As employee listening partners, we are on the journey with you to understand and elevate well-being. Well-being is hard to define, but we can sure tell when it is missing.
That really came to light in Newmeasures’ 2022 State of Engagement White Paper. For the first time, demonstrating care for employee well-being surfaced as one of the top drivers of employee engagement.
As a leader in HR, you are likely seeking ways to support employees’ well-being. I encourage you to start with your own journey. Here are two reminders as you begin.
Well-being is bidirectional
Thriving at work impacts thriving in life. Thriving in life impacts thriving at work.
Gallup1 found that employees who are engaged at work but not thriving in life report they are 61% more likely to burnout and experience 48% higher daily stress levels than employees that are both engaged and thriving. Inversely, Gallup also discovered that career well-being is the foundation of how most people rate their “best possible life” overall. As Gallup puts it, “What the whole world wants is a good job.”
Well-being is dynamic
Well-being is not a target; it is a dance. If the past few years have taught us anything, it is that different situations warrant different responses. Best practices for work have changed, and your approach to well-being likely needs to as well. Self-reflection and flexibility will serve you well in our changing world.
Now, let’s uncover three tips for ditching habits that undermine our own well-being and start moving forward with habits that serve us well.
1. Use your paid leave. Period.
According to the New York Times, nearly one third of all accrued time off went unused last year. Glassdoor estimates that the average employee used half their time off or less in the past 12 months. Glassdoor also shared that in 2021, Americans used six fewer vacation days that the global average.
Based on recent studies, including a report from Glassdoor, some of the reasons people left paid time off days unused included:
- Fear of falling behind
- Concern that no one else can do their job or that staffing is not sufficient for them to be able to take time off
- Not wanting to burden coworkers with an increased workload
- Worried about being perceived as less committed to their job
- Fear of being judged by peers for taking time off for non-life-threatening reasons during a pandemic
- Inability to relax or disconnect from work while away
Perhaps the root issue here is that we believe the myth that commitment to your well-being and commitment to your job are competitors. I believe they are actually companions. It is not a tug-of-war. It is a tandem bike ride. In fact, according to SHRM, findings consistently demonstrate that taking time off improves productivity and mental health while lowering stress.
If you’re thinking, “I’m the type of tired a vacation doesn’t fix…
”Ok, that is tough. I hear you, but a vacation seems like a better time to reflect on what decisions, changes, and resources you DO need to be well than trying to revolutionize your life while sitting at your desk, right? So, take the vacation anyway.
By the way, “workcations” do not count. While the opportunity to travel to a location to work remotely is a perk of hybrid and flexible workplaces, it does not have the same benefits as a real vacation. According to WCNC, Expedia’s annual work deprivation study found that in 2021 employees reported being more vacation deprived and burned out than ever, despite the enhanced flexibility to travel. The lines between work and life have already blurred substantially over the past few years, trying to blend work and vacation does not help.
2. Get real about how you contribute to your own burnout
I have personally experienced burnout twice in the past decade. It was starting to feel like a pattern that I was doomed to repeat. As a result, I spent a lot of time wondering, “What is the common denominator here? Are my workplaces setting me up to fail? Is this an environment problem or a me problem? Am I not gritty enough, resilient enough, or driven enough to survive the modern workplace?”
The conclusion I came to was “Yes, AND.”
As in, “Yes, I have habits and approaches to work that nudge me towards burnout. Yes, I am the one responsible for being in the driver’s seat of my work experience and wellness decisions… AND these skillsets are malleable. I can make new decisions that change my future.
”But what about the employer’s responsibility? How am I supposed to value well-being if my employer does not?“
Yes, AND” applies here too. Well-being is both an individual responsibility and an organizational responsibility. Yes, your employer should be accountable for crafting an environment that provides employees the opportunity to be well, AND it is up to you to seize those opportunities. Leaving PTO on the table is a perfect example of how we undermine our own power.
Let’s take a quick look at some other behaviors in our own control that undermine our well-being. Select the bullets that describe you:
- Checking email or messages before the workday starts and/or after the workday ends just to “be prepared”
- Sly peeping in on Slack/Teams to see who is still working after 5pm (and feeling better or worse about yourself as a result)
- Giving others the advice of prioritizing recovery time or work-life balance without modeling it yourself
- Avoiding talking about the vacation you have planned or just went on because you feel guilty about taking time off
- Putting value on being the busiest or working the most overtime
- Believing that the business will not survive without you for a day, a week, or a month
- When you do finally wrap up work, you find yourself numbing with TV, alcohol etc. because you do not have the energy or motivation to engage in activities that bring you true joy
- Describing your job to others based on the tasks that drain your energy rather than the parts that bring you purpose and fulfillment
- Constantly wondering if you would be happier in a different job
- Buying in to the belief that you will never catch up on email
- Habitually skipping lunch to get more work done
- Displaying quotes about “hustling” or “rise & grind” in your office
- Letting panic about deadlines or fear of failure drive your decisions
- Saying “If only [insert something out of your control] was different, I wouldn’t be so burned out”
- Believing everything is a priority and any dissatisfaction or urgency from a client, customer, coworker or leader makes it an emergency
Did that list leave you feeling a little called out? Yeah, me too. Keep reading for how we can change that.
3. Stuff your well-being ballot box with healthy decisions.
James Clear, author of New York Times bestselling book Atomic Habits says, “Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity.”So, be the change. Make the choice. Do the things that are in your control, one day at a time.
What might that look like?
- Model the well-being culture you WISH your company had, especially with new hires
- Start setting and reinforcing boundaries that protect your well-being
- Figure out what truly detaching from work during non-work hours means for you
- Communicate your time off plans early and often
- Cultivate positive relationships with your coworkers
- Redefine what being committed to your job looks like
Remember, attending to your well-being does not tank your productivity. It does not erode your competence or diminish your success. It enhances your workplace toolkit.
Elevating your well-being gives you the skill to survive more than just another month or another year in this job/role/company/career. Our research found that people who feel they are able to maintain a healthy work-life balance are 3.5 times more likely to indicate they intend to stay with their organization for the next 12 months.
Well-being protects your career. It protects your employer’s interests. It protects your customers.
What will you do today to start “voting” for who you want to be?
The time of “waiting until things are less busy” to work on well-being has passed. Stop living at the end of your rope.
Consider this: if you made it this far in the article you have all you need to start making this change: five minutes of time and interest in well-being.
So, today is the day. I invite you to pick something – just one thing – to try differently today.
Share Your Thoughts
What have you done to foster well-being at work? We’d love to hear your ideas, thoughts, and suggestions in the comments below.
Clifton, J. & Harter, J. (2021). Wellbeing at work. New York, New York: Gallup Press.
Clear, J. (2018). Atomic habits: tiny changes, remarkable results: an easy & proven way to build good habits & break bad ones. New York, New York: Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House.