We know how it goes. One day, you come across a post on LinkedIn about how employee wellbeing is the cornerstone of organizational health and feel inspired.
Two weeks later, everything is the same, except there are brown apples in the fruit bowl you put out, and you’re trying not to make eye contact with your colleagues while you suffer through an at-your-desk chair massage.
“Is this employee wellbeing?” you wonder. “Am I doing it?”
Employee wellbeing strategies are the answer to improving employees’ lives and reducing the negative effect stress has on productivity and motivation.
In this post, we’ll show you how to improve employee wellbeing in nine tangible steps.
If you already know what employee wellbeing is and why it’s important, skip straight to the tips. If not, keep reading.
Employee wellbeing refers to the relationship between a person’s health and their experience at work. It’s about:
How your organization makes them feel in and out of work – for example, a gnarly restructuring might cause stress that impacts their performance and mental wellbeing.
How you can improve their lives outside of work to clear their mind so that they can focus on their tasks. This could mean making sure they’re getting enough rest or have access to good healthcare.
This sounds straightforward, but when you’re creating a strategy, it’s important to break employee wellbeing down into its key parts to make sure you’re hitting all the critical areas.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development outlines seven key areas of employee wellbeing:
This one’s obvious enough. Employees need to be in good physical and mental health to feel good and do their best work. Therefore, you should ensure that they:
Have access to the medical care they need
Are physically safe as they conduct their work
Are not being put under undue mental strain
Have support available if their mental health deteriorates
It’s also essential for employees to be invested in the work they’re doing and how it is conducted. This area is affected by:
The tools employees have for conducting their work
The level of control they have over their work
How they are managed
How they are compensated for their efforts
Not only should employees feel good about how they do their jobs, but they should also feel that their work is valuable and their role is important.
This is achieved through visionary leadership, upholding a high ethical standard, and offering an inclusive environment where everyone feels respected.
The fact is that it’s easier to motivate yourself at work if you’re invested in not just the work you’re doing but the team you’re doing it with. You’ll work harder to meet deadlines if missing them means letting down people you like, and creativity will flow better if you can communicate freely with your coworkers.
Facilitating a social connection between your employees – and particularly between your employees and your leadership – is a big factor in employee wellbeing and creating a productive working environment.
We’ve all been in jobs where we felt stuck. Perhaps we:
Couldn’t progress professionally
Weren’t learning new skills or challenging ourselves
Weren’t able to be creative or innovative in the way we worked
We don’t know about you, but we left that job. That’s an example of employee wellbeing practices neglecting personal growth.
If we consider the first area of employee wellbeing – health – as the basis of healthy living, good lifestyle choices take it one step further. These are the things you do to make yourself feel good and give you energy, whether it’s eating well, exercising regularly, going to bed on time, or even better, all three.
Finally, financial stability is one of the biggest factors that can influence employee wellbeing.
This goes beyond fair compensation and benefits (though those are also essential) and includes retirement planning and financial assistance, such as debt counseling and investment advice.
Employee wellbeing area
Access to medical care; Physical safety in the work environment; Comfortable working conditions, e.g., ergonomic chairs
Employees understand the value of their work; They have control over what work they do; Fair compensation
Visionary leadership; High ethical standards; Inclusive company culture
Cohesive company culture; Regular opportunities to socialize
Professional development; Strong internal promotion and advancement
Good lifestyle choices
Healthy eating; Regular exercise
Fair compensation and benefits; Retirement planning; Financial assistance
It’s obvious why employee wellbeing is important to your workforce. We all want to live comfortable lives and do jobs that the people we work with value and respect.
However, employee wellbeing is also vital for improving and maintaining your overall organizational health.
If your employees are supported in the seven areas we outlined above, you’re likely to see increases in:
Productivity at work
Resilience when faced with challenges
Retention of top talent
The quality of work performance
In fact, wellness programs have been shown to reduce absenteeism by 14%-19%.
All of this has big implications for your bottom line.
A Glassdoor study found that each one-star improvement in an organization’s rating by employees corresponds to a 1.3-point improvement in customer satisfaction scores.
We’ve covered the seven core principles of employee wellbeing and why you need to support them for your business growth. Now it’s time to get into strategies.
We know what you’re thinking… “Isn’t that what we’re doing right now?”
You’re half right. All of the points we’ll cover below are part of a strong employee wellbeing strategy.
