Insights to Impact
In 2020, Covid-19 presented a clear and unique challenge to how and where we work. Our Insights to Impact report highlights how it affected well-being in the workplace.
Welcome to the first-ever YMCA WorkWell Community Well-Being Report. Before jumping into this research, we would like to take this opportunity to introduce ourselves, what we care about, and what we hope to accomplish with this report.
Meeting Our Changing Needs
For over 150 years, the YMCA has supported the needs of our communities in Guelph, Stratford-Perth, and Waterloo Region. You may know the Y because you took your first swimming lessons in one of our pools, attended one of our overnight camps, or took your first spin class at one of our Health and Wellness branches. We offer child care services for parents and guardians, deliver EarlyON programming, and provide newcomer services to integrate new Canadians into our communities and employment services to help community members find their first job or their next job.
Our communities are some of the fastest growing in Canada, and as people change and communities grow, our collective needs change too. At the YMCA, it has always been our goal to change along with you. Historically, we have been here to support the 400,000 employees in our communities outside of their working hours. However, research has increasingly shown that work has a significant impact on the health and well-being of our community members, and to satisfy our mission to support healthy communities, we need to meet our people where they are. It has become clear that we cannot have healthy communities without healthy workplaces.
Continuing our tradition of changing and growing, we are excited to announce a new program to support well-being in the workplace. WorkWell is a new team and service at the YMCA of Three Rivers with a clear mandate: Improve the state of workplace well-being in the communities we serve - and beyond.
We aim to create a positive impact in the workplace by generating data-driven insights on the well-being of our communities’ organizations and taking action through targeted training and behavioural change. Through this initiative, we will partner directly with local organizations to help them foster healthy and flourishing workplaces where every employee has an equal opportunity to thrive.
Why Start with a Community Report?
Our mandate is to improve workplace well-being in the communities we serve. To do that, we have to start by understanding where our communities need support the most. This report is an overview of the results from our first annual WorkWell Community Well-Being Survey – a survey on the state of workplace well-being in our communities.
This year, COVID-19 presented a clear and unique challenge to how we work, where we work, and the well-being of employees in our communities. The objective of this report is to provide a high-level illustration of how the pandemic has affected employee well-being, which areas have been impacted most significantly, and what organizations and leaders in our communities can start doing today to meet these challenges.
What Can You Expect Moving Forward?
Data is at the core of everything we do at WorkWell. We want to be your primary trusted source of information on workplace well-being, and to keep our finger on the pulse of workplace well-being in our communities, our goal is to release two reports each year: an annual YMCA WorkWell Community Well-Being Report each fall, identifying high-level trends in workplace well-being across local organizations, and a more targeted YMCA WorkWell Special Issue Report each winter to address specific issues impacting workplace well-being. This winter, our WorkWell Special Issue Report will dive into the relationship between Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion initiatives and workplace well-being.
COVID-19 has truly shaken the foundations of our communities, and workplace well-being has been one of many areas that have suffered as a result. No matter who you are or what your work experiences have been during COVID-19, we hope that you can find some value in this report. To restore the well-being of our communities’ employees, we need to be supporting each other in the most effective ways. We need to be tackling the problem with integrity, with compassion, with purpose, and with determination. We hope that this report can provide an important first step in that mission.
We’re here to help. We’re here for good.
Workplace Well-Being in The Age of Covid-19
The growing importance of employee well-being has been one of the most significant organizational trends of the past decade – and why shouldn’t it be? On average, we spend 90,000 hours of our lives and 50% of our waking hours at work. Not only does this illustrate why the health of our workplaces is so integral to the health of our communities, but it also illustrates why it is so reasonable to desire a world where we can design our work experiences in ways that support our health and well-being.
In recent years, we have seen the idea of employee well-being begin to shift from something we long for to something we actively strive for. However, as we entered 2020, significant gaps still existed in practice. The significance of these gaps was highlighted perfectly by Deloitte’s 2020 Human Capital Trends Report, a survey of 9,000 business and HR leaders across 119 countries. 80% of leaders identified employee well-being as an important or very important priority for their organization’s success in 2020. No other trend ranked higher in perceived importance. However, only 12% of leaders believed that they were ready to adequately address employee well-being in their organizations, and only 21% actively sought opportunities to integrate well-being into the design of their work. Leaders were falling behind.
And then COVID-19 hit.
COVID-19 left an already underprepared workforce to face the most significant global pandemic in decades. This brought unprecedented levels of physical, mental, and financial health challenges to our communities. Unemployment skyrocketed, and the pandemic forced many of us to work from home en masse for the first time in history.
