Employee wellbeing has been an increasing priority in recent years, but with the convergence of events in 2020, it has now become essential. What was once considered a perk for employees is now a key opportunity that enables organisations to thrive.


Many companies offer a selection of convenience-based services, gym access, or ping-pong tables oriented towards supporting employees’ physical and mental wellbeing. The problem is that these initiatives are often developed in isolation, without taking into consideration employees’ needs. And in many cases companies’ policies ignore two very important elements of wellbeing: the social element and purpose.


In order for wellbeing programs to be effective, organisations need to adopt a holistic approach and start by listening to employees’ specific needs. The Workforce Vitality model developed by the Adecco Group Foundation, unites both the top-down management and bottom-up feedback from employees. It’s based on design thinking workshops, which serve as a sounding board to identify the issues and generate solutions – with the end users’ needs at the heart of it all.



Solving burnout: a Case Study of the International Committee of the Red Cross



Last year saw an increase in workplace stress, with economic insecurity and fear for welfare playing a large role. Within the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), these issues were already part of many employees’ working lives.


ICRC employees help people affected by armed conflict and violence in over 90 countries. Those providing humanitarian services in the field deal with harsh working conditions, emotional stress, and high expectations on a daily basis.


However, the Workforce Vitality model unearthed an unexpected issue: It was the employees transferring from the field to the calm ICRC headquarters in Switzerland, who were suffering from burnout.


When these employees transfer from countries affected by conflict, adjusting to a safe and highly organised environment takes its toll, adding new pressures. The stress built up in the field often surfaces when life is calmer, and their financial situation shifts.


The design sprint, run by the Adecco Group Foundation together with the ICRC, focused on this issue to better understand why burnout was happening.


They identified four main causes within the organisation’s headquarters:


  • Accumulated stress surfacing during calmer times
  • Financial pressure from moving to and living in an expensive country
  • Stress from being assigned to a new country, which requires settling into a different environment and culture
  • Losing financial support when an employee’s partner moves with them to Switzerland
  • Rethinking the ICRC Onboarding Framework


The design workshops are run so that once the issues and causes are identified, it is the employees themselves who propose and design the potential solutions.


In this case, the sprint drove a new way to approach onboarding of workers within the ICRC as a solution to prevent burnout. The new onboarding framework prioritized the four elements of employee wellbeing as highlighted in the Adecco Group Foundation’s Workforce Vitality model – physical, mental, social, and purpose, and would include:


  • A consistent method for career transition support
  • An onboarding pathway which enables engagement, self-led learning, and integration support for employees
  • Guidance from the organisation on the challenges of transferring to Switzerland and support in facing them.
  • Flexibility to allow for multiple variants of onboarding, depending on the employee’s needs and role


The organisation has integrated the Workforce Vitality model so deeply that employee involvement is now a must for implementing new practices within the ICRC’s onboarding framework. Teamwork and collaboration are key, as well as the ability to manage their individual wellness, capacity, and contribution. Managers are responsible not only for their own wellbeing, but for the wellbeing of their team, peers, and partners.


To ensure the sustainability long-term, the ICRC solution was implemented through the Workforce Vitality model’s four enablers:


  • Policy and practice: Structures must support and reinforce behaviour through rules and motivation. Without strong policies, the practice can quickly fall apart.
  • Culture: An enabling culture sets the precedent of “how we do things and why,” reinforcing intrinsic motivation and not just outward rules.
  • Environment: Physical and organisational elements of the workplace must support wellbeing.
  • Technology and tools: These must be low threshold, integrated, financially accessible, and simple.


Wellbeing isn’t about creating parallel approaches, or simply adding new models to the existing process. By combining existing developments into a core onboarding global approach, the ICRC can achieve consistency going forward, with the four elements of employee wellbeing – physical, mental, social, and purpose – front and centre.



The Workforce Vitality Model Explained


The Adecco Group Foundation developed the Workforce Vitality model to address employee wellbeing in organisations around the world. This is a framework that can be used to test existing wellbeing programmes or incorporate new practices to build upon. The model hinges on four elements of wellbeing: physical, mental, social and purpose. These are combined with four enablers: policy and practice, culture, environment, and technology and tools. Focusing on all four elements and enablers creates a truly holistic model which can be applied within any organisation to build or enhance wellbeing practices that align with unique employee needs.