Workplace wellness author and Motion Infusion founder and CEO Laura Putnam explains why having the best benefits isn’t necessarily the key to better employee retention and morale.
Founder and CEO, Motion Infusion
Amidst The Great Resignation, what benefits and other rewards should employers offer to help increase retention and prevent burnout?
The first thing is to understand it really is not about the perks and benefits. It’s about an organization’s way of life. Put another way, it’s not the bells and whistles; it’s the way the work gets done. In the day to day and what I see so often is just a real disconnect between the benefits of the programs that are offered and the way of life outside of the programs. It’s that disconnect that so often creates the discontent for employees. What The Great Resignation has underscored is what has been true all along. Things like employees want to feel connected with what matters most. They want to feel connected with others, they want to feel connected to their deepest purpose. They want to feel like that their purpose aligns with the organization’s purpose. They want to feel connection to what matters most.
Things like flexibility. People want flexibility in how they work in when they work and where they work. They want meaning. The pandemic has served as a giant reset for people, and people are like, “Oh my gosh, I really do only live once. And what is it that I really want to be doing with my life? This is not my practice life. This is my real life.” People are feeling that sense of truly wanting meaning in how they’re spending their days. They want a sense of dignity and feeling like they matter to the organization and then feeling like that they are appreciated not just for what they do, but for who they are as human beings.
The reason why I say that all of these are things that people have wanted all along. It’s just now, because it’s an employee’s market, they’re more in a position to be able to bargain for what they want. In fact, there’s an ADP Research Institute study that came out recently. It went from like 29% of employees feeling empowered to be able to ask for what they want to 67% because of The Great Resignation. We’ve had high levels of disengagement for a long time, so people would just kind of show up for work. But not really, because they weren’t getting their deep human needs met. And now they’re like, “You know what? I don’t have to do that. Instead, I can actually go find something else.” Long research has shown that those employees who are thriving are 81%, more likely to stay. It’s so hard for organizations and leaders to really fully understand just how much investing in the well being of their people is actually really good for the bottom line, including things like being competitive and a profitable organization.
I often will frame it up as: Is your organization a place that people feel like that they have to go to or is it a place that they want to go? So often there’s a disconnect between the well-intended wellness programs and then the way of life, and frankly, a lot of times, it’s the companies that have the most bells and whistles, but people don’t like the way they’re treated or there’s a lot of toxicity. There’s still a holdover of the bro culture as much as there’s discussions about DEI and appreciating everybody — I just see it that white guys still lead the pack. They’re still leading the change. People are like, “enough.”
Why is it crucial for corporate leaders to address mental health specifically, and how can they assist employees on that path to mental wellness?
The first is that the rising mental health crisis is something that has been long in the making — the pandemic only accelerated it. The seeds were already planted. For example, you look at suicide rates, which increased by 30% from 2000 to 2018. This was happening before the pandemic. The pandemic just accelerated this. We might say that the impact on our mental health is the second act of the pandemic. All these things that we had to do to protect our physical health during the pandemic, such as masking up and social distancing, such as having to double time, as a teacher at home and still a working professional, were the first act. Obviously, women were impacted by this much more so than men were. It’s just exacted a huge toll on our mental health. I think that there’s kind of like a delayed effect of it. If you look at something like rates of suicide, they actually went down a little bit during the height of the pandemic, but now they’re starting to tick back up. If we go back 100 years and look at the earlier influenza pandemic, a similar thing apparently happened, where rates of suicide went down, and then you have that kind of delayed effect — you lose all your family members, and kind of in the moment, you’re just trying to like get through it, and then you’re kind of left with the collateral damage on your mental health. I think that we’re seeing a lot of that.
A study came out from Boston University showing that rates of depression have tripled since the onset of the pandemic. There’s studies coming out showing that rates of substance abuse have gone up and then also rates of loneliness, rates of burnout — all of these markers of mental health.