Occupational well-being in the workplace: An equity perspective

September 14, 2022 · NCQA Communications

By Neepa Patel, CEO of WellRight, and Vanessa Guzman, president of SmartRise Health

Most people will spend one third of their life at work — about 90,000 hours over a lifespan.

And while people ultimately work for a paycheck, a vast majority of the workforce (90%) expects to feel joy from work, too. However, only 37% of workers report actually feeling joy from their job, according to a 2018 global worker survey from Kearney. That leaves a “joy gap” of 53%.

Organizations can work to close that joy gap by focusing on occupational wellness — how employees view work and the value they derive from it. When people feel connected to their team, use their talents effectively and understand how their role contributes to business success, they’re more likely to feel joy at work.

Because occupational wellness is one of the six main dimensions of whole-person wellness, and the only such dimension tied directly to employer actions and efforts, related offerings and programs should be incorporated into the overarching workplace wellness initiative.

And employers need to do so with a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) mindset to truly find success.

Building equity into an occupational wellness program

Companies tend to build career paths and training and development initiatives with equality in mind, making the same opportunities available to all employees. But some employees may not want to become a people manager, while others would find joy in managing a team but haven’t been given the opportunity. Some are striving to achieve advanced degrees to further their career, while still others do not want to pursue traditional schooling.

And barriers outside of employees’ control, like gender bias and racism, mean that women and people of color have had trouble climbing the corporate ladder and may need extra support to achieve their goals.

In short, everyone comes to work with different lived experiences. That’s why organizations need to build their wellness programs equitably, to meet employees where they are and encourage them to grow on their own terms.

What an equitable occupational wellness program looks like

Instead of offering one-off development programs, tuition reimbursement that only covers traditional colleges and universities, or career paths that only include a manager track, organizations need to refocus on offering programs that reflect what their workers want and meet them where they are.

To do so, they should look at quantitative data, like absenteeism and health risk assessments, to identify trends across the company or across key segments, like job level or physical location. It’s also important to supplement quantitative data with direct employee feedback. Leaders should listen to employees from all over the company about what they need and want to feel joy at work.

Because every employee base is different, each organization’s occupational wellness program will be unique to them. But in general, here are important aspects of a well-rounded, DEI-focused occupational wellness program:

  • Rewarding daily behaviors with clearly defined goals
  • Hiring, retention and training and development programs that address gender inclusion, workforce diversity and implicit bias
  • Inclusive language used in job descriptions and postings
  • Ongoing training for people managers
  • Well-communicated career pathways that don’t include people management
  • Coaching programs
  • Inspirational leadership training and performance management
  • Development programs specifically geared toward minority groups

And it’s important to incorporate these training and development offerings into an overall wellbeing program and make them an ongoing part of life at work.

By cultivating occupational well-being for all employees, organizations can do their part to close the “joy gap,” and improve their employees’ lives overall while driving business success.


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