Well-being is Not a “Nice to Have” – It’s a Must!
Nearly two years into the pandemic, we know that employees’ job expectations and needs have changed dramatically, as have the levers to keep them satisfied and engaged at work. A central element of this shift is employee well-being. In fact, Newmeasures and Qualtrics research shows well-being continues to trend upward as a key driver of employee engagement, with employees demonstrating stronger preferences for organizations that enable them to set boundaries and establish work-life balance.
What comes to mind when someone brings up well-being at work?
Workplace well-being, as defined by the International Labour Organization1, “relates to all aspects of working life, from the quality and safety of the physical environment, to how workers feel about their work, their working environment, the climate at work and work organization.” Today, organizations have built upon this foundational definition to adopt a more holistic and comprehensive approach that addresses the physical, mental, financial, and social needs of people both at the office and in their personal lives.
Furthermore, well-being transcends all industries, because all organizations require people to complete the work and achieve their goals. To get the best results, you want your people to be at their best so they can give their best.
The Business Case for Putting People First
Well-being can easily and mistakenly be dismissed as “fluffy” or “just another HR initiative,” but in working with leadership teams over this past year, we’ve seen this topic gain the priority and attention it deserves. Well-being matters. We are people first. Everything else is second.
With the current “war for talent,” particularly considering the “great resignation,” a pandemic-induced power shift has given employees the upper hand over employers. With so many organizations transitioning to remote or hybrid working environments, employees have an increasing number of choices of where to dedicate their valuable time. Many of them have now come to expect more flexibility and perks from their employers.
Additionally, throughout the pandemic people have been re-evaluating their relationship to work. If an organization does not demonstrate care and concern for its people, employees can and will seek other opportunities at organizations where they do feel cared for and supported.
At Newmeasures, we have seen clients respond by exploring ways to:
- balance workloads,
- offer hybrid options or more flexible schedules,
- equip managers to lead in new and different ways, and
- drive belonging, community, and culture in a virtual, asynchronous environment.
This is with the goal of allowing their people – the most critical component of their business – opportunities to thrive. And in some cases, simply survive.
Perhaps your organization’s state of affairs is similar? What can you do?
3 Strategies to Support Employee Well-Being
1. PROMOTE HEALTHY WORK PRACTICES
Poor work-life balance has an obvious impact on well-being. “Over-collaborating, lack of uninterrupted focus time, and skipping time off are major drivers of the decreased work-life balance,” according to a recent article from the Harvard Business Review2.
Incorporate healthy habits during working hours. Examples might include:
Step away for fresh air.
Research3 shows that taking a walk outdoors can boost performance, improve concentration, reduce stress and enhance overall brain function.
- At my last company, for those in-office, in-person workdays, we would frequently have ‘walking meetings’ where we’d get outside, away from our desks and conference rooms, and discuss topics as we took a walk outside.
- Side note: if you haven’t already gotten a pandemic dog, now’s the time! Speaking from experience, they force you to take breaks outside periodically!
Check in with a colleague on non-work-related topics.
In the virtual work environment, it’s particularly important to make time for human connections. Make it a regular practice to schedule 15-30 minute “coffee” breaks or “water cooler” chats with other co-workers.
- Here at Newmeasures, we host a monthly team “cooler” to get to know each other better and connect on a personal level. We engage in something fun and unrelated to work, such as sharing personal stories, asking icebreaker and team-building questions, and playing trivia or other fun games. We recently did a journey-line activity where we each created a few slides to share our personal and professional life journey with the team. We discovered a lot about one another in a relatively short amount of time and enjoyed learning new things about people we’ve worked with for years!
Re-evaluate meeting norms.
Step back to examine the systems and practices in place for holding meetings and question whether they contribute to the type of culture you want to build and reinforce. Establish and communicate new norms to make changes where necessary.
- Reduce meeting times (50 min instead of 60) to build in small breaks and allow for a little time in between meetings or adopt “meeting-free” Fridays.
- Encourage people to press pause during meetings and put other tasks aside. If you find yourself multi-tasking during meetings, decide if your presence is truly necessary. If not, find ways to gently excuse yourself from those unnecessary commitments.
- Some organizations implement “non-video Fridays.” This may be particularly useful for remote workforces who spend a majority of their time in video meetings.
Encourage focus times and set boundaries.
Recognize the importance of focus time and develop practices that set and protect these boundaries.
- At Newmeasures, we recently had a team discussion about the ability, necessity, and invitation to enable ‘protected time’ during our work week. Many of us learned it was completely acceptable for us to block our calendars at certain times of the week, so that we could count on some uninterrupted time to truly focus on more mentally intense tasks.
