How Technology Can Boost Employee Well-Being When We Need It Most

By: Laura Roberts, director, JFFLabs

“How are you doing?”

How often have you been asked that, over the past year? As a parent? As an individual? As an employee? How often have you asked others that same question?

It’s not an easy question to answer, regardless of how the pandemic has affected you, your family, your company, or your employees. That’s because it compels you to assess your sense of “well-being,” or how external factors like your environment and various stressors, expectations, and responsibilities affect your health and happiness. In a turbulent world filled with compounding challenges, it’s hard for anyone to assess their own well-being with any certainty, let alone judge how other people are doing.

For employers, though, it’s becoming increasingly important to try. The pandemic and its related challenges have made it difficult for employees to show up as their best, most productive selves at work. That’s because, like most of us, they’re anxious about one or more of a multitude of issues — from child care and homeschooling to financial stress, the likelihood that they or a loved one will contract COVID-19, the country’s reckoning with racial injustice, and more. This is especially true of members of groups that have been hit hardest by the events of the past year, including young people, essential workers in low-wage jobs, and people of color employed in predominantly white workplaces.

Employers can do a lot to improve the well-being of their frontline and entry-level workers — if they know what practices to adopt and what technology tools to deploy.

Last year, at the height of the pandemic, we talked to employers who were interested in learning how they could better support the well-being of their employees, often with an eye toward improving their worker retention rates and boosting overall job satisfaction and productivity. Many of them expressed interest in adopting promising new talent practices that promote employee development and advancement, or finding ways to enhance their benefits packages.

We know these types of practices benefit workers. Many of them map to JFF’s Impact Employer Talent Framework, which outlines best-in-class employee-focused talent strategies. But the employers we interviewed often were not thinking about using new technology tools to take these practices to the next level.

JFF recently released Thrive@Work, which details the results of a market scan we undertook to assess what we see as cutting-edge technology tools for supporting people at work and contributing to their well-being. Our scan focused specifically on young workers from low-income backgrounds, but the solutions we feature in the report benefit all employees.

Here’s our summary of the top practices that contribute to improved employee well-being, with a look at how technology can help employers “up-level” those practices for greater impact:

Proactively offer employees connections to training opportunities that help them advance. Tech tools can help in the following ways:

  • Helping workers connect learning to personal goals and aspirations via nudges and micro-lessons delivered while they are at work, rather than simply reminding them about training opportunities
  • Matching educational opportunities to career pathways to make all employees aware of advancement opportunities

Upgrade and democratize your training solutions. Tech tools can help in the following ways:

  • Providing access to virtual continuing education programs and educational support networks that allow workers to earn degrees or credentials for free or at a low cost
  • Offering coaching on demand to all employees — not just top executives — so they can get same-day support when they need help dealing with short- and long-term challenges and opportunities

Find a better way to schedule hourly workers. Tech tools can help in the following ways:

  • Allowing employees to have more control over their schedules with apps that allow them to swap shifts, sign up for specific time slots, and indicate the maximum amount of hours they can work in a given week

Foster belonging and inclusivity. Tech tools can help in the following ways:

  • Enhancing or initiating person-to-person connections like mentoring relationships and facilitating the creation of employee resource groups
  • Providing structures, networks, and opportunities that help employees build relationships with remote colleagues, whether they work from home or in far-flung offices of large enterprises — a capability that’s especially important these days, when many people are likely to continue working from home even after the pandemic

Increase the use of benefits. Tech tools can help in the following ways:

  • Helping employees navigate existing benefits packages when they’re in need certain services
  • Providing new workers with easy access to frequently asked questions, either via a chat bot or an FAQ page on the company intranet

JFF produced our Thrive@Work market scan to help employers like you make sense of the thousands of employee-focused technology tools that are out there. Our report helps you decide where to look first, based on your company’s needs and the problems you’re trying to solve.

Here is a quick rundown of the ways in which offerings from five of our 18 “Innovators to Watch” can augment talent practices in the ways we describe above:

  • BetterUp democratizes coaching with a platform that uses artificial intelligence to match employees at all levels with coaches who are available on demand to help them with a range of issues, from health and wellness concerns to talent development objectives.
  • Cleo is a family benefits platform that connects employees who are expecting babies or thinking of having children to a network of certified care practitioners and a collection of resources that can help them navigate parenthood. Meeting employees where they are at a transformative moment in their lives, Cleo offers access to one-on-one coaching services, educational programs, and more.
  • Imperative is a video-based peer coaching platform that helps employees develop “human skills” by working in pairs to reflect on their work experiences, commit to learning and action, hold one another accountable, and build relationships and networks across their organization.
  • Sling makes software designed to simplify workforce management tasks such as scheduling and time tracking for employers in shift-based industries like food service, retail, caregiving, and telemarketing. For employees of shift-based workplaces, the ability to plan and manage one’s own schedule is a game changer.
  • Worklife Partnership has a team of trained support providers called “resource navigators” who work one-on-one with frontline employees to connect them with community resources that can help them surmount challenges like housing insecurity, lack of access to affordable child care, health concerns, and other problems that often aren’t covered by the services available through traditional employee assistance programs.

If you’re an employer looking for proven ways to help your frontline employees have better answers to the “How are you doing?” question, these tools combined with the above practices are a great place to start.

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