Social connection became virtual, and employers expected remote productivity while many employees were forced to work from home, juggling competing family and work priorities, often from inadequate workspaces like kitchen tables and couches. Others stayed on the front lines, continuing to serve our communities through long hours while battling personal and societal anxieties about the pandemic.
As the impacts of COVID-19 started to take root in homes and organizations across our communities, we took action. New challenges cannot be adequately addressed with old data, so we launched the WorkWell Community Well-Being Survey, a survey designed to understand the impact of COVID-19 on the health and well-being of our communities’ workforce.
The WorkWell Community Well-Being Survey: An Overview
We collected feedback from 1,184 employees in the communities of Guelph, Stratford-Perth, and Waterloo Region between July 20 and August 20, 2020.
Our responses covered a wide range of work experiences across 20 different industries; 66% of respondents had worked entirely from home during the pandemic, while 20% of respondents had worked entirely from their place of work.
Respondents provided feedback about their work experience during COVID-19 across five areas that are directly linked to employee well-being. Each area was comprised of a specific subset of questions, outlined below:
- General Well-Being
- Mental Health
- Physical Health
- Financial Health
- Familial Health
- Upward Feedback
- Sense of Community
- Stress Management
- Sense of Belonging
- Clear Expectations
All questions were self-report and asked on a 100-point scale, with higher scores indicating more positive responses and lower scores indicating more negative responses.
To help visualize and understand the data at a community level, we have categorized scores into four different groups:
Scores are strong and indicate that work is having a positive effect on employee well-being
Scores are acceptable, with no immediate threat of long-term concerns and no long-term benefits
Scores are not detrimental, but they are at risk of teetering into more long-term concerns
Scores are detrimental, and suggest a long-term risk of burnout and well-being concerns
"I am constantly unable to meet the needs of my job, my kids, my husband and myself. I am constantly stressed, constantly multi-tasking and constantly worried I will lose my job for poor performance.
If nothing else, it will ruin my reputation as a good worker because I’m no longer able to do a good job. I have had NO break since school/daycare closed. Not even for an hour. This is not sustainable.”
- Married mother of two, working from home
Where Have We Been, Where Are We Now?
In order to understand the full impact of COVID-19 on the state of employee well-being in our communities today, it is important to understand where we have been. We compared our WorkWell Community Well-Being Survey responses to a similar sample of 1,198 employees working in our communities in late 2019.
This comparison demonstrated how impactful COVID-19 has been on the health and well-being of working adults. Let’s start with General Well-Being.
Before COVID-19, the data suggested that there was clear room for improvement in employee well-being in our communities. Twenty-three percent of employees responded with Unhealthy Well-Being scores – the threshold in our data which indicates a high risk for long-term chronic illness, burnout, and a chronic inability to manage stress. On the other hand, Healthy Well-Being scores were seen in more than 50% of respondents. This would suggest that rather than a complete shift in perspective, what our communities needed most was to fine-tune how well-being strategies were integrated into our organizations in order to ensure that they were more inclusive and more beneficial to a wider range of employees.
Figure 1. Employee Well-Being Pre-COVID vs. During COVID
COVID-19, however, turned this finding on its head. By July, 63% of survey respondents indicated that COVID-19 has had a clear, negative impact on their well-being at work. This effect is underscored throughout our data: 46% of our respondents had Unhealthy scores in Well-Being – more than double the pre-COVID-19 number in just a matter of months, with an additional 8% of respondents At Risk of falling into the Unhealthy range. The percentage of employees with Healthy well-being scores also dropped significantly, down to 23% – less than half of pre-COVID-19 levels.
These differences provide early, but compelling evidence that COVID has changed the landscape of workplace well-being in our region. Not only has it affected how we work, but it has deeply affected our well-being at work as well. These changes, however, don’t stop at well-being. The following graphic illustrates how employee scores have changed across a number of key outcomes pre-COVID to now.
Figure 2. Average employee scores pre-COVID-19 and during COVID-19.
This is early and compelling evidence that COVID-19 has quickly and drastically changed the landscape of work in our communities. Not only has it affected how we work, but it has directly affected our well-being at work as well. These changes, however, don’t stop at well-being. Figure 2 illustrates how average employee scores have declined across a number of key outcomes from late 2019 to now, during COVID-19.
In only a matter of months, average employee scores declined approximately 10-15 points across the board – a consistent, community-wide decline that our team has never seen on this scale.