- One simple way to do this is to block your calendar. Use technology to respect quiet hours (e.g., adopt team norms to delay send or mute notifications, based on whatever tools you use at your organization).
2. FOCUS ON CULTURE
A company’s culture can either support or discourage well-being through the tone it sets. Are people defending their choices or apologizing when they take time off? Has working extended hours become a badge of honor and a bragging right? Examine the systems and practices that are supporting these behaviors.
Be a role model.
Connect with leaders across your organization to ensure they understand that part of their role is to demonstrate and model well-being best practices. As a leader yourself, model and communicate that it is okay for employees to switch off. If leaders and managers are making themselves available and responding to requests at every hour of the day, it becomes an unspoken expectation that others need to do the same.
- I once had a manager that would send emails on Sunday afternoons, but he clearly stated to his team to never reply to him until the workweek. He told us that by the end of the week, he was so exhausted and unproductive, that he would end his Friday a few hours early and make up that time on Sunday afternoons. He set clear expectations for his team that those were his most productive working hours, and we were afforded a similar opportunity to make minor adjustments to our schedules as needed.
Adjust “always on” culture expectations.
Many employees are experiencing an ‘always on’ culture because of the pandemic and the subsequent adoption of working remotely. Organizations have invested in technology and platforms that facilitate instant communication between employees and, while these tools can be beneficial, they also contribute to a culture in which employees may struggle to disconnect from work. This can have negative effects on well-being, especially if expectations aren’t clearly stated or modeled.
- Clarify that it’s acceptable to provide a delayed response, set yourself as “away” or pause notifications.
- Offer each employee a couple of personal wellness or well-being days.
- Ensure coverage for time away and discouraging people who are reluctant to fully disengage.
- Provide consensus days off across the organization, to allow for everyone to simultaneously recharge without having to cover for one another.
Normalize well-being conversations.
Create a workplace where it’s acceptable to talk about well-being. Normalize checking-in with one another, beyond just workload and job expectations.
- Provide autonomy and demonstrate trust in your employees. Perhaps identify “core hours.” These would be defined as time when employees must be available for meetings, client-facing work, etc., and will vary by organization. Then they can set their own work-schedules, where appropriate.
- Outside of those core working hours, managers have the trust and expectation that employees will complete what’s expected of them when they’re most productive4
- Give workers more control over how they do their work5
- Remind your people about access to any available mental health resources (i.e., Employee Assistance Programs, telehealth options through insurance, coaching programs, etc.).
- You may even consider providing mental health training internally to improve employee self-awareness on topics such as anxiety, depression, and stress. Ensuring employees are taken care of means having the right programs and resources available to support them.
3. ASK AND LISTEN
You can’t meet the needs of your people if you don’t know what they are. Well-being can be a personal topic and leaders must create space for feedback and proactively seek it out. Perspectives can also vary widely as individual circumstances shape what matters most to each person. Ask, listen, and follow up to understand how needs change over time.
Gauge your employees’ level of well-being.
Send out an assessment and/or add a well-being item to your Employee Engagement survey, particularly if this topic is something you are hearing anecdotally from your people.
Items we commonly see include:
Teach and encourage managers to take the time to connect 1:1.
It can be uncomfortable to talk about emotions at work. The ability to personally connect requires an additional skillset for our managers and leaders, especially when faced with a decentralized workforce. Asking the simple but straightforward question, “How are you doing?” can go a long way.
- For many of us, the pandemic has brought us each into each other’s homes, where we have families, kids, roommates, or pets – where we’ve quickly realized we’re more than just how we show up at work. Ensure managers know how to connect on personal aspects and take the time to get to know their employees as real people.
- Use these meetings to ask for suggestions on how well-being could be improved. Inventory what well-being means to different employees to ensure you are taking a comprehensive approach.
Take note of where your organization’s well-being practices stand today.
Determine metrics for measurement and understand where you are today. From there, you can determine the gaps that may exist and evaluate progress.
- Review existing practices and ongoing activities. This might include incorporating employee well-being questions within an employee engagement survey or by conducting a special well-being assessment. Keep in mind the different types of well-being, and assess the different dimensions such as one’s physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, financial, and social needs.
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.
Kari Loken, M.S. has vast expertise in leadership and talent development, people and culture strategy, and organizational effectiveness. By applying psychological principles and using a data-driven approach to solve problems, she provides rich insights that drive systemic change.
Thank you for the excellent update on changes to our work environment since Covid and strategies to address the changes in employees’ expectations.