Amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, the widespread adoption of new and hybrid ways of working, and the shifting priorities of new generations of workers, the conversation around workplace well-being continues to be top of mind for C-suite leaders and workers alike. In Deloitte’s 2023 Well-being at Work survey, which included 3,150 workers, managers, and C-suite executives across Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, 84% of respondents say that improving their well-being is a top priority this year—with 74% saying it’s even more important than advancing their career.
Leaders are quick to recognize the benefits of helping their employees thrive and be there for the people who depend on them, and this is often the driving factor behind the implementation of strategies like flexible work arrangements. What’s more, leaders are beginning to recognize that work is a critical determinant of well-being and are shifting toward a more holistic approach to human sustainability: the degree to which an organization creates value for current and future workers as human beings and, more broadly, society as a whole. Organizations that embrace this concept can help their employees become healthier, more skilled, and more connected to a sense of purpose and belonging.
Despite these intentions, many organizations’ worker well-being initiatives are still struggling to gain traction and don’t have clear measurements or accountability. Over the past year, employee well-being has worsened across dimensions, including physical, mental, social, and financial well-being, according to our survey. And recent developments like return-to-office mandates seem to be furthering that trend.1
Our Well-being at Work survey revealed six significant disconnects between C-suite leaders’ perceptions of worker well-being and the realities workers are experiencing. These gaps may be at the heart of the well-being paradox—a fundamental reason why worker well-being continues to deteriorate despite organizations’ strategic investments—because they could be creating blind spots for leaders who are responsible for making strategic decisions about how to advance their organizations’ well-being and human sustainability agendas.
To make informed decisions that move the needle on employee well-being, leaders need to acknowledge these critical gaps and take action to close them.
Although last year’s survey respondents reported a high level of motivation to improve their well-being, it’s clear that they’ve struggled to make progress. Most employees in this year’s survey said their well-being either worsened or stayed the same as last year, and only around one-third say their health—a key indicator of well-being—improved. But the C-suite appears to have an inaccurate perception of how their employees are actually faring (figure 1).
Many employees look to their workplace leaders—managers in particular—to support their well-being, and 96% of managers agree that they should have at least some responsibility for employee well-being. But while a majority of employees (71%) feel their coworkers care about their well-being (and 81% say they care about their coworkers), they’re less convinced that organizational leadership is concerned about their well-being (figure 2).
Eighty-four percent of C-suite respondents agree that employees are more likely to be healthy if their executives are healthy, and 72% say they “always” or “often” share information about their own well-being with their employees. However, just 16% of workers say they see this level of transparency from their leaders (figure 3).
The lack of progress on well-being metrics comes despite the fact that a majority of employees—70%—say their organizations offer well-being benefits, and 80% of those respondents say they use them. But these benefits alone aren’t enough, as 60% of employees say they only use “some” or “a few” of the available benefits—largely because those benefits aren’t aligned with employees’ actual needs (51%) or because the organization doesn’t effectively communicate the availability of well-being benefits (24%). And while just 43% of employees are “very” or “somewhat” satisfied with their well-being benefits, 90% of the C-suite believes they are—and just 2% of leaders suspect that employees might be dissatisfied (figure 4).
There is also a notable disconnect between employees and leaders with respect to how well they believe their company is prioritizing human sustainability (creating value for workers and society) as a whole, particularly related to how organizations are—or aren’t—establishing it as core value. A majority of the executives surveyed (89%) say their company is advancing human sustainability in some capacity—for example, giving workers opportunities to develop skills and progress their careers or adopting practices that support workforce health. However, just 41% of employees agree (figure 5).
Worker expectations are high for organizations to make progress on human sustainability initiatives, especially among millennial and Gen Z workers, who combined make up 67% of the workforce.2 And while 94% of C-Suite respondents say their organization is taking at least one step toward doing so, there’s a significant gap between employee expectations and how well leaders are responding to them (figure 6).
Leaders should take action to bridge the gaps and realign with the reality of their workers’ well-being status, challenges, and opportunities. If they don’t, they may see more of their best talent—including their fellow leaders—disengage or choose to leave for organizations that are making better progress toward workplace well-being.
As a starting point, here are six considerations for leaders looking to address the six leader/worker disconnects our research identified:
Research findings are based on a survey conducted by Deloitte and Workplace Intelligence, a research agency focused on work-related research issues, in four countries: the United States (57% of respondents), the United Kingdom (14%), Canada (14%), and Australia (14%). The survey was fielded between March 3 and March 14, 2023, and it targeted executives, managers, and employees who were working full-time and were between 18 and 76 years old. In total, 3,150 people were surveyed: 1,050 C-suite leaders, 1,050 managers, and 1,050 employees.
Respondents were invited to participate via email and were provided with a small monetary incentive for doing so. All respondents passed a double opt-in process and completed an average of 300 profiling data points prior to taking part in this survey.