Is your company on the fence about workplace well-being programs? Research supports why they are a critical part of organizational strategy.

After reading several articles about how organizations are struggling to prove the impact of corporate well-being programs – or justify why they even have them – I was glad to have had the opportunity to sit down with someone who conducted research on the very topic.

Dr. Amy Pytlovany is an industrial and organizational psychologist dedicated to bridging the gap between academia and industry. Her research, consulting, and teaching roles focus on workplace health and well-being, diversity and inclusion, and employee assessments and development, and she is currently consulting at the Center for Parental Leave Leadership and teaching at Portland State University. Here, she shares her insights on the research she has done to help prove why well-being programs are a critical part of an organization’s strategy.

Q: What got you interested in researching how well-being programs impact recruitment?

A: The talent wars are on. Skills gaps and low unemployment rates require organizations to develop and market an attractive employer brand in order to stay competitive. It is increasingly critical that organizations develop and market themselves as a place where people really want to work. This was made truly salient to me when I worked as part of the SAP SuccessFactors research team from 2015 to 2018. I had the opportunity to speak with dozens of [SAP SuccessFactors] Recruiting customers, and I listened to them describe the challenges of building a quality candidate slate to meet their goals.

I also had the opportunity to interview benefits and wellness directors and heard them explain time and again that their workplace well-being programs aided recruitment. I appreciated the expertise and experiences of those making these claims, but as a scientist in the field I had to ask, “Is anyone measuring this?” They were not. I wanted to know, “Are these claims evidence-based?” “Is there research to support these claims?” So, I looked.

Where and how did you start?

Workplace well-being is an area of increasing importance in recent years, with a growing number of companies offering benefits to support employee work-life balance and wellness. For example, in 2019 68 percent of companies offered telecommuting options and 58 percent had established wellness programs. An abundant stream of research points to numerous individual and organizational outcomes related to these benefits, including links to burnout, organizational commitment, turnover, and health. It is clear that work-life and wellness programs are beneficial, but the research has largely neglected to consider how these benefits can influence what happens before an individual is hired.

Concurrent with my work at SAP SuccessFactors, I was preparing to complete the last requirement for my PhD in Industrial-Organizational Psychology, a dissertation research project. Motivated by my conversations and experiences with customers, I designed my research to test the assumptions that well-being benefits positively influenced recruitment efforts, and to investigate why. I valued the expertise of the directors I had interviewed, and I wanted to provide them and others the empirical evidence for making their case.

Using a rigorous experimental design, * my research supported practitioner assumptions that companies offering work-life or wellness benefits are seen as more attractive. Potential applicants were also more likely to take action to pursue employment. But why? Results revealed that well-being benefits had a significant impact on perceptions of employer brand.

What did you find?

Similar to product marketing, marketing of an employer brand should consider three things: function, symbolism, and experience. First, what are the functional considerations of employment, such as location, pay, benefits? Second, what is the symbolic value, or, in other words, how does this employment connect to a person’s self-identity?  Imagine an employee of Apple versus Goldman Sachs. You likely conjure up images of two different types of people. Last, what does a potential job seeker imagine it will be like to work for your company?

Results from my study indicated companies offering work-life or wellness benefits were perceived as having higher functional value in terms of benefits. But they were seen as being more exciting and sophisticated, and it was expected that employees would be treated better.

The takeaway: Don’t underestimate the power of your benefits programs for developing a competitive advantage in your candidate slate! Well-being programs signal to prospective employees what it will be like to work for your organization. Build these programs and get the message out there.

To learn more, read the brochure: Bringing Well-Being to Organizations Through Exceptional Employee Experience.

Follow Dr. Pytlovany on Twitter at @AmyPytlovany.

Tammie Eldridge is director of Solution Marketing for SAP SuccessFactors.

*More than 400 participants were presented with one of three recruiting advertisements: 1) a job ad listing traditional job benefits, e.g., health insurance, 401k; 2) a job add listing work-life benefits, e.g., flexible work hours, remote work options; or 3) a job ad listing wellness benefits, e.g., stress management resources, gym membership.