Current nonprofit sector research and recommendations for effective day-to-day practice from ASU faculty, staff, students, and the nonprofit and philanthropic community.
Illustration by Yuxin Qin
When the pandemic hit in early 2020, most found that their typical and secure lifestyle came to a halt, and many of the employed were re-assigned to work remotely, or joined the increasing statistics of those unemployed. Questions arose within the human resources industry regarding the impact of this COVID-19 isolation, and its impact on the holistic well-being of employees. Many of us find enjoyment and purpose in our daily routines, and when our access to these familiar activities is limited or lost entirely, we notice the emotional toll. For those individuals that have been re-assigned to work from home, the isolation can quickly become overwhelming, especially if one is also trying to manage the responsibility of caregiver aside from their usual job duties.
On the other hand, workers who were obligated to report in-person to their job, such as those within the healthcare and human services sector, faced a level of uncertainty about the prospects of falling ill or being able to meet the new overabundance of demands of today’s world. These stressful experiences create a burden that nonprofit workers are bearing, but it is the responsibility of leaders to find feasible ways to support their well-being as much as possible.
Supporting worker well-being is intended to nurture the multi-dimensional components of wellness that can improve the overall health and quality of life. Wellness programs are not new, and in fact, they have been steadily increasing in their scope and offerings over the last few decades. The concept of holistic wellness captures the different aspects of well-being, including mental, physical, spiritual, emotional and environmental.
The discussion of health and wellness is an overly broad topic, as are the amounts of options that an employer has in the programs they decide to implement. These categories are not, or should not be, new to the human resource world. What is new are the creative ways that organizations are integrating wellness into the everyday employee work life to promote a better lifestyle to all employees. Often, these are used as recruiting tools, promoting the organization as forward thinking and evolved. However, being adaptive to employee feedback and shifting programs as situations change is quite revolutionary, such as connecting employees to financial counseling or allowing modified schedules in order to accommodate caregiving tasks.
Wellness programs should not only be touted by leaders as an attractive recruitment tool, or as something that is listed on a brochure but not implemented in day-to-day activities. Instead, they should be a valued part of the organizational culture and be celebrated and promoted to employees.
The most vital component of a wellness program is the implementation. Some critical aspects are how often employees are surveyed and asked for feedback, how the quantifiable measures of success will be tracked, and how well the offerings are promoted. Dr. Ellis of HonorHealth said during an interview that an example of implementing programs based on immediate employee needs included HonorHealth offering $2 takeaway meals to hospital employees in the cafeteria. This might be a simple gesture, but the result guaranteed satisfied staff. They would routinely sell out food each day, much to the pleasure of the catering company that was hired to cook the meals. The meals provided an easy to obtain pleasure during an otherwise stressful day.
Taking into account the current reality that employees are experiencing is an genuine component of developing an effective wellness program. The organization can give gym discounts or access to high quality counseling, but if the workers cannot afford to buy groceries or obtain necessities, the other offerings will not be utilized until things are stabilized for the individuals.
A well-implemented program is a benefit to not only employees but the organization itself. There are different methods to determining what programs should be offered and can be adjusted to best suit the employees.
Overall, holistic wellness programs are most effective when they meet the following criteria:
- Targeted to meet the needs of the majority of employees as noted through surveys and “What matters to you?” conversations
- Management encourages employees to take advantage of the offerings
- The culture of the organization is adaptive to any changes necessary
The “What matters to you?” conversation is an evidence-based approach to conducting meaningful conversations that has routinely been applied to the healthcare sector for caregivers to determine the needs of their patients, brought up by Healthcare Improvement Scotland (PDF). Within the context of the patient-caregiver relationship, the conversation opens up a dialogue of uncovering what is important to the patient, and what is enabling or hindering their success.
When applied to the broader nonprofit sector, these conversations can be conducted by leaders of human resources or management itself. A richer conversation is opened up that is focused on “What matters to you?” versus “What’s the matter with you?”
Without question, mission attainment is top priority for a nonprofit organization. The emphasis on employee holistic well-being is looping the organizational mission back to the workforce by the expectation that employees are taken care of and supported mentally, physically, and emotionally. The organization’s mission cannot be met in a vacuum, especially when employees are pushed to their limits with increased workloads. But when leadership has the opportunity to step in and alleviate as much suffering, stress, and isolation as possible, it is a reflection of what is truly valued within the organization.
Laura Grosso is a graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University. Grosso is currently the Program Delivery Partner for FIRST® LEGO® League programs, which are implemented through ASU's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. She is a mother to two sons and four rescue dogs. Her family has fostered 40 dogs and puppies in their home for Arizona Small Dog Rescue and will continue to make space for many more.