However, if you were to try to implement a few or even just one of these without an overall strategy in place to contain them, it would be a bit like trying to carry groceries without a bag: tough to juggle, and you’d probably end up dropping everything. That was the mistake we outlined at the beginning of this post.
A company-wide employee wellbeing strategy builds employee wellbeing into your overall business strategy. It outlines which of the following initiatives you’ll be implementing, who is in charge of them, and how they will serve your overall goals.
To create it, you’ll need:
Commitment from top management, from the board of directors to your executive team
An allocated budget to launch initiatives
Careful resource allocation – in other words, knowledge of who will be overseeing these projects
With these things in place, you have a much higher likelihood of making a long-term impact on employee wellbeing and embedding your approach into your company culture for the long haul.
Speaking of which…
Employee wellbeing goes hand in hand with creating a cohesive company culture because a cohesive culture gives all employees a clear understanding of:
What the value of their work is
What your organization will and won’t stand for when it comes to conflict
How their individual experience is valued by their teammates and managers
We’ve written a guide to creating a cohesive company culture, but here are some brief pointers if you’re just getting started.
First, you can adopt a coaching culture. Request that your managers and supervisors check in with their teams regularly to handle job performance, career development, and wellbeing issues.
Second, promote a culture of feedback and recognition. Ask your employees for their opinions and get them involved with solving the issues they recognize. Celebrate your teams’ successes and make them feel valued.
Whatever culture you create, your leadership needs to be a role model for employees. It’s no use telling an office full of people that you want to promote healthy boundaries between work and leisure if they see their managers are in the office space until midnight every night and emailing them at all hours.
Set the tone for your team members and stick to it.
Once you’ve identified the core characteristics of your company culture, you can make smarter hires who will support their teammates and contribute to the workplace.
The best way to do this is by throwing away the traditional “culture fit” and focusing on finding job candidates who can be a culture add.
“Culture add” is the principle that the right hire is not the one whom you think fits with the culture you already have – or passes the “Would I have a beer with them?” test – but rather the one who offers a fresh perspective or way of doing things while sharing your organization’s core values.
This method helps with employee wellbeing by reducing the chance of an employee being ostracized because they don’t “fit in” with their colleagues.
It also promotes diversity by eliminating many of the biases at play in assessing for culture fit, especially if you use pre-employment testing.
Once you’ve narrowed down your candidates with pre-interview culture-add tests, you can ask them targeted questions in an interview. For a leadership candidate, these might be:
To what extent is a work-life balance important to you? Can you give an example of how you endorse a healthy work-life balance?
How do you give negative feedback to team members as a leader, and which values help you with this?
What actions do you take to resolve team conflicts? Are there any values that help you with conflict resolution?
Many studies support the positive effect that perceived control has on stress management, and it makes sense. If you have control of your work, you can choose the projects you find more engaging; if you have control of your schedule, you’re less likely to worry about the future.
One way to give more power to employees is by offering flexibility with a hybrid office. This works well with highly digitalized or office-based jobs in which a large proportion of the work can be conducted from home.
You might also do the opposite: give employees more stability. This works well for shift-based work like hospitality, in which workers might not know when they’re working from one week to the next. Giving each employee some fixed days on or off shift every week can provide them with more autonomy over their time.
The key is simply to be supportive and flexible when it comes to your employees’ personal needs. Many employees are parents or caretakers or have physical health issues they need to manage, and a lack of accommodation from management can create issues that seep into their performance.
The place where you have the most direct influence over your employees’ health is in your physical workspace, so making this a comfortable environment where employees can work with minimal distraction or discomfort is key.
Air and water quality and decent lighting are the most important aspects of office comfort for workers.
However, you can also consider small additions like healthy snacks (see, there is a place for that fruit bowl, after all!) and a range of workspace options, like standing desks, focus pods, and quiet zones.
You can give remote or in-person workers training on how to stay well at work in addition to offering the material conditions workers need to be healthy in the office. For instance, you can:
Advise them about when to take screen breaks and how long these should be
Ensure that they are taking their full lunch hour
Provide guidance on how to set their chair and desk height and avoid joint issues from working at a computer
During busy times, it’s tempting to ask your existing team to just take on a little extra work. It’s only a temporary measure, you think, but then months go by, and the workload keeps increasing, and pretty soon, your team’s wellbeing is in the gutter.
The solution is simple: When demand goes up, staff up.
