Is your DE&I and well-being strategy actually making an impact?
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May 12, 2023 - While many organizations are prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) policies to reduce employee burnout and boost morale, there's a growing concern about the legitimacy and longevity of some well-being initiatives. The term ”well-washing” has been coined to describe initiatives that lack real substance, which can be just as damaging as not having any initiatives at all.
A recent BSI Consulting poll of EHS organizations shows that despite the progression in DE&I initiatives, 56 percent view worker health or burnout as their biggest concern for the remainder of the year. These concerns not only impact the bottom line of an organization but also the well-being and security of its employees (See poll results below).
Though the urgency for such policies differs among industries, the American Psychological Association’s (APA) 2022 Work and Well-being Survey reports that significant progress has been made as 7 out of 10 workers believe their employer does care more now about their mental health than in previous years. However, the APA’s survey also reveals that 60 percent of respondents believe their pay is not in line with inflation, and 52 percent agree that pay does not reflect the work they do.
Pay discrepancies are one of the largest causes of worker stress across all industries, particularly for women. According to the US Department of Labor, women who work full time year round are paid an average of 83.7 percent as much as men, which amounts to a difference of $10,000 per year. The gaps are even larger for many women of color and women with disabilities (but that’s a topic for another time).
Financial factors in general are leading to worker stress and fear over job security as major layoffs and budget cutbacks continue across organizations of all sizes.
Are DE&I policies just for show?
While worker well-being is only a small element of an overall DE&I policy, it can have some of the greatest impact on corporate culture, but only if it’s done right (which can be really difficult).
As corporate well-being initiatives boom, allegations of ”well-washing” are emerging. Similar to the widely known term ”greenwashing,” ”well-washing” means that company initiatives are ”mostly for show” rather than having any depth. The APA’s survey backs these claims, with 47 percent of those having DE&I policies deeming them superficial and lacking any real impact on employee health.
This is not due to absence of care from leadership; it comes down to a lack of guidance and knowledge on how to implement these well-being initiatives.
Here are a few steps your organization can take to avoid accusations of ”well-washing”:
- Build a supportive culture through better work-life balance, flexible working patterns, and employee recognition programs. 46 percent of participants from the APA’s study work flexibly, and 95 percent of those reported that it’s an effective support for their overall health and well-being. Employee recognition increases staff retention and decreases stress by showing gratitude for hard work.
- Implement flexible options to improve morale. More than 60 companies in the U.K. recently underwent the world's largest trial of the four day working week for six months and saw breakthrough results. Over 90 percent of participants are rolling out the scheme permanently after reporting that productivity levels were maintained, and well-being and staff retention improved. Similarly, the APA's survey highlights other options linked to job satisfaction in the US as 86 percent of respondents note that they are satisfied with their current schedule, which includes total hours worked and flexibility options. Though flexibility may not work for all industries, it is certainly an area for organizations to consider globally.
- Introduce solutions to help workers gain new skills, build confidence, and ultimately generate greater quality work and achieve higher productivity levels. These include:
- Career development to empower employees in steps to promotion and advancing in their careers.
- Financial management workshops to teach employees how to budget and manage their money in a time of financial uncertainty.
- An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) using an external provider to help employees manage life challenges from family and personal issues to mindfulness workshops. These initiatives may also include free counselling sessions and 24/7 access to valuable resources.
As we continue to make progress toward a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace, it's crucial to keep the momentum going. By prioritizing the health and well-being of all employees and benchmarking DE&I initiatives, organizations will begin to see the lasting benefits of a happier, more engaged workforce.
Learn from our health, safety, and wellbeing experts in Surviving to thriving: Foundational steps to support a thriving business, Tech fusion: Future of health, safety, and well-being is now, and Surviving to thriving: Tackling workforce mental health and well-being. Be sure to keep an eye out for Jennifer Dobb's upcoming series, which will explore various aspects of DE&I to consider for your organization.
Follow along with other environmental, health, safety, supply chain, and digital trust topics that should be at the top of your list at BSI’s Experts Corner.