Glint’s recent Employee Well-Being Report revealed a surprising trend: Despite the past year’s hardships, employee happiness rose 5.4% between December 2019 and December 2020. How could this be?

In our latest People Success Community event, a quarterly meetup that brings together People Success pros from a wide range of organizations and industries, we zeroed in on three explanations for this upward trend in employee happiness—and how organizations can continue the momentum as we move into the new world of work.

The overall theme: Organizations that responded well to the pandemic were a source of stability, security, and meaning for their employees, and they can build on new practices and habits to further help their employees be their best selves and do their best work.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” facilitator and Glint People Science consultant Jennifer Stoll noted. “We had to be better in order to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, which, in many cases, accelerated various areas of our businesses, including how we ensure the safety and well-being of our employees. ”  

Attendees also acknowledged that employee burnout is still very real and shared what they’re doing to mitigate it. In fact Glint’s latest Employee Well-Being report showed that after reaching a two year high in August, burnout rose nearly another 4% between August and December 2020. (The manufacturing industry has been hit particularly hard with employee burnout.)  

Let’s look at the ways our People Success experts are maximizing employee happiness while minimizing burnout.

1.Keep organizational leaders front and center

According to Glint data, 67% of organizations saw an increase in their employees’ confidence in leadership throughout 2020. The HR pros in attendance pointed to a heightened focus on communication from organizational leaders as a source of increased employee happiness at work. 

Many CEOs and other C-suite executives rose to the challenge of providing information to their dispersed and anxious employees on a more-than-regular basis, even when answers were unclear or unknown. These communications were supportive in nature, and more personal than traditional “top-down” messaging, marking a shift toward authenticity and humanity that has been a hallmark of pandemic-era communications.

2. Continue to elevate local leadership

Empowering local leadership — those leaders at the team or regional level — to take a more hands-on approach to ensuring their employees’ well-being contributed to more engaged employees, according to the HR pros at the event. Local leaders took on the tasks of checking in on their people, responding to their anxieties, and shepherding their teams through each new phase of a challenging year. Local-leader ownership of employee well-being further contributed to a more personal, human work environment that made employees feel valued and seen.

3. Make work flexible

Many attendees expressed that employees are grateful for their organizations’ heightened focus on flexible work, and will expect to maintain similar levels of autonomy post-pandemic. Although plans for reimagining the workplace post-pandemic are still in their infancy, many HR leaders said they are already making plans for their future hybrid-style workplaces.  

4. Listen to all of employees—including frontline workers

HR leaders with employees on the front line made outsized efforts to ensure those groups were heard, responded to, and kept safe as they braved uncertain conditions each day. This focus will continue to be highly valuable into the new world of work.

5. Get creative about employee connection

In today’s world of work, we can no longer rely on water-cooler talk, chance run-ins in the hallway, and after-work celebrations to build connections among employees. And assuming a return to physical offices will re-establish connections among co-workers is not the answer. 

To that end, many HR leaders have focused on helping employees build connections while emphasizing employees’ mental health and physical well-being. One HR pro detailed a myriad of support groups made available to employees, including resource groups for parents to connect, commiserate, and problem solve, as well as a group for employees who live alone. Others emphasized a flexible approach to connecting as a team, including taking walking group meetings on occasion.

6. Continue to prioritize well-being

Organizations are examining work behaviors and making adjustments to encourage well-being. 

Multiple HR leaders cited adapted fitness reimbursement programs, including expenses for virtual classes and at-home fitness equipment, as well as increased access to mental-health resources like virtual therapy and coaching sessions. Others noted the importance of encouraging breaks between meetings and making meetings shorter—acknowledging the mental and physical toll of screen time and virtual collaboration. 

The critical success factor of these changes is leadership role modeling—leaders at these organizations are not only taking breaks, adjusting their schedules, and taking paid time off, but they’re also being vocal about it.

Final thoughts

Ultimately, what these best practices and ideas come down to is a shift toward more people-centric workplaces. HR leaders and organizational executives are taking more care to listen to employees, acknowledge employee needs and recommendations, and improve the quality of employees’ lives. 

Would you like to be a part of the next discussion? Register for the next People Success Community Meetup on June 9.