By David Osborne
Jun. 20, 2019
Few people realize that the notion of a workplace social contract came about accidentally nearly 80 years ago as the result of an executive order on wage controls issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Cutting-edge companies at the time then began offering health insurance to employees as a recruitment incentive. And, in the early 1950s, the Internal Revenue Service deemed that insurance and similar benefits wouldn’t be counted as taxable income. Viola! The workplace social contract was born.
Over the last half-century, social contracts between employers and employees have evolved to the point where modern social mores drive a very different conversation today. The old agreement that employees would work for a company in exchange for wages, health insurance and little else sufficed as an agreeable social contract for both parties for decades. Today, however, 56 million millennials and an upcoming 61 million Gen Z workers are reshaping the contract terms.
And, because younger employees comprise approximately 70 percent of today’s workforce, employers who listen and respond to their demands will be in a better position to compete for and retain top talent than those who ignore their concerns.
One employee benefit that can address these concerns is the often-debated employer-sponsored well-being program.
Many C-suite executives have a hard time seeing a return on investment for their well-being efforts. After all, under terms of social contracts from days gone by, well-being programs were designed to keep employees off the health care merry-go-round, thereby containing the employer’s health care costs. Employees participated in health screenings because employers mandated it, and no one found it to be fun or engaging. What’s more, this approach hasn’t shown improvements in overall employee health.
Today, fortunately, the new social contract between employees and employers presents a tremendous opportunity to leverage well-being as a strategic business tool to not only realize cost containment but to increase productivity and enhance recruitment and retention of top talent.
With these new conditions in mind, employers can utilize well-being benefits as part of a new social contract to address employee demands by doing the following.
Keeping an Integrated Mindset
Well-being initiatives are connected to health insurance and, therefore, overseen by the benefits or human resources department. However, companies won’t get full value of a well-being program if it is viewed solely as a benefit or cost rather than an engagement, culture and productivity driver. Well-being activities should be incorporated more broadly into:
Looking at Your Entire Work Environment
Your employees today expect that every touchpoint of their experience at work be influenced by terms of the new social contract. Are the restrooms well maintained? Do you provide sedentary employees with sit/stand desks and stationary bikes for lunch-hour workouts? Does the cafeteria offer healthy food options?
If you aren’t attending to basics such as these, you’ll send mixed messages around how you’re prioritizing your employees’ health and well-being, which can create confusion and cause employees to question the authenticity of your commitment.
A growing component of the new social contract comes from workers who want to work on their own terms — remotely, from home or while traveling. In fact, a 2019 survey of 1,000 hiring managers revealed that up to 73 percent of all departments expect to have remote workers within the next decade. Smart managers will remember to include these workers in well-being efforts to ensure they’re also happy and productive, even though they might not experience the physical work environment on a regular basis.
Getting Your Leaders Engaged
Employees in the 21st century expect their bosses to walk their talk. If your company’s executives verbally extol the virtues of the corporate well-being program, then they also need to actively participate if they’re to meet terms under the new social contract. Do they run in the company 5K? Do they avoid eating lunch at their desks, opting instead for the cafeteria or break room? Do they participate in annual biometric screenings? Are they transparent about their own challenges and efforts?
When your C-suite executives and department heads participate, they organically connect with employees on a human level and will contribute immensely to the success of your initiatives.
Contracts, by their very nature, are designed to protect the best interests of both parties. Today’s new social contract between employees and employers is forcing companies to expand their definition of employee benefits, stretch old-school operating procedures to manage talent and look beyond traditional HR channels to deliver a more fulfilling employee experience. Employers who are up to the challenge can expect that their employees will take more responsibility on their side of the contract to participate in activities that lead to long-term well-being habits, resulting in a rested, alert and productive workforce.
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