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Overcoming Well-being Obstacles

Research from Reward Gateway finds that nearly a quarter of U.S. workers are searching for a new job due to being overworked, underpaid, burnt out, and unsupported by management.

By Maggie Mancini

The majority (84%) of U.S. workers say that workplace conditions have contributed to at least one mental health challenge, according to a recent report from Reward Gateway. Nearly a quarter of the American workforce is actively searching for a new job due to these concerns:  

  • 41% of employees feel overworked and underpaid; 
  • 33% feel burnt out; 
  • 24% don’t feel supported by their manager; and  
  • 23% don’t believe their employer cares about them.  

Employees define “well-being” as feeling physically and mentally healthy (70%), achieving work-life balance (56%), experiencing overall satisfaction in life (56%), financial stability and security (56%), and having a sense of purpose and fulfillment (51%). As HR leaders work to address growing wellness concerns among employees, it’s important to understand that employee needs often support the overall needs of the company, says Alex Powell, director of client cultural insights at Reward Gateway.  

“While employees are looking for a pay raise or bonus to support their well-being, that isn’t all they need,” Powell says. “We found 44% of employees would rather have a company that cares about their well-being than a pay raise. So, it may not be a matter of taking more time or spending more money, but instead how you spend your time and resources.”  

Powell explains that in most cases, the needs of employees are simple: managers that listen to how they are doing; a clear sense of what their company has to offer; strategies to help them better integrate work and life; and recognition to reinforce that that their efforts are making a difference.  

The Importance of Recognition 

One-third of employees think consistent and frequent recognition is more important than a 10% pay raise, according to the report. As two in five people don’t remember being recognized by a manager or senior leader in the last year and 60% of employees say they’d like to be recognized more, rewards and feedback can provide motivation to employees struggling with well-being.   

“Feeling that your efforts matter is a powerful way to support well-being in employees,” Powell says. “When recognition is really felt, it will reduce stress and increase resilience. The key is making recognition more meaningful and more consistent. If you are frequently working overtime, quarterly recognition won’t cut it.”  

Powell says that recognition programs should make recognition easier for everyone rather than adding to existing workloads. Companies should monitor the use of recognition programs from people in leadership positions, Powell says, as they set the tone for the rest of the company.  

“One tip we share with our clients is to recognize people for what they do and also why it matters,” Powell explains. “What is the impact that the employee’s actions had on others? Those messages make it more likely that day-to-day recognition will counteract workplace stress.”  

Acknowledging Generational Preferences 

One way that organizations can support workplace well-being is by encouraging open discussion about wellness. While a fairly large percentage of employees are comfortable talking about well-being at work, many are more comfortable talking about their physical health (63%) than their mental (53%) and financial (41%) wellness.  

This trend can be seen across age groups: Those ages 25 to 34 are the most comfortable talking about well-being, and younger workers are generally more comfortable discussing their physical, mental, and financial health than older employees. However, research shows that the youngest members of the workforce—those ages 18 to 24are the least comfortable chatting about their well-being in the workplace. Similarly, the urge to change jobs due to well-being is strongest among Gen Z employees and drops off as age increases. 

“We see resistance to younger workers with every generation,” Powell says. “It wasn’t that long ago that businesses and leaders spent time bemoaning the impact millennials were having on the workplace, and now many of those millennials are in leadership positions. We should move quickly through the stages of change that Gen Z are bringing into the workplace to get ahead of competition and create a welcoming environment.”  

Research from MetLife finds that 18 to 24-year-olds are the most burnt-out age group in the workforce. With this in mind, Powell says that organizations can assess the work environment they’ve created to support employees who feel overworked and help them gain the skills needed to balance work and life. 

Powell suggests that HR leaders evaluate their benefits offerings to ensure that they are being innovative and communicating to workers at all life stages in ways that align with their generational preferences.  

Pay is Vital, but not Everything 

Research finds that 42% of U.S. employees are negatively impacted by cost-of-living stress. This number is down from 65% in 2023. Still, pay remains the top employer must-have (61%), the top reason to leave a job (65%), and the main way for employers to boost employee wellness (56%). This is particularly important for those ages 35 to 44 (66%) and entry-level employees (65%). While pay is certainly important, 44% of employees still say that a company that cares about their well-being is more important than a 10% pay increase.  

The report finds that U.S. employees want their managers to focus on benefits (53%), rewards and recognition (31%), well-being (22%), learning and development (18%), and communication (16%) in 2024. In addition to improving pay, employers can encourage healthy work-life balance (41%), recognize and reward employees for their contributions (34%), and set realistic expectations for roles and responsibilities (26%) to enhance employee well-being.  

“One way of addressing a feeling of overwork is to make sure people understand that their work matters,” Powell says. “Are they getting access to learning and development? Do they understand the impact of their work on others? That can’t solve burnout alone, but it is a solid first step.”  

When it comes to the accessibility of benefits and balancing work, utilizing the relationship between employees and managers is paramount, Powell says. While many companies have great benefits, employees don’t use them. Managers can bridge the gap, acting as a concierge to connect employees to the resources they need.  

“Managers should not take for granted that employees have the organizational or collaborative strategies needed to problem solve and make workloads easier, especially newer employees who may have joined the workforce during the pandemic,” Powell says. “Taking the time to work through obstacles can help employees make the best use of their time and reduce stress in the long run.”   

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