Employee Wellbeing – Excessive Demands or Justified Expectations?

The world of work is changing and with it the traditional relationship between employers and employees. Fueled by the shortage of skilled workers, many companies find themselves in an arms race of benefits that are supposed to guarantee them the necessary edge in the “war for talent”.

In this context, the term “employee wellbeing” comes up again and again. We take a look at what it means and what questions companies should be asking themselves now.

1. Definition: What is Employee Wellbeing?

The term employee wellbeing can be interpreted in different ways. There is no “official” definition of the term. After all, concepts such as wellbeing and health are multilayered anyway and always a question of perspective.

While some understand Employee Wellbeing to mean concrete measures to promote physical and mental health (especially in the context of occupational health management), others define the term more broadly and understand it to mean:

  • Physical wellbeing
  • Career situation
  • Social contacts
  • Financial situation
  • Emotional well-being
  • Meaningfulness of work (purpose)

2. The Increasing Relevance of Employee Wellbeing

There seems to be no question that the topic of employee wellbeing is becoming increasingly relevant. According to a study from 2021, employee wellbeing is now a very high priority for 68% of all HR executives surveyed (source: futureworkplacefutureworkplace).

Another indicator of the increasing relevance of the topic is the search volume on Google. This has increased sharply for the term “employee wellbeing” over the past few years. The Corona pandemic may have had a particular effect in this context, with many people questioning the role of work in their psychological and physical well-being.

The shortage of skilled workers and the resulting “war for talents” are causing additional urgency. Many companies are trying to win this battle with ever new benefits, but as a result they often find themselves in an imbalance of give and take – an area of tension in which HR staff often have to balance the different expectations.

3. Employee Wellbeing – a Generational Issue?

For many, the new focus on employee wellbeing measures is closely linked to young workers’ expectations of their jobs. From this perspective, it is above all Generation Z that exerts pressure on companies with their expectations, which are often perceived as unrealistic.

At the same time, it is not undisputed whether a clear line can be drawn between generations at all. Some people flatly deny the generalizability of generations, while others emphasize their commonalities. Various surveys and studies suggest that commonalities rather than differences stand out, at least between Generation Z and Millennials.

Two examples:

  • 56% of Gen Z and 57% of Millennials prioritize meaningful work with positive social impact over high popularity of their company (source: Deloitte)
  • 64% of Gen Z and 69% of Millennials prioritize a stable job with clear prospects over an exciting position (source: Deloitte)

Whether you attribute the new pressure of expectations to Gen Z, Millennials or no one in particular, it changes little for many companies. In the battle for workers, they need to answer the following questions for themselves: What does employee wellbeing mean to us? What concrete measures can and must we take to be attractive to employees?

4. Holistic and individual approaches

Depending on whom you ask, you can get very different answers to these questions. While some try to convince through concrete benefits (such as access to a gym), other companies focus on measures to promote mental health (e.g. Mental Health Days), while still others emphasize the meaningfulness (e.g. in terms of sustainability) of their work.

However, caution is called for on the latter point in particular. As Deloitte aptly notes in its study on Generation Z:

“Organisations cannot thrive without purpose today; however, they cannot use purpose to whitewash a mediocre employee proposition.”

The essence of this statement does not only apply to the issue of meaningfulness. Ultimately, the offer must be considered in its entirety and be authentic.

As a consequence, this means that a promising and balanced employee wellbeing concept looks different for every company.

5. HR Consulting

At HR factory, we place a strong focus on holistic solutions. To this end, we offer our customers comprehensive consulting services – from stocktaking and in-depth analyses to concrete implementation plans.