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New data highlights key driver of workforce engagement & wellbeing

National survey shows this ingredient powers motivation, loyalty, and positive mental health.

November 15, 2022
Rachel Alfred
Timer  Read Time: 6 minutes

The Dark Cloud

You don’t have to look far beyond your news feed or workforce trend reports to be confronted with disheartening stats on how employees feel these days. From C-suite to shop floor, workforce wellbeing is top of mind.

In fact, Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace: 2022 Report reveals that only 21% of workers are engaged. Imagine you’re coaching a basketball team and only 1 player out of 5 on the court had their head and heart fully in the game. Now imagine you’re the CEO responsible for the bottom line, and it’s 5,000 out of 25,000 employees engaged. That’s where things get even scarier. According to this same Gallup report, the costs add up, disengagement is taking $7.8 trillion dollars from the global economy.

Our own research from the Harris-Kumanu national survey of full-time U.S. employees finds:

  • 3 in 5 have moderate to severe burnout (up 20% since December 2021)
  • 40% show signs of anxiety and depression (up 4x since January 2020)
  • 1 in 2 lack a strong sense of purpose (3x as likely to be disengaged)

That 40% jumps to 60% or higher when we look only at Gen Z’ers and Millennials who now likely make up much of your workforce – many of whom have had to navigate early career development and their own mental wellbeing during a pandemic.

These statistics show a significant human impact and represent costly challenges to organizations in the form of diminished productivity, engagement, safety and retention.

Weathering the Storm

Leaders in most organizations are well aware of these workforce and business challenges. According to WTW’s 2022 Global Benefits and Attitudes Survey, 86% of employers are making it a top priority to address stress, burnout, anxiety and depression among their workforce.

The stakes are high too. Leaders know that unless they can improve the wellbeing of their workforce, business will continue to be impacted by costly threats of quiet quitting and ongoing challenges to retain talent. Ironically enough, in a recent national survey from Deloitte and Workplace Intelligence of 2,100 employees and C-suite executives, 70% of surveyed C-Suite leaders are seriously considering quitting for a job that better supports their wellbeing.

Yet despite increased investment around reducing burnout, treating mental health and building greater wellbeing, leaders and employees are still struggling. This suggests that the traditional tools and strategies once relied on to help employees are falling short and not meeting the moment. In a poll by Dr. Vic Strecher (University of Michigan Professor and Kumanu’s CEO), with over 100 leaders from Fortune 500 companies at the Council on Employee Benefits this past spring, only 16% of leaders attending rated their own programs highly effective. Most organizations feel there is a lot of room for improvement and are no longer satisfied with the status quo.

The Silver Lining

New problems require fresh thinking. This is creating a tremendous opportunity for courageous leaders who realize authenticity, empathy and an employee centric approach will be the gold standard in the post-pandemic world – and whatever comes next. These leaders are empowered by the daunting data to address the root causes affecting wellbeing, engagement and retention.

There has been a growing body of research looking into foundational drivers of engagement and wellbeing. One topic coming into the spotlight as among the strongest intrinsic motivators is sense of purpose. Over the last decade, more than 1,000 studies have illuminated the profound impact that a strong sense of purpose has on health behaviors, brain health, as well as individual and organizational wellbeing.

Recently, Dr. Strecher shared a new data-backed model at Hero-Health’s Annual Forum illustrating the impact that sense of personal purpose has on key business drivers like retention, work engagement and mental wellbeing. This new wellbeing model centers on how a purposeful culture aligns several interrelated and significant business outcomes. Employees with strong purpose have greater emotional regulation, resilience and more effective coping strategies when things get difficult. Those who report their employer supports their purpose are far more engaged and are more likely to stick around. These purposeful culture factors (measured by Kumanu’s Purposeful Culture IndexTM) directly impact their mindset, health behaviors and risk of burnout and depression.

Consistent with Dr. Stretcher’s findings, the U.S. Surgeon General has also released its Framework for Workplace Mental Health and Wellbeing that aligns closely with Kumanu’s new model for wellbeing. One of the main pillars of this model is referred to as “Mattering at work.” This includes two key factors – dignity and meaning. The latter is defined as “the sense of broader purpose and significance of one’s work.” There is benefit when leaders and organizations can help workers see the connection between their day-to-day work and the organizational purpose and mission. When members of your workforce develop a sense of shared purpose it builds connectedness, generates pride, and fuels resilience.

Practical Steps for Progress
The pandemic-influenced modern work era has highlighted cracks in how organizations support workforce wellbeing and exposed gaps in how well employees feel (or don’t feel) supported and recognized. Leaders that lean into the challenge harness potential to create a more connected culture, stronger commitment, and a more relevant model of wellbeing that helps their employees bring their best, even in the face of constant change and disruption.

If you and your fellow leaders recognize the need to evolve your organization’s approach to employee wellbeing to build a more sustainable and thriving workplace here are some pragmatic considerations that may help:

  • Employee wellbeing is far more than a collection of basic benefits. When you have an employee-centric approach to culture and wellbeing, transformative things can happen.
  • If Leadership is not building an authentic, purpose-driven culture, it needs to catch up–quickly. Kumanu can help you benchmark where your organization is at with our Purposeful Culture Index.TM
  • Throwing a multitude of benefits and wellbeing tools at employees that are already overwhelmed is like listening for a song-bird in Times Square. Find the right benefits administration platform to help employees easily find the right tools when they need help. Hint–no need to look further than the home of this blog.
  • When you’re looking for the right tools and programs to help your employees be their best, make sure they are grounded in science and data. The right strategy and support tools should not only be addressing the Personal Determinants of Health, but also the Social and Organizational determinants too.
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