Last year, as companies scrambled to adjust to COVID-19 realities, conversations about employee wellbeing mostly revolved around physical health and the physical workplace. This year, the conversation is expanding and deepening, particularly as it relates to mental health. This is, of course, largely in response to the stark increases in depression, anxiety and other negative mental health outcomes we have seen surge during the pandemic. Fortunately, studies also show that mental health programs are not so much an empty cost as a worthy investment. McKinsey analysis recently found that “for every dollar companies spent on wellness programs, their healthcare costs fell by approximately $3.27 and their absenteeism costs by about $2.73.” And these programs are often only in infant stages. As wearable devices and self-monitoring and self-reporting platforms continue to become more advanced, leading companies will get even more value out of mental-health investments, utilizing suites of tools to recognize and prevent acute mental health struggles.
Of course, these technologies will eventually collect dust if they’re not supported by cultures of wellbeing. This means — among other things — elevating wellbeing as a corporate value, having executives and senior leaders model wellbeing practices and behaviors and ensuring that effective channels of communication exist for employees to share needed perspective on sources of burnout. By fusing wellbeing technology and culture, companies can serve their people and protect themselves in the process.
For months, large companies have been wrestling with COVID-19 vaccine mandates. This is, obviously, an incredibly complex topic — tangling issues of personal freedom with collective responsibility in a charged, high-stakes manner. While some leaders have marched forward with vaccine mandates, many others, understandably, fear cultural backlash and mass resignations in an already-pinched talent market.
No two organizations are the same; every company must navigate its own unique realities, and ultimately, business leaders have to make decisions based on what is right for their specific people. That said, as we’ve seen over the past several months, the longer COVID-19 threatens to disrupt society, the longer our businesses’ health will remain in jeopardy. To that end, since organizations first started rolling out vaccine mandates, vaccination rates in the U.S. have risen 20 percent. This is an extremely significant jump, and it reinforces the uniquely powerful role that businesses can play in speeding us toward recovery. Vaccine mandates may not work for every business, but leaders who adopt them have an opportunity to significantly impact society’s recovery and the overall health of our economy.
COVID-19 sent the business world lurching into the future. Virtual conference rooms are now the norm, digital body language is now a real skill that employees need to hone and the metaverse is a casual topic of conversation. In the midst of this disruption, most large corporations are in good health and back to hiring. As they try to hire for their ever-shifting needs, they face an enormous digital skills gap in the labor market. From digital marketers to web developers to data scientists, in every digitally oriented profession, right now, demand exceeds supply.
Companies are increasingly embracing the role they can play in closing this gap. As an initial step, many businesses across the country have adopted professional learning as a built-in aspect of their employee experience. More and more employees are being paid to learn new skills, even ones that don’t add value to their present jobs. Of course, for businesses, there’s a self-interest at work too: by giving employees opportunities to learn and upskill, you improve recruitment and retention, and increase your company’s adaptability.
Many large companies, however, are going further than this, and providing opportunities not just for their own employees but for the general public. “Grow with Google for Youth 2021-2022,” a new program Google announced recently, will offer free skills training to young people belonging to minority and underrepresented groups from Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Mexico and Peru. IBM, too, announced an ambitious plan to re-skill 30 million workers — a far larger number, obviously, than IBM will ever count in its own ranks — by 2030. While the vast majority of these trainees will never receive a Google or IBM paycheck, they’ll serve society in important ways. By doing so, they’ll help create an economy where their companies — and others of their sort — can continue to thrive.