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By Marissa Kalkman
Executive Director, Wellness Council of Wisconsin (WCWI)

The employee wellbeing industry is constantly growing and evolving in response to our ever-changing environment and the needs of our people.  As you continue to adjust to current circumstances and plan your strategies for 2021 and beyond, you may be asking yourself: What is employee wellbeing, today? And what are the most important considerations for a strategy that will have wide-reaching and sustainable impact? 

As a professional development and consultation organization for employee wellbeing strategists, WCWI supports over 450 Wisconsin-based employers in shifting their employee wellbeing initiatives to a foundational strategy that is valued and understood by all.  

Below are 9 resources you can reflect on as you plan your next steps for widening the reach and impact of your employee wellbeing strategy. These sources can be referenced in discussions with your leadership and teams to gain additional support as you collaborate across your organization to ensure employee wellbeing is a strategic priority. 




1. Proof that Positive Work Cultures Are More Productive

  • A Harvard Business Review article based on research from Stanford Medicine’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education; published pre-COVID in 2015.
  • Brief Summary: Workplace stress is the derivative of several healthcare expenditures such as metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, workplace issues such as accidents, lost workdays, etc. Employee wellbeing is a result of the culture and there are six essential characteristics of a positive culture. The article narrows to four steps for leadership to embody that will translate into a more positive culture experience for employees (though published pre-COVID, these actions are especially relevant during the pandemic): 1) foster social connections 2) show empathy 3) help and mentor 4) encourage authentic conversation and sharing of experiences and challenges

2. Wellbeing in the Workplace and Its Relationship to Business Outcomes

  • A review of the Gallup studies; published early 2000s.
  • Brief Summary: Workplace wellbeing and performance are not independent. Rather, they are complimentary and dependent components of a financially and psychologically healthy workplace.  

3. Mind the Workplace: Workplace Health Survey

  • This nationwide survey measured attitudes and perceptions of 17,000+ employees across 19 industries in the US; the survey study took place 2015-2017 with results published pre-COVID in 2019.
  • Brief Summary: the survey results identified three domains associated with workplace health and employee wellness: 1) Workplace Environment: general workplace conditions or norms that influence how employees perceive their value and contribution to an organization’s mission on a day-to-day basis. Workplace Environment analysis included accountability measures, support mechanisms, and systems of reward and recognition. 2) Workplace Stress: a disruption to an individual’s cognitive-emotional- environmental system - by some external environmental demand in the work environment. 3) Employee Engagement: the level of commitment and involvement an employee has toward their organization, its values, and goals.
  • Note about the survey respondents: over 70 percent of individuals who took the work health survey were on MHA Screening website or on MHA’s other mental health related content prior to taking a survey. Lower average scores among users indicate a connection between help seeking behaviors in mental health (looking for mental health resources) and poor workplace satisfaction.

4. One Mind at Work: Facts for Employers

  • Published in collaboration with One Mind at Work and Tufts Medical Center Program on Health, Work and Productivity (pre-COVID).
  • Brief Summary: Mental health affects all businesses and needs to be a strategic priority based on the following: First, mental illness is surprisingly prevalent across all occupations and it’s relevant to employers regardless of industry and company size. Second, many employees are not seeking treatment while those who do often fail to receive the best care available – leading to continuing and unnecessary costs related to treatment and lost productivity as well as employee suffering. This is unfortunately the legacy of stigma and lack of resources that historically have surrounded mental illness. Third, there is a growing awareness that mental and medical (i.e. physical) illnesses frequently co-occur, making care of the physical illnesses more difficult and resulting in poorer outcomes and greater costs. Together, these observations underscore the importance of making mental health care a mainstream part of an employer’s health strategy.

5. Mental Health in the Workplace: A Look at Leaders’ Top Priorities

  • A Forbes article highlighting the mental health and wellbeing needs of the workforce; published September 2020.
  • Brief Summary: an employer-led mental health response to the challenges and changes from COVID-19 is imperative. Leadership priorities include:
    • Building and sustaining a trauma-informed workplace
    • Fostering connection and relational wellbeing
    • Expanding inclusion and belonging to include the needs of the neuro-diverse
    • Shifting benefits, wellness initiatives, and mental health strategies to support the multi-generational workforce

6. Employee Mental Health & Wellbeing During and Beyond COVID-19

  • Published by the Center for Workplace Mental Health during COVID.
  • Brief Summary: our nation is experiencing a surge in people showing signs of depression, anxiety, and other serious mental health distress. Recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows nearly a tripling of people experiencing signs of depression and anxiety since 2019. Anxiety prevalence in the US is up from 9% to 31% and depression prevalence is up from 7% to 25%. The article describes the framework LEAD for employers to create support and impact across their workforce: Leadership, Effective Communication, Adapt to Change, Double Down on Access to Care.

7. Navigating COVID-19 –Impact of the Pandemic on Mental Health

  • Published by SHRM in May 2020.
  • Brief Summary: a survey of 1,099 employees in the US describes several findings related to employee mental health, interpersonal work relationships, feelings of safety, burnout, work/family balance, and health behaviors such as exercise, healthy eating, and sleep. 

8. MetLife Employee Benefits Trends: Supporting Employee Wellbeing in Uncertain Times 

  • Comparative trends from a pre-pandemic survey (summer 2019) and the start of the pandemic (April 2020).
  • Brief Summary: focus is on a holistic model of wellbeing to support employees and help them feel supported, secure, and cared for. 

9. Psychological Climate for Caring and Work Outcomes

  • A research paper from Harvard SHINE published in September 2020 summarizes three-year longitudinal data from a study of apparel workers. 
  • Brief Summary: The research team found that a caring work climate contributes to improved engagement, work quality, and productivity. Five dimensions of psychological climate perceptions were identified: 1) role stress and lack of harmony, 2) job challenge and autonomy, 3) leadership facilitation and support, 4) workgroup cooperation, friendliness, and warmth, and 5) organizational and subsystem attributes. The meta-analysis showed that there is a positive association between dimensions of psychological climate, work attitudes, and employee performance. There is consensus that psychological and organizational climates play an important and positive role in company performance and create capacity for sustained competitive advantage.


Marissa Kalkman, MS, MCHES
Executive Director
Learn more about me.

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