Work-Life Balance

The Age of the “Whole Human” Workplace: How Companies Today Are Taking Care of Their Employees

Traditionally, companies supported the lives of their employees by offering a 401(k) retirement plan (maybe even with matching!), two weeks of vacation, and health insurance. Maybe they would throw in bagels on Fridays for good measure.

There’s nothing wrong with these things—in fact, people would probably be up in arms if their insurance or vacation time disappeared—but in an age when people are bringing more and more of their work home, they’re also finding they need to be able to bring more of themselves into the office.

That means not feeling like you have a “work self” and a “home self” who are wildly different people, but feeling like the place you spend eight (or more) hours a day, five days a week cares about your whole self. That means working for an organization that sees you as more than simply a worker who types away on the computer, but also, perhaps, as a parent, a volunteer, a soldier, and a person who has needs and interests outside of work.

Luckily, companies are increasingly looking for ways to support their employees as the complex humans they are. Here are just a few of the ways employers are adapting their benefits or creating new ones to take care of the people who work for them—all of which will hopefully be the gold standard moving forward.


Making Health—Including Mental Health—a Priority

If you’ve ever had a late, sleepless night to get a project done on time, found yourself with aches and pains from nine-hour days at your desk, or just felt mentally unable to do any more after weeks of going and going, you don’t need science to tell you that work takes a lot out of a person. But here’s a bit of research anyway: Sitting all day can lead to weight gain, unhealthier blood pressure and blood sugar levels, and a host of long-term back problems—even in people who exercise regularly outside of work. Long hours have been shown to lead to a greater risk of cardiovascular problems. Staring at screens is ruining our vision and our sleep. And don’t even get us started on the effects of stress.

And as employees are wising up to the fact that our work environments aren’t particularly healthy—a recent Mayo Clinic survey revealed that American workers blame their jobs over all other factors for keeping them from being healthier—employers are realizing that they need to take care of their employees to avoid declining productivity and increased turnover.

While a majority of U.S. employers offer health insurance, in light of this awareness more are supporting employees’ health all day long and trying to prevent them from getting sick in the first place. In 2015, 17% of companies offered on-site corporate fitness classes or programs. It’s not uncommon for large companies to have an on-campus gym, and some are getting even more creative. Capital One, for example, offers free bikes that associates can borrow and use to peddle around campus, getting some exercise and fresh air as they go about their days.

The results have been encouraging. According to a 2015 study, not only are wellness programs good for workers—89% of program participants reported improved happiness and well-being—but they’re good for employers, with 67% reporting enhanced employee engagement at work.

Of course, wellness doesn’t just include physical health—with more and more people feeling burnt out (53% of American and Canadian workers, according to a 2015 study), employees and employers alike are looking for ways to take care of mental well-being on the job. And, just in time, a growing cultural awareness of the benefits of mindfulness and meditation has entered the scene, inspiring companies to offer anything from weekly meditation sessions to dedicated meditation rooms, mindfulness trainings to day-long retreats. “I don’t think it’s a fad that employees and employers are realizing that we have to take better care of our own minds and our own bodies and that, by doing so, we can actually create better companies and better outcomes,” shares David Gelles, author of Mindful Work, in an interview with The Atlantic. “I think that that is a hopefully lasting shift in the way that many of the largest companies are thinking about how they have to do business.”


Giving Time When You Need It

Whether you have to pick kids up at the end of the day, want to call your family on the other side of the world, or just need a few hours to renew your driver’s license at the DMV, it’s no secret that it’s tough to fit your life into nights and weekends. According to surveys by FlexJobs, 85% of Millennials want flexible work options in order to have better work-life balance, and the large majority of working parents see some sort of flexible opportunity as the key to meeting the demands of their work and personal lives.

Which is why a growing number of companies are changing up their policies to offer more variability in work hours or location—a whopping 80% of employers in 2015, in fact, according to a survey from WorldatWork and FlexJobs. This can take on all kinds of different formats: setting four to six “core hours” in the middle of the day, but letting employees choose their start and end times; allowing people to work from home one or two days a week; offering “workcations” or sabbaticals. And the most flexible form of all? Giving staffers the freedom to come and go whenever they choose—as long as they get their work done.

Jennifer Anderson, MVP of Talent Acquisition at Capital One, has been grateful for this type of flex time, especially after she became a parent. She had to leave at a set time every day in order to pick her daughter up from daycare, but bosses and colleagues knew she was going to get everything done and gave her the flexibility to log on from home in the mornings or evenings if needed. “I never got questions about it, so I never felt like I had to make a choice between work or home and how I would balance it.”

Another way companies are lightening the load? Helping you get chores done without having to leave the office. Capital One, like more than 30% of employers with over 5,000 employees, has on-site doctors that welcome employees and their families. “At many of our sites, we’ve actually added full-suite pharmacies, so you don’t have to figure out how you’re going to stop on the way home from work to get X, Y, or Z, because it’s all right there and packaged for you,” adds Anderson. “It makes it easier to get things done in your life.”



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Supporting Different Backgrounds—and Different Futures

Perhaps the most powerful way that companies are supporting the whole lives of their employees is by stepping away from a one-size-fits-all model of benefits and looking for diverse ways to support the unique needs of each of their people.

This starts with things like mentorship programs or employee resource groups, which provide a venue for people with similar experiences or backgrounds to bond, share ideas, and help each other with challenges. But it can also go far beyond that.

It means giving people time off not just for the birth of a child or the care of a parent, but to volunteer for causes that are important to them.

It means broadening benefits to include all kinds of beyond-the-basics needs, such as providing transgender-inclusive healthcare, including coverage for mental health counseling, hormone therapy, medical visits, surgical procedures and other treatments related to gender transition or sex reassignment. (A change that more than 500 U.S. employers, including Capital One, have adopted.)

It means supporting people with different needs and giving them the resources to successfully contribute. (Walgreens, for example, designed a new type of distribution center that was more conducive to work done by people who are differently abled.)

It means not only looking to hire veterans, but making sure their their unique career development needs are supported. For instance, Capital One has a military team that not only actively recruits veterans and Reserve members, but also provides assistance if and when an employee is called to duty. Shawn Seager, a recruiter for multiple IT teams who has been with the organization for two years, was grateful for the company’s help while he is on active duty in Kosovo. “They gave me a military sponsor—essentially an employee who helps me with any questions on pay, benefits, and moral support while I’m gone. The sponsor will also review my pay when I return, and if there is a difference between my military pay and my Capital One pay, they will help pay the difference. That way, I can maintain my quality of life as if I were with them the whole time. It’s one of the best military programs I’ve ever worked for,” he shares.

While this focus on people with diverse needs is good for business—companies with the most diversity are 35% more likely to perform above industry standard—it’s also great for the morale of all employees, with research showing a significant connection between employees’ perceptions of their company’s diversity policies and employee engagement. When companies clearly understand, value, and support differences, it’s hard not to feel like your contribution, whatever it may be, truly matters.



Why are employers putting such a focus on improving their employee programs and benefits offerings? In short, it’s good business. Of course, these perks aren’t the norm yet at all companies—in fact, in many ways, the U.S. workforce still has a long way to go. But the smartest employers know that investing in health and wellness, encouraging employees to live their lives outside of work, and supporting their unique needs is bound to increase engagement and loyalty, reducing turnover, bolstering productivity, and simply making them a better place to work.



This is part one in our “Modern Work Perks” series, created in partnership with Capital One to explore the things that matter most to employees in today’s working world.


Photo of team at work courtesy of Alistair Berg/Getty Images.