A new breed of business leader is emerging as global executives adapt their leadership styles and shore up commitments to employee wellbeing, in a bid to future-proof their businesses post-COVID-19.
According to the latest Executive Wellbeing Index from premium health insurer Bupa Global, board-level executives worldwide now rate empathy as the most important attribute of an effective leader, followed by integrity and self-awareness1.
A quarter of global board-level executives (26%) now see CEOs taking on the new role of ‘Chief Empathy Officer’. The Index suggests two in five business leaders (44%) already have this position in post at their company, with a further 24 per cent planning to introduce the ‘CEmO’ role in the next year. It comes as board-level executives cite inclusive leadership qualities as essential to improving workplace wellbeing2, following in the footsteps of CEOs like Tim Cook of Apple.
Business leaders continue to feel the effects of the pandemic, with 36 per centfearing the full economic impact is yet to come. Economic optimism is also down; just one in five (19%) business leaders are optimistic about global recovery now compared to 32 per cent in 2020’s Index, with the biggest drops in UAE (38% to 8%) and Egypt (35% to 10%).
Sheldon Kenton, Managing Director of Bupa Global said: “Whilst economic optimism is down, expectations of business leaders have never been higher, as they steer their organisations through the COVID-19 crisis into the ‘New Normal.’ In the face of continued economic uncertainty, global leaders are clearly looking to the long term with a renewed focus on employee wellbeing and empathetic leadership. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it makes business sense – for talent attraction, retention, and reputation.”
Investment in workplace wellbeing
Empathetic, inclusive leadership is manifesting as concrete investments in employee wellbeing. Businesses in most markets are predicted to increase their spending on mental health support at work in the coming year, averaging a 14 per cent increase on current spending with China, the UK and Hong Kong upping their spend the most3.
These larger wellbeing budgets are set to pay for initiatives including new roles focused on supporting mental health, paid mental health sick days and private medical insurance with mental health cover4. Global business leaders are also planning to introduce better benefits for parents, including greater emphasis on flexible working and maintaining a healthy work-life balance5.
As part of the great ‘re-set’ of global recovery, business leaders have ramped up their focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG) commitments. In the context of events such as COP 26 and widespread public attention on climate change, employees, investors and customers are all now looking for strong ESG values6. The Index also reveals more leaders will be prioritising balancing profit with purpose in the next 12 months as well as putting more emphasis on the environmental agenda. These ‘green and purpose-driven’ values came through most strongly in Asia and the UAE7.
Sheldon Kenton, Managing Director of Bupa Global said: “It’s positive to see business leaders shoring up employee mental health and wellbeing after a tough 18 months. Last year’s Index painted a picture of digital transformation and staff decentralisation, but the pandemic has led to innovations in all areas of business and this year we are seeing the emergence of a more empathetic, inclusive leadership style. It’s a huge cultural shift from 2020 where business leaders were struggling with the stigmas of discussing their own mental health.
“In addition, by focusing on the environmental agenda and more purpose-driven goals as part of a wider company cultural overhaul, they will surely reap the benefits from employees, customers and investors.
“Bupa Global is committed to supporting business leaders and their people by continually investing in and updating our mental health and wellbeing provision. Our Global Virtual Care proposition gives people access to international doctors wherever they are in the world. We recently removed lifetime limits across our plans for in-patient and day-patient mental health treatment, and we also now include cover for ADHD, addiction and self-inflicted injuries within our plan benefits. We also provide a range of preventive health and wellbeing services, designed to enable customers, their families and employees to take a more holistic approach to their health management.”