Importantly, while the magnitude of these declines is relatively consistent, the practical implications of these declines can be quite different. For example, consider the decline in average Engagement scores compared to the decline in Recognition illustrated in Figure 2. Both declined 10-points from their pre-COVID-19 levels; however, Engagement declined from a Healthy score of 83 to an Adequate score of 73. That is, while Engagement scores experienced a significant decline, the majority of employees during COVID-19 have still not been experiencing levels of Engagement that are low enough to threaten their personal well-being.
Recognition, on the other hand, declined from an Adequate score of 70 to an Unhealthy score of 60, a decline which suggests that a significant proportion of employees in our communities are no longer receiving the recognition they need to maintain adequate levels of well-being at work.
In practice, this type of decline has serious implications for the health of employees, and was seen in four main areas: Recognition, Communication, Feedback, and Well-Being – with all four experiencing a significant 10-15 point decline from Adequate to Unhealthy scores. This finding points to a significant question in these findings: How important is organizational culture in supporting well-being through crises?
The Critical Role of Culture in Employee Well-Being
We define organizational culture as the quality of interactions that employees have with their leaders, their colleagues, and their organization. In the workplace, organizational culture has a critical and often undervalued role in supporting employee well-being. Strong cultures support the health of their employees by reducing uncertainty, providing healthy and constructive social connection, and helping people feel like they are valued members of something bigger than themselves.
COVID-19, however, has truly been a culture-changing event. It amplified employees’ need for a strong culture and burdened leaders’ capacity to foster and maintain one. Employees longed for clear communication more than ever. Expectations rapidly changed in a new world, questions of job security were top of mind as unemployment soared, and many employees lost the opportunity to simply approach their leader for clear feedback and quick answers.
Conversely, many leaders were forced to quickly adopt completely virtual communication for the first time ever. The tried-and-true water cooler method of connection was gone, the ability to read body language was lost, and Zoom calls tested our collective capacity for online empathy. On the front lines, stress ran high with leaders being pulled in so many new directions that their bandwidth for genuine connection and empathic communication dwindled.
Even the strongest workplace cultures have been tested by these challenges, and our results indicate that three particularly important components of culture have been impacted most significantly:
RECOGNITIONWhether employees feel as though they are appropriately appreciated for their work and their efforts on the job.
COMMUNICATIONWhether employees feel as though they receive communication that is clear, timely, and informative.
FEEDBACKWhether employees feel as though they receive clear and timely feedback about their performance and what is expected of them.
Figure 3 illustrates how significantly these three components of healthy cultures have been affected by COVID-19 in our communities:
Figure 3. Recognition, Communication, and Feedback pre and during COVID-19
These results highlight the type of strain that cultures have faced. Approximately 50% of employees in our communities had Unhealthy scores in all three areas by July 2020, almost double that of late 2019. To be clear, these results alone are not an indictment of leaders in our communities. Leaders are only human, and even the best leaders have been left facing an unprecedented and ever-changing crisis for which there is no playbook. What these results do clearly demonstrate, however, is the magnitude of challenges that many organizations have felt – employees and leaders alike – and the impact that COVID-19 has had on organizational cultures.
Just what does this mean for workplace well-being in our communities? We refer to Recognition, Communication, and Feedback as the Foundations of Healthy Organizational Culture because they consistently demonstrate such a strong relationship with employee well-being and other key indicators of organizational health.
This recent data was no different – digging into the relationship between these three components of culture and employee well-being provides both cause for significant concern and inspiration to give us hope.
The Bright Spots
Figure 5 presents the complete breakdown of all responses across all drivers of our survey.
This visualization illustrates just how much work we need to do to restore employee well-being in our communities – particularly in the areas of employee well-being, employee health, and organizational culture – where in many cases, the proportion of employees with Unhealthy scores actually exceeded the proportion of employees with Healthy scores.
Figure 5. Complete breakdown of all responses
It also illustrates aras of hope, with some rare bright spots that should not be taken for granted as we set our sights on rebuilding a healthy community – both in the workplace and at home. For example, 72% of respondents still demonstrated Healthy or Adequate levels of Engagement, 70% still felt a high level of Value Alignment with their organization, and 69% still believed that their organization is successfully executing its mission.
What these results demonstrate is that many working adults in our communities still feel engaged by their work and genuinely care about their organization and its mission.
Particularly during a pandemic, where how we work both at home and on the front lines has changed so much, this is not something that organizations should take for granted. Especially in the face of so much uncertainty and job insecurity, work is a critical component in so many people’s lives, and the survey responses suggest that employees in our communities want to contribute in positive ways. It is now up to organizations to provide the right environments with the right foundations so their employees can be healthy again.