But that’s only until you compare it to the cost of employee burnout. The longer each member of your existing team has to shoulder the extra responsibility – more late nights, missed deadlines, and stress – the more of a toll this will take on their wellbeing and productivity.
The cost to your business isn’t only in the delays this causes to your projects. A Stanford study found that roughly 8% of national healthcare outlays are due to employee burnout, coming to a total of $190bn and nearly 120,000 deaths each year.
Hiring more people as soon as you need them ensures that your current workforce feels valued and enables you to fill skills gaps before they affect your output.
Providing opportunities for your employees to socialize with you and each other is a standard management tip, but the key to success lies in how you plan your events.
There are many different personality types in the workplace, so a one-size-fits-all approach is likely to alienate some workers.
Take the example of introverts versus extroverts. Extroverts might love it if every company social involved all employees in a big room playing team bonding games and sharing beers. But for an introvert, this might be more draining than exciting.
Don’t worry, you can still offer beer and pizza parties, but consider other initiatives as well, for instance:
Smaller team socials held either remotely or in person
Non-transactional lunches between managers and their direct reports
Company clubs, such as book clubs
Company Slack channels dedicated to discussing TV and sharing memes or recipes
Providing a range of activities means that everyone can get involved in a way they find fun, which ultimately facilitates better communication between your employees.
One of the most important areas of employee wellbeing is also the one that HR leaders fail in the most: mental health support.
Destigmatizing the discussion of mental health in the workplace, especially between managers and employees, is essential to creating a workplace culture where employees can reach out for help before they’re in crisis.
Supplying mental health first-aiders and offering employees mental health days is just the start. You should also build a robust support system that includes providing your staff with mental healthcare insurance and information about how to access these services.
In addition to these practices, Harvard researchers also recommend:
Adopting a hybrid working model to give employees control of their schedules
Training all managers and employees in the vocabulary required to seek and offer emotional support
Role model vulnerability and compassion in your senior leadership
Yes, we’ve come full circle and are back to the chair massages we mentioned in the introduction.
Now, once you’ve done all the heavy lifting of implementing a strong employee wellbeing strategy, you can finally start the fun part of developing wellbeing programs.
Popular examples include:
Company-wide steps challenges
Weekly office yoga
“Away days” that enable teams to build soft skills together
Investment or debt management coaching
However, as we witnessed at the beginning of this post, implementing these programs is easier said than done. Many employee wellbeing programs simply aren’t taken up by employees.
To make sure your employees make the most of wellbeing programs, you can try:
Getting your workforce to vote on different initiatives
Piloting each scheme and soliciting feedback
Offering a calendar of activities to try out new things for a set period of time
Tip for improving employee wellbeing
Which employee wellbeing factor does this tip support?
Implement a company-wide employee wellbeing strategy
Get commitment from top management; Assign a budget for wellbeing initiatives; Build the wellbeing strategy into your overall business strategy and goals
All of them (when it’s done right)
Create a cohesive work culture
Adopt a coaching culture; Use senior leadership to role model your core values; Solicit feedback from employees
Values, social life, and personal growth
Hire for culture add – not culture fit
Use pre-interview testing to identify culture add candidates
Values and social life
Give employees control of their work
Implement a hybrid office model; Offer nine-to-five workers more flexible work schedules; Give shift workers more stability
Health, good work, personal growth, and good lifestyle choices
Optimize your workspace
Maintain baseline health standards, like air and water quality; Provide comfortable chairs and good lighting; Give workers access to healthy snacks
Health and social life
When demand goes up, staff up
Don’t wait for demand to skyrocket before you hire more employees
Good work, social life, and good lifestyle choices
Provide a range of social opportunities
Offer group social opportunities and smaller events, such as team away days; Create Slack channels for casual discussion
Offer real mental health support
Give employees access to mental healthcare; Train everyone in the vocabulary required to seek and provide mental health support
Develop wellbeing programs
Ask employees to suggest or vote on wellbeing schemes; Pilot a range of wellbeing programs; Solicit feedback on each wellbeing program
All of them
Building employee wellbeing into your organizational culture is about more than just small gestures or “having fun at the office.” It’s about caring holistically for employees so that they have all the tools – inside your office and out – to do a great job.
If you do this right, you can boost employee retention and customer satisfaction – and have more fun at work.
Remember to read up on how to assess your organizational culture.
Then throw out those brown apples and shrug off the one-off massage therapy session. You’ve got work to do.
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