wellbeing. Conduct a periodic inventory and assessment of resources, while checking for both efficacy and alignment with employee needs and organizational priorities.
6. Communication is the key. It may also be the case that an employer’s offering matches up fairly well with workers’ needs, but the communication around it is lacking. Target messages to specific groups of employees who are more likely to need them, and ensure a steady cadence of communications. This is not only more effective than just relying on employees to seek out the right options, but it can also help improve existing programs and reveal other needs to address. But remember to always incorporate and diversify communication avenues to align with the organizational culture. For example, equip managers with information and communication for priorities needs or embed program highlights into other successful internal communication. However, this doesn’t mean overcommunicating, either. Swamping employees with too much information can make them feel overwhelmed.
7. Participation is the goal, but go deeper. Don’t rely solely on high-level participation data. Instead, take a holistic view of wellbeing to see if programs are making a difference in employees’ lives. While some of that can come from participation data, it’s important to also track satisfaction with programs and consider other data, like overall job satisfaction.
8. Take a multigenerational approach to wellbeing. Recognizing key differences among your population enables every generation to achieve optimal levels of health, resilience, and performance. Goals and tactics should be influenced by the individual, those in leadership positions, and the organization as a whole and should differ based on generational distribution of your workforce to be most effective.
Too often, we rely on gut feeling or instinct rather than data. Success starts with measuring improvement.
Financial Wellbeing Solutions: Getting it Right
While disconnects were present with the 2022-2023 Global Wellbeing Survey, there are programs evolving to meet employee needs. Our research shows that the most important factor affecting financial wellbeing is a person’s relationship to and behavior with money. It’s a trait that hardens within people at a young age, and change is slow. Programs that allow employees to make incremental progress toward changing their behavior, rather than just addressing one aspect of financial wellbeing, have a much greater chance to meet employee needs.
Having a business strategy that fully incorporates wellbeing will help ensure that the programs are relevant and effective. It also gives employers a chance to evaluate and adjust their strategy without risking the loss of leadership support. By following the steps outlined above, companies will be better informed and advised about what their employees need — ultimately leading to better wellbeing program decisions and a healthier company overall.
This document is not intended to address any specific situation or to provide legal, regulatory, financial, or other advice. While care has been taken in the production of this document, Aon does not warrant, represent or guarantee the accuracy, adequacy, completeness or fitness for any purpose of the document or any part of it and can accept no liability for any loss incurred in any way by any person who may rely on it. Any recipient shall be responsible for the use to which it puts this document. This document has been compiled using information available to us up to its date of publication and is subject to any qualifications made in the document.
The contents herein may not be reproduced, reused, reprinted or redistributed without the expressed written consent of Aon, unless otherwise authorized by Aon. To use information contained herein, please write to our team.
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