The inextricable link between employee wellness and retention

If there was a universal revelation following the pandemic, it might be that employee health and wellness—especially mental health—are paramount to corporate success. Companies that leaned into that idea have not only seen the bottom-line impact, but higher employee retention. 

Speaking at Fortune’s CEO Roundtable, Geeta Nayyar, SVP, chief medical officer at Salesforce, advised corporate leaders to think deeply about the link between health and safety, and productivity, turnover, and acquisition. 

 In essence, CEOs should also serve as the chief wellness officers.. 

“We want the best talent. We want them to stay with us, and we want them to thrive with us,” Nayyar said, noting that companies that fail to incorporate employee health in their short- and long-term strategies will suffer. 

Beyond physical health, the pandemic and correlating quarantine illuminated the importance of mental wellness in the workplace. 

Francis deSouza, CEO of Illumina, says that mental health is not an add-on. “It’s not a nice-to-have. It’s core to the definition of wellness.”

Bob Rhatigan, CEO of Merz Aesthetics, echoed similar sentiments.

“Now we speak very openly about our total wellness platform, encompassing mental, dental, and health care,” Rhatigan said. “We’ve tried to reduce the stigma around [mental health], recognizing that’s been a big strain on the employee base over the last couple of years and just doesn’t seem to be lightening.”

Conversations about mental health are now a CEO-level concern—and one Rhatigan finds himself speaking about more often, especially at employee town halls. 

John Couris, CEO of Tampa General Hospital, says CEOs have to make themselves more available to employees to hear and understand their concerns and take steps that align with workers’ needs. 

“You have to be present, you have to be engaged, you have to be accessible, you have to listen and hear your team members,” he said. “Those things matter even more when in a period of crisis, and people feel anxious,” he added. “People have questions, they want to see leaders visible, and they ultimately want to see the CEO upfront and center.”

A company culture that provides employees with a sense of purpose can help support workplace well-being. So can a culture that allows for flexibility and encourages employees to bring their authentic selves to work.

“People understanding that we embrace their uniqueness actually drives better connection to the company and better employee performance,” said Michelle Keefe, CEO of Syneos Health.

As companies lean into this new normal, they’ve come to realize that employee wellness is an imperative and determines whether current and prospective employees will select an employer. 

“[Companies] have expectations that have been significantly raised around employees’ needs for agency and flexibility,” deSouza said. “People are looking for companies that have a mission that they can connect to.”

The pivot to prioritizing employees over customers might seem out of left-field or even counter-intuitive, but it still satisfies the bottom line, panelists said.

“That always raises an eyebrow or two,” Couris said. “But if you take care of your people, they take care of the customer, and, after all, the customer is the ultimate beneficiary and stakeholder in this journey.”

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