Commitment to the wellbeing of employees is on the rise, during COVID

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Dutch companies say that the well-being of employees is important to them. On a scale of 1 to 10, they rate this topic an 8. In addition, a large majority of employers say their company paid more attention to well-being during the pandemic than before. 43% expect to do even more in the future. This is the result of a survey among 3,400 Dutch companies with more than 100 employees, conducted by Maastricht University and Utrecht University.

Researchers from the Future of Work hub of Utrecht University, together with Maastricht University, have studied how much organisations commit themselves to the well-being and development of employees. They did so, by questioning the general director and the chairperson of the works council. The research was conducted in the autumn of 2020 in commercial companies with more than a hundred employees and was led by Professor Harry Hummels, professor of Social Entrepreneurship at Utrecht University and professor of Ethics, Organizations and Society in Maastricht.

The researchers involved from Utrecht University are the sociologists Thomas Martens and Anne van der Put, supported by Jos Slabbekoorn and Feline Wafelaar. The results of the research are published in the report: Agape: people driving the company(pdf).  Agapè is a concept from ancient Greece. In the context of organisations, it can be described as: "commitment to the well-being of others, seen from the other's eyes."

It is striking that many companies, already scoring well on attention to wellbeing before the pandemic, made an even larger effort during the crisis.

Looking at the research results, Harry Hummels says: “The research shows that Dutch companies are involved in the well-being of their employees. It is striking that many companies that already scored well prior to the corona pandemic, went a step further during the crisis. Possibly more relevant is that a majority indicate that they will keep a closer eye on the well-being of employees in the future.”

Kitty Jong, vice president of Dutch union FNV, having received the report on 17 May, says: "Investing in employees is also good for the company, that is very clear from this study. It is therefore at the heart of our union agenda, because we still see that too many employers see employees only as a cost item. The security of a permanent job makes workers feel appreciated in a company. And control over working hours and influence in the company is also important. We stand up for those themes together with our members. "

More young people in the company? More attention to wellbeing

The study examined the concept of agapè, well-being, on the basis of 7 aspects, including: training options, a sense of control in working from home and flexible working, the extent to which colleagues care for each other and the extent to which the wishes and needs of employees are central in the policy of the company.

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The composition of the staff was particularly important. Agape is increasing as companies employ more young people, more highly educated people and more employees with a permanent contract. The strongest influence comes from a corporate culture that promotes health and well-being and a good relationship between management and the works council. Companies are turning this attention into action by offering room for control, regular communication and gifts for employees during the corona pandemic and by providing job security.

It is striking that company structure does not matter according to our research. Therefore, in principle, all companies can afford to pay attention to wellbeing.

Sociologist Anne van der Put: “It is striking that the company structure, for instance how many people are working there or the sector in which it operates, does not actually matter for the attention that is given to wellbeing. Only when there are too many management layers, is it more difficult to find out where the needs of the employees lie and to put them into practice.”

She continues: “The great thing is that in principle all companies can pay attention to the wellbeing of their employees. While a corporate culture is not something you change overnight, it can. We would very much like to investigate this in the next step. ”

What's in it for us?

An important question is what attention to the wellbeing of employees brings to the company. That turns out to be no small feat, according to the respondents. Well-being is related to: a lower absenteeism due to illness and a lower turnover of employees. Companies have less difficulty recruiting staff, higher job satisfaction and stronger employee engagement with the company. There is a correlation with a strong financial position of companies and higher productivity.

Companies that pay a lot of attention to the wellbeing of employees do this because it suits what they stand for as a company. It is less of a pursuit of cost savings or profit.

Anne van der Put: “Our research shows that companies that pay a lot of attention to the wellbeing of employees do this because it suits what they stand for as a company. It is less of a pursuit of cost savings or profit. One of the obstacles that companies experience is mapping the wishes and needs of employees. ”

Motivation and the future

The attention to wellbeing is also related to different types of HR policy, such as training opportunities and vitality policy. It is precisely the companies that score high on attention to well-being that offer this type of policy because they consider the well-being of employees important and also want to meet their needs.

Companies that score low on attention to welfare are more likely to offer this type of policy because they hope it will be good for productivity. Their motivation is less in line with the concept of agape. He is not only focused on the interests of employees, but also on their own interests. ” Although companies paid a lot of attention to agape before and during the pandemic, the hunger for more is clearly present. Of all participants in the survey, 43 percent would like to pay more attention to this in the future. The vast majority also indicate that they need help with this, for example to map the needs of employees.

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