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Legal Talent & Inclusion

Insights in Action: Making the benefit case for promoting healthy employee well-being in the office

Becky Halat  Client Services / Thomson Reuters

· 6 minute read

Becky Halat  Client Services / Thomson Reuters

· 6 minute read

Promoting good employee well-being in the workplace can carry multiple benefits across the entire enterprise, including to the company's business strategy

While work culture has come a long way in bringing employee well-being to the forefront in recent years, those trying to infuse the movement into organizations still find themselves fighting against powerful cultural barriers.

At a recent roundtable, leaders from across a variety of sectors, mostly legal and healthcare, came together to discuss their insights on well-being at work, including the importance of employee health and well-being to the organization’s business strategy. One major component of this discussion was the question of what contributes to employee well-being? Many roundtable participants felt the issue largely revolves around employees feeling supported, understanding their position within the organization, and being trusted to work flexibility while taking initiative to balance their own work and life.

Addressing barriers to well-being as a priority

The group also sought to identify the barriers that workplace culture faces to cementing well-being into organizations’ strategic business priorities; and most importantly, how to move the needle in the direction of prioritizing mental health while also meeting business demands.

Many participants agreed that the barriers that keep well-being from being a top organizational priority are somewhat of a moving target. While some may look to managers as a starting point, those in managerial roles traditionally haven’t had to offer the level of mental health support that has become expected of them during the pandemic and since. Managers are rarely hired or promoted based on any soft skills, like empathy for example. In fact, many took on their managerial role to better grow their career and raise their earning power, not necessarily to nurture and develop employees. A cynical view, perhaps, but it’s only recently that a manager’s responsibility has been turned on its head to include an emphasis on employees’ well-being and positive mental state. Even for those managers who are deeply invested in the well-being of their team members, it’s still a heavy burden to carry.

Yet there are some potential steps managers can take. For example, the re-branding of “soft skills” to “human-centered power skills” has been shown to have the power to create a positive multiplier effect around employee satisfaction and build cultures of well-being, belonging, and inclusion.

Many participants agreed that the barriers that keep well-being from being a top organizational priority are somewhat of a moving target.

During the roundtable, participants noted that managers can’t be entirely blamed for low employee well-being, as they’re typically playing the role of the intermediary, passing along the pressure to hit certain key financial metrics from the leaders above them. And while there are leaders who buy into employee well-being as a sound business strategy, that’s not the case for all managers, especially in the legal industry, which is notoriously slow to change. Even for those managers that do fully buy-in, they don’t always know how best to balance business needs with ensuring that employees have strong mental health.

Industry disruptions & diversity needs

So, how have industry leaders successfully convinced the top bosses to embrace, or at least accept, well-being as a critical component of an organization’s talent management? Getting manager and individual contributor buy-in is critical — and having a critical mass showing support for well-being initiatives can get leadership on board, participants said. Another strategy is connecting well-being to financial metrics — showing the high cost that low well-being has on an organization’s productivity and attrition. Indeed, further research, echoed by our roundtable participants, shows how office locations that offer employees strong well-being initiatives actually have reduced medical costs.

To be sure, metrics are key to understanding where an organization sits in the well-being continuum; however, collecting such data is not the only piece of the puzzle, participants explained. A number of organizations have Organizational Health Index (OHI) surveys that can include well-being questions, but how companies approach these surveys will dictate their effectiveness. Those leaders that don’t act on the feedback from the surveys will find that in the future, employees will be less likely to take part if they feel that the survey is waste of their time, and nothing comes from the feedback they provide. Closing that feedback loop, then, is key to a successful well-being measurement program.

The group also broached the subject of disruption in the way we work and how that might affect well-being. Any discussion about the future of work is incomplete without the mention of ChatGPT and generative artificial intelligence (AI) — innovative technologies that certainly have the potential to disrupt a variety of industries, including the legal profession, in ways that we haven’t seen in quite some time. Participants pointed out that AI will likely take over the more routine and less complex tasks that lawyers currently do, leaving them with the more complex, challenging, and therefore rewarding work. While this shift has the potential be a boon to well-being, it all depends on how leadership engages with these technologies and how expectations may shift as a result.

Metrics are key to understanding where an organization sits in the well-being continuum; however, collecting such data is not the only piece of the puzzle.

Given the increased pressure on managers and leaders, many may be unsure of how to judge the potential for AI to transform work, especially legal work, several participants said. While it could lead to lawyers having a stronger sense of purpose at work because they can focus on more complex work that they enjoy, it won’t necessarily lead to a shift in the work/life balance if increased productivity brings the expectation that lawyers will produce exponentially more.

While it is relatively straightforward to identify the components that can lead to healthy employee well-being, how each individual employee can get there for is much more complex. People have diverse needs and challenges, leading many roundtable participants to suggest that establishing a work culture that promotes positive employee well-being is no one size fits all proposition.

In fact, one participant joked at the start of the discussion that he chose to participate in order to find the silver bullet to well-being at work — not surprisingly, the observation was met with laughter ringing throughout the room. Yet in the end, the group acknowledged that the complexity of the topic doesn’t mean it can be ignored — barriers to promoting healthy employee well-being at work should be addressed because the benefits to an organization’s business strategy are too important going forward.

Interested in learning more about well-being and our wider insights? Gain access to the evidence you need to make the best strategic decisions, here.

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