Stop Asking Employees How They’re Doing – Ask These Questions Instead

Jaclyn Menedez, Ph.D., Insights Consultant & Organizational PsychologistCOVID-19 Response, Employee EngagementLeave a Comment

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of people asking me how I’m doing right now. A few months ago, that was an easy vague question to answer with an equally vague, “Everything is great!” But lately, it seems a little tone-deaf. This is particularly true for organizations who are trying to meaningfully reach out to employees, but are simply asking these relatively meaningless platitudes: How are you doing? Is there anything you need from me? Your employees may appreciate the effort, but you won’t get any useful information from this type of approach—you’ll get a lot of I’m hanging in there’s or I can’t think of anything I need right now’s, but you may still continue to see low morale or low productivity. If you want to gather truly useful information about how your employees are doing, you need to start asking specific questions about their well-being.

Well-being is a psychological concept that encompasses all factors that influence wellness in a person’s life. Whenever we ask questions about how someone is “holding up” or “managing during these crazy times,” what we’re really asking about is their well-being. The key benefit of switching to this more precise term is that it allows you to avoid asking big vague questions and instead focus on smaller, more specific questions. Extensive research on well-being breaks down the concept into several physical, mental, and social factors that all can—and should—be addressed separately. By asking about a facet of well-being instead of a catch-all question, you’re more likely to get a specific and useful answer that can be used to target any organizational efforts intended to help employees and increase productivity.

So instead of asking, “How are you doing?” start asking your employees about these specific areas of well-being:

  • How are your stress levels throughout the workday lately? What about the workweek?

To maintain adequate levels of well-being, your employees should be feeling like their stress levels are manageable on any typical workday. When employees indicate that their average day contains more stress than they can handle, overall well-being takes a nosedive—as does their efficiency and their intentions to stay long-term. When people reflect on their stress levels, they don’t usually untangle the different sources, so this pointed question can kick off some valuable reflection and lead to even more useful questioning: what’s the main source of the stress, and when is it at its worst?  What seems to make it better? Once you create a dialogue with employees specifically about their workplace stress, you can help them reduce the negative effects on their overall well-being.

  • Have you been feeling supported by the organization in terms of maintaining your physical health through these times? What about your mental health?

Physical and mental wellness are two cornerstones of a person’s overall well-being, and with almost everyone working from home right now, these concepts have never been more intertwined with the workplace. Organizational efforts can have a significant impact on employee physical well-being and mental health. By focusing on organizational-specific impacts, you can differentiate between deficits that an employee is experiencing in general and deficits that the organization can actually do something about. Asking this type of question allows an employee to really reflect on the nuance of their physical and mental well-being, and be better poised to ask for specific accommodations to improve their engagement and productivity. If your employees give you a blank stare from this question, or if you can’t think of any reason why they would answer positively, reassess your organizational response to these times of crisis and recognize that it is absolutely within your company’s purview to take action in support of employee well-being.

Regardless of good intentions, asking “How are you doing” during a time of great uncertainty may be much more counterproductive than we realize. Instead of this vague level of check-in, offer your employees a more focused and productive outlet for conversation about their well-being. We don’t have all the answers right now, but we can at least arm ourselves with better questions to get there.