A new study by PwC (DiversityInc Top 50 Hall of Fame) and the Center for Effective Organization at the University of Southern California (USC) has defined employees’ well-being as a more than just a workplace perk. PwC’s Well-Being Learning Project has shown it is a business imperative.
The study — which involved data and feedback the accounting firm collected over six months from more than 1,400 partners and staff — found corporate well-being initiatives and employees’ personal practices have individual, team and client relationship benefits. According to PwC’s site, the Well-Being Learning Project is one of the largest studies of a corporate well-being effort to date.
Michael Fenlon, chief people officer at PwC, oversees aspects of the overall workplace experience, including talent acquisition and retention. He said the company embarked on the study because it was interested to see how well-being affects business-related issues, such as the likeliness of employees remaining at the company, the effectiveness of employee teams and the success of employee-client relationships. The study found just how crucial these practices are.
“These wellbeing habits, they told us, the teams that where they reported strong wellbeing, they also told us they had better client relationships, their team was working more effectively,” Fenlon said. “They told us they wanted to stay with our firm in a very tight labor market. This is what top talent, people are looking for. And environment where they can thrive and be there best.”
PwC’s partnership with USC helped ensure the firm was relying on an objective third party to analyze its data. The team looked into how respondents from 10 different market teams and internal business units indicated various measures of well-being, healthy habits and attitudes, well-being outcomes and environmental and contextual factors surrounding well-being. PwC’s work in the realm of well-being began between 2016 and 2017, when the firm became interested in how to discuss mental, emotional, physical and spiritual energy as it relates to the workplace. PwC leaders asked all of their employees to opt-in to the well-being plan, begin assessing themselves based on mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health, build personal and team wellness plans and then share those plans.
Although it seems intuitive that happier, healthier employees do better work, Fenlon said, this study was not simply designed to share information. He said its detailed results offer solutions and are helping PwC put them into action.
“I think it actually helped clarify some things that made the most difference for us, because it’s interesting. This is the difference between knowing something and doing something.”
The report lays out four key findings from the study:
A commitment to healthy behaviors is more important than choosing “the right” habits.
Fenlon explained not just one method or strategy of self-care guarantees wellness. Intention to make a healthy change matters more than the type of change itself.
“The researchers concluded that it wasn’t a matter of two or three things that accounted for all the variants in what drives happiness and wellbeing,” Fenlon said. “It was more a matter of each one of us picking certain habits — whatever habits seem more important and relevant to us — and just beginning.”
Inclusive leadership and teamwork enable well-being to thrive.
Diversity and inclusion are directly related to corporate well-being. The study found work environment — including a general feeling of belonging and being valued — encourages one’s commitment to well-being.
Fenlon said teamwork and support in the workplace help foster general well-being, but also lead to better business outcomes because of the innovative and varied ideas that arise from diverse groups.
“It was really striking how it turned out to be a powerful predictor of wellbeing – not just business outcomes, but wellbeing for our people,” he said. “And for us, that ties to our broader diversity agenda. That’s what diversity is in part about: It’s about our values, but it’s also about creating an environment where everyone feels that they belong and that they can contribute to their absolute fullest. That’s very powerful.”
Corporate priority + healthy habits = big business benefits.
Healthy workers are effective workers, but why should it be the business’ job to encourage employees to take care of themselves? Fenlon said a positive and healthy workplace culture allows for the perpetuation of healthy habits, both in and out of the office.
“There’s so much power in bringing people together and having a culture that supports wellbeing,” Fenlon said.
Technology boosts well-being.
The general consensus is that technology leads to an “always on” culture that makes it difficult for people to strike a work and life balance.
“We are living in a 24/7 global, always on, digital economy,” Fenlon said. “Where, I think for many of us, demand exceeds capacity.”
Smart devices can make us always reachable — for better or worse. But technology can also help us manage and track our wellness. Well-being technology — like wearables, fitness-trackers and meditation apps — were reported to have aided team and client relationships within the company. The report recommends considering including these technologies in company wellness efforts.
Fenlon said ultimatelythe study served to help PwC understand what corporate well-being efforts were most effective and what the firm should focus on. The purpose of the research was to offer insights to help accelerate the adoption of well-being practices into the company. He also brought up the importance of putting rhetoric to action — a practice that can be uncommon in an image and PR-driven corporate space where companies often fail to practice what they preach.
“I think people are quick to point out gaps between reality and corporate rhetoric, and there’s a lot of mistrust generally in society today,” he said. “So it’s easy to talk about this stuff, very easy, but it’s a whole other challenge to say, ‘Actually, we’re going to have a culture that supports wellbeing, that it’s a serious business priority for us.’”