Workplace wellbeing: Survey highlights disconnect between employees and HR

Worrying disconnect between HR and employees

Workplace wellbeing: Survey highlights disconnect between employees and HR

New research has found a worrying disconnect between HR and employees in New Zealand when it comes to the success of their company’s wellbeing initiatives.

It appears HR leaders may be taking a rosier view on wellbeing performance compared to those on the ground, according to the recently released Skills Consulting Group Work Wellbeing Index, which surveyed nearly 1600 HR leaders and employees. It found that across all areas of wellbeing, 79% of HR managers believe their company performs well compared to 62% of employees.

But when it comes to providing genuine care as opposed to a box-ticking exercise, the disconnect is even bigger. Of HR managers, 80% believe their employer genuinely cares for employee wellbeing, compared to 60% for employees. A stark difference of opinion also exists in whether the company has structures and programmes in place to protect wellbeing, and managers acting with genuine care.

Speaking to HRD, Jane Kennelly, GM of Wellbeing at Skills Consulting Group, said traditionally, HR leaders have been seen as being on the side of business rather than the employee. But the pandemic and the difficulties of the last 12 months have put a greater focus on the importance of workplace wellbeing, opening up more honest and vulnerable conversations between both business leaders and their employees.

“The results of our surveys show that this perception does exist, but it means there is a fantastic place for HR practitioners to start to influence and actually move the dial quite quickly,” she said. “One thing we do know is that change can occur in quite a short space of time, and if wellbeing is being placed at the heart of business success, this is a wonderful place for HR to really influence and persuade people.”

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Now with a seat at the table, HR has an opportunity to encourage greater buy-in on wellbeing than ever before. Kennelly said it’s key to build the ROI on wellbeing initiatives, capturing data to demonstrate the impact on absenteeism, engagement and productivity. HR leaders now have sophisticated diagnostic tools at their disposal which enable them to pinpoint where problems are likely to crop up and how to implement preventative strategies.

The Skills Group research found that even among HR leaders, the feeling that wellbeing initiatives are a box-ticking measure is commonplace. Of the respondents, 73% said their policies and programmes are in place to react when something goes wrong, rather than prevent problems. The same amount said they talk about wellbeing because they feel they have to.

So how can HR leaders deliver wellbeing initiatives that feel genuine? Kennelly said taking a personalised approach is key. Wellbeing is no longer one-size-fits-all. Traditionally, EAP has been offered to all employees as a bolt-on benefit but it’s often underutilized. Instead, Kennelly said training and resources should be tailored to teams, because everyone’s situation will be different depending on their role, as well as their work and home life.

But not only do tailored initiatives come across as a more genuine and meaningful approach, it’s cost-effective too – another factor to help HR leaders drive better buy-in from the top.

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“Suddenly you're actually putting the resources and training exactly where you need it, not where you think it might be needed or it sounds like its required,” Kennelly said. “Diagnostic data is incredibly powerful for organisational teams and individual leaders and as a result, training budgets will get reduced because the money will be going to the right place.”

She also urged HR leaders to continually assess and improve wellbeing efforts, rather than press pause when things begin to improve. Otherwise, wellbeing is seen as a purely reactive process – putting a plaster over the bleeding cut – as opposed to genuine care for employees’ physical and mental health.

Looking forward to 2022 and beyond, Kennelly is confident the pandemic has been a once-in-a-generation turning point in terms of better work/life balance and an employer’s duty to look after their employees. By forcing leaders and managers to rethink how to trust their employees and their role in keeping people safe, workplaces have an opportunity to evolve for the better.

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