Businessolver Blog

Empathy and the Evolution of Benefits

Empathy and the Evolution of Benefits
Posted on Thursday, April 18, 2019 by Rae Shanahan

Proverbial lightbulbs are going on across the country as more employers realize that focusing on employees’ total well-being drives better outcomes—for everyone.


This evolution in benefits thinking is being driven by a number of factors including a shift in perspective toward a more empathetic workplace that seeks to understand and experience the feelings and needs of employees.

The problem with keeping with tradition. 

Traditional wellness programs are generally geared toward physical health, and they can include everything from smoking cessation programs to cholesterol screenings to on-site fitness and nutritional centers. Their goal is to positively impact medical plan spend by increasing the health of plan participants, which is certainly a worth endeavor.

However, these programs have their supporters and detractors, and it’s been challenging to pin down systemic results. While numerous studies have shown that wellness programs offer real value, others find no ROI. The truth may be somewhere in between.

Why wellness still matters now, more than ever. 

What isn’t open to interpretation is the fact that even as wellness initiatives have grown in popularity, Americans continue to be plagued by chronic and often preventable diseases. These conditions undermine the quality of life of the workforce, and they contribute significantly to high healthcare costs and lost productivity.

Here are just a few statistics from the National Institutes of Health.

  • Two-thirds of American adults are either overweight or obese
  • Almost 10% of adults have diabetes
  • Just under 40% of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes

And the challenges don’t end there. In addition to physical ailments, many people are suffering from equally devastating emotional or mental illness.

Mental health needs to be a higher priority. 

According to NAMI, 1 in 5 Americans experience mental illness and over 18% have anxiety disorders.

The National Institute of Mental Health tells us that 7.1% of U.S. adults have at least one major depressive episode each year.

And, the American Institute of Stress found that over three-quarters of people regularly experience physical symptoms—such as fatigue, headache or stomach upset—as a result of stress.

Where does this stress come from? Perhaps not surprisingly it’s most associated with money. Financial issues topped the list at 62%. 

Many of the people dealing with these physical, emotional and financial challenges are part of the workforce, which is why HR and benefits professionals are looking to address what are significant wellness and productivity challenges.

Real ROI comes from putting a solution in place to solve these major wellness issues. 

The reality is: When people are sick or stressed they aren’t able to bring their best to work. They may call out sick and if they come in, they may be distracted or make mistakes. When employees suffer it can have a significant impact on the bottom line. Physical, mental and financial health have a correlative impact on organizational success, and addressing these challenges is good for both employees and employers.

Our 2019 State or Workplace Empathy Study found that most employees are looking to their employers for help with their overall well-being. And, an overwhelming majority of HR pros and CEOs agree there’s more to be done.

Empathy is an important workplace value, and one that provides employers with a competitive edge. It informs organizational culture and it provides a context and framework for the employer/employee relationship. A total approach to employee well-being is an earmark of organizational empathy, which provides a powerful impetus for benefits that are evolving to address physical, mental and financial health.

Want more insights on the well-being/empathy connection? This infographic provides key highlights from our 2019 State of Workplace Empathy Study.