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Companies that adopt appropriate employee well-being strategies innovate better than those that don't

From February this year, a new law will take effect in Belgium that will hand government employees the right to ignore calls from their bosses after designated work hours. Called the ‘right to disconnect’, the new rule is meant to protect government employees from stress and eventual burnout caused by overwork.

With the pandemic-induced work-from-home (WFH) trend sweeping the globe, organizations the world-over have gradually come to realize both its perks and pitfalls. On the one hand, firms undoubtedly benefit from the business continuity that the WFH arrangement provides. Companies such as IBM and Sun Microsystem have saved real estate costs by $50 million and $68 million respectively. Also, a Mercer study found that 93% of employers observed productivity levels to be consistent or higher than pre-pandemic levels. That said, on the other side of the spectrum, there is no denying that WFH arrangements have contributed to employee stress. A survey in India found one in three remote-working employees to be suffering from burn-out owing to rising workload and stress. Similarly, in the US, 86% of the professionals working remotely said that they experienced stress and burnout.

As the pandemic enters its third year and with unrelenting new variants disrupting normality, remote and hybrid work options will continue. How then, can organizations ensure that they stay competitive while ensuring that its workforce stays fresh on the job, day after day?

Initiatives With Tangible Impact

A report from The Josh Berlin Company concluded that when companies adopt appropriate employee wellbeing strategies, they are 2.2x more likely to exceed financial targets, 2.7x more likely to delight customers and the probability of their innovation effectiveness grows 1.9x.

And organizations are aware of this. Which is why from the advent of the industrial revolution when thoughts of employee safety emerged, to the 1940s, when the concept of Employee assistance programs (EAPs) gained prominence, leading to the 1970s, when Johnson & Johnson pioneered workplace wellness with their ‘Life program’, the employee wellbeing movement has slowly but steadily gone mainstream.

Since the onset of the WFH, organizations have been upping the ante on a range of employee wellbeing programs.

Seeing that leaders played a huge role in keeping remote workers engaged, a Canadian bank mandated that its managers completed a mental health certification program. On another tangent, while anticipating challenges in the transition to a remote working environment, several companies rolled out a slew of measures to ease the process for its employees. Google announced that it would reimburse work-from-home gear up to $1,000. Feather, a furniture rental company provided employees with a $100 monthly stipend towards food, office supplies and internet expenses.

Other organizations, meanwhile, felt child-care support was vital for their employee. PepsiCo was one of them. So, in partnership with Varsity Tutors, they set up a virtual summer camp for their employees, one that kept children occupied through the day while their parents worked. Meanwhile, Zillow, a real estate marketplace, introduced 10 fully paid days of caregiver leave.

And it’s not just the organizations, legislative interventions can also play a crucial role in ensuring that the workforce’s health and wellness is addressed.

Laws That Count

Much like how Belgium acted to safeguard its government employees, several other European nations have introduced measures to shield its workforce from the perils of non-stop remote work.

France has had a ‘right-to-disconnect’ law in place since 2017 and now Ireland is following suit, empowering workers to switch-off at 5.30pm or at a time as mutually agreed with their employer. Elsewhere, in Portugal, firms that don’t abide by a similar ‘right-to-disconnect’ law and fail to support employees with WRH related expenses, face fines. Similarly, calls for a law across the European Union that empowers digital workers to disconnect outside of their working hours is gathering steam.

In the US, the Department of Labor’s (Department) Wage and Hour Division (WHD) administers and enforces The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA or Act), which requires certain employers to offer employees paid sick leave and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. Likewise, employees that had to leave the workforce could avail relief from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.

Employees At The Forefront

Amongst several other things, the pandemic has taught businesses that a healthy organization drives business success. While financial incentives do help, a strategic, holistic, and human centered approach will undoubtedly help bolster employee engagement.

Therefore, processes and programs that place employee needs at the forefront will be vital. Subsequently, these programs must receive executive backing and the requisite organizational resources, so they see the light of day and impact employees as intended.

In August 2020, when Cisco migrated to the remote work, it announced a paid day off called ‘Day of Me’. The motive was for employees to take a break and step away from work when needed. And to promote holistic wellbeing, the company provided preventive, crisis, and just-in-time support to employees and held ‘Ask Me Anything’ sessions where employees could interact with expert physicians and the executive leadership team. Similarly, SAP Labs India’s office at Bangalore has been redesigned with employee wellness in mind. Open fitness areas equipped with exercise bikes blend seamlessly with workspaces. This way, employees can break away momentarily, work up a sweat if needed and return afresh.

While frontline workers battle the pandemic and civic society endures uncomfortable cubs to battle the ongoing contagion, it’s paramount that the corporate world innovates to ensure that businesses function in an efficient and productive. Employees, thus, play a pivotal role. And with positive and decisive leadership, their health and wellbeing will emerge as a constant factor and not just a passing fad.

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