There’s a long-standing notion that if you love your job, you’ll never have to work a day in your life. While that may hold true for some, the reality is that many workers today struggle to find a healthy relationship between work and their personal lives. While poor well-being may seem like an issue that affects individual employees, it can lead to larger problems that impact company culture, workforce productivity, employee retention, burnout, and beyond.
The issues that stem from poor well-being in the workplace can significantly hinder business performance, as well. A McKinsey Health study recently noted that poor employee well-being’s economic impact could lead to annual productivity losses between $228 million and $355 million. With that in mind, it’s time we start thinking about 2024 as the year of workplace wellness.
Human resources (HR) leaders can employ a variety of strategies, technologies, and resources to build a workplace where employee well-being thrives. From incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) to addressing burnout at the source and implementing stronger feedback and recognition programs for employees, HR leaders can create cultures where employees feel safe, valued, and happy with their working situations day in and day out.
While AI’s impact on businesses has not yet fully taken shape, employees are already divided on whether AI will help or hinder their daily work. A recent Human Workplace Index survey revealed that one in five workers fear that AI will put their jobs at risk. The reasons for their apprehension are varied: the majority believe that generative AI will replace their job altogether, while others worry that AI is making their industry more competitive or devaluing the work they do.
At the same time, many are optimistic about the use of AI in the workplace. The same research found that 34.1% of all workers believed AI isn’t a threat to their jobs because only a human can do them, while 38.5% of workers expressed confidence that AI will help make digital communications easier. This leaves HR professionals at a crossroads: while the promise of AI is clear, they must roll out the technology in a way that not only makes jobs easier but also diminishes any stress about AI’s role in the workplace.
There are many ways AI can create positive change in the workplace, but let’s focus on two distinct areas: Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) and workload reduction. For example, DE&I leaders and practitioners can leverage AI to help workers at all levels identify instances of unconscious bias. AI tools can identify instances where workers can potentially soften or change their language in written communications like recognition messages, in turn encouraging positive behavioral changes that make everyone feel safe. While AI alone can’t facilitate these positive changes, it can be an invaluable tool to help the workplace become a more inclusive place for all.
AI can also reduce stress in the workplace by reducing the amount of time and output required for more menial tasks, such as emails, instant messaging, and scheduling. This, again, speaks to the need for HR leaders to communicate the positive changes AI brings to the workplace. If they can stress how AI makes work easier, employees will feel more empowered to use these technologies in ways that reduce their workload and consequently improve their well-being.
Burnout can manifest itself in several ways, but all types lead to the same results that can be harmful for individuals and businesses alike. When burnout is left unchecked, workers can experience difficulty engaging with their work and creating connections with their peers– as a result, burnout takes a hit. Meanwhile, businesses realize tremendous financial losses: burnout, and its effect on employee productivity and retention, costs $322 billion every year, entrenching it as one of the most consequential issues for businesses of any size.
Though burnout can have serious impacts throughout an organization, addressing the issue is something that any HR team can do by identifying its root causes. Like most workplace wellness issues, burnout is not a one-size-fits-all issue: female employees, for example, were more likely to say they were always or very often burned out than their male counterparts (30% vs. 23%). Additionally, employees of color experience burnout at higher levels than white employees do.
Even though the symptoms and causes of burnout may differ, these discrepancies can be accounted for by meeting your employees where they are. In this case, people managers are the best asset for HR executives. Encouraging managers to frequently check in on a personal level with their employees can help them gain a better understanding of their mental health, their stressors in and outside of the office, and any pain points that should be addressed. This also opens avenues for employees to share feedback, in turn giving managers, HR leaders, and business executives actionable advice to address potential gaps in workplace wellness strategies.
While technology can certainly aid HR teams looking to improve workplace well-being, the changes shouldn’t stop there. Businesses should also consider ways to open up opportunities for greater feedback and recognition. Specifically, providing employees with more channels to share their gratitude or speak about changes they want to see in the workplace will be table stakes for executives and HR leaders moving forward.
When employees don’t feel seen, it threatens the very foundation of any workplace culture, creating divides and negative emotions that can be hard to repair if not addressed early on. Unfortunately, this issue is more common than one might think. For example, in February of this year, 30% of workers indicated that they felt invisible at work, while 27% felt flat-out ignored. Each employee’s reaction to this may vary, but common reactions include working harder (which inevitably leads to burnout and lower well-being) as well as a desire to leave the organization altogether.
There is a steep cost that comes with neglecting to acknowledge employees, as well. The time and energy it takes to replace an employee can cost anywhere between 50 and 200 percent of that worker’s annual salary; not only do companies need to pay a replacement’s new salary, but they also lose money on lost productivity while a job remains open, advertising fees, interviewing for a position, and onboarding a new employee.
Fortunately, businesses that properly recognize their employees for the hard work they do can reap the benefits of savings in both the short and long term. The average 10,000-person company that makes recognition a key cog in its operations can save over $16 million annually. When employees feel properly seen, they feel more engaged, more satisfied with their work, and bring their best selves to their jobs every day.
Ultimately, the importance of emphasizing workplace wellness cannot be understated heading into 2024. When people feel safe and happy at work, they are not only able to contribute to the success of their organization but feel more apt to stay in the long run. By utilizing AI to create a safe and welcoming workplace and doubling down on recognition as a must-have solution, HR teams can feel more confident about instilling a culture of well-being and connection in the new year.
Article Published By: HR.com