The Case for Wellness Leadership

As more companies create C-suite roles around employee well-being, associations can do more to support it for its staff and members alike.

Who’s in charge of wellness at your organization?

Quite likely, the answer is “nobody”—or it’s an HR department that’s been asked to take on matters of DEI, office arrangements, and health-plan adjustments on top of its usual administrative duties. Plenty of evidence emerged during the pandemic that employee well-being plays a crucial role in engagement and retention, and that workers don’t easily wall off their personal concerns when they’re at the office. But the org chart has been slow to reflect that point.

That is changing somewhat: A recent report in Fortune magazine spotlights the growing number of companies that have created a chief wellness officer position: AT&T, EY, Aon, Delta, and more have stood up new C-suite wellness roles, or adjusted top positions to include wellness responsibilities. 

The decision to create those positions speaks to the lingering effect of the pandemic, and how it generated more isolation in the workplace. As AT&T HR chief Angela Santone says in the Fortune report, “The lack of social interactions contributed to feelings of isolation and increased mental health challenges…. Even as the pandemic wanted, we knew we had to do something about these very concerning by-products of the public health emergency.”

Failure to support employee well-being costs $322 billion per year globally.

Last month, I reported on a SHRM survey that found loneliness remains pervasive in the workplace, particularly among younger employees. Discussing those findings, Myers-Briggs’ John Hackston noted that tweaking office arrangements alone won’t address that challenge. Those feelings have less to do with whether the office is remote, in-person, or hybrid than with whether they feel seen and respected. “The differences between your location is actually less important than things like personality differences and support for things like sexual orientation,” he said. “Those factors can be more important in terms of whether people feel included.”

Failure to act has consequences for an organization’s bottom line: According to Gallup research cited by Fortune, failure to support employee well-being costs $322 billion per year globally, due to turnover and lost productivity. 

It’s unrealistic, though, to expect many associations to create one more C-suite role. But for starters, it’s worth considering as a research priority. What are you doing to track turnover, retention, and productivity for your people? Perhaps just as important, are you doing the same for the industry your association represents? Understanding the trendlines around wellness in your association’s particular area of expertise is a valuable service that can support the success of the members you serve.

Tracking what to measure around wellness, though, can be tricky. Many look at usage of healthcare benefits, particularly around mental health. Fortune reports that Delta more directly engages with workers, through surveys and one-on-one interviews. Others step up their efforts to make employees more aware of their options.

These things need to sit truly within the C-suite to kind of relook at work and change systems that have been in place for a long time,” Deloitte’s well-being officer, Jen Fisher, told Fortune. The tone from the top matters; signaling that wellness is a priority there is a way to keep and attract your best people.

How are wellness issues handled in your organization? Share your experiences in the comments.

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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