How to Effectively Impact Employee Wellbeing

You have likely heard the expression that people join companies, but they leave managers. This is not at all surprising, when Gallup polls have stated that most employees are poorly managed. In fact, 8 in 10 employees, globally, are not engaged or are actively disengaged at work. The U.S. is not far behind at 7 in 10. This means that 70 to 80% of employees are “watching the clock or are actively working against their employer,” according to Gallup. Their desire to escape work is a symptom of unhappy workplaces.

Some may argue that employees are burned out or overly stressed, and that moving to a 4-day work week could be one of the best ways to improve employee satisfaction and wellbeing. However, it has been proven that employers should focus on improving the work experience itself, first.  Because although employees that have participated in 4-day work weeks (in countries like Spain, Japan, Scotland, and New Zealand), have reported that their overall lives are better for it, the percent of actively disengaged employees in those workplaces, is higher than elsewhere.

The fact is, that although we often assume that a shorter work week would provide more opportunities for nurturing employee wellbeing, employees who are already disconnected from their manager/employer, tend to drift even further away. When it comes down to it, Gallup says that two-thirds or more of engaged employees are thriving and have a high level of wellbeing, regardless of how many days they work per week.

But if shortening the work week is not the answer to improving employee wellbeing, then what is, you may wonder? It likely will come as no surprise, that both leaders and managers can effectively impact employee wellbeing, resulting in a better work experience. They can do so by focusing on actions that have been proven to work. Those actions center around a couple of key areas: coaching as a management principal and a comprehensive focus on employee wellbeing.

When it comes to coaching, for it to have the intended impact, it needs to be adopted and modeled from the top down. Therefore, the leaders within a company really need to live this philosophy and act as a coach for their employees – the managers. In turn, those managers are then more prepared with the skills and experience necessary, to be more effective at coaching their own employees.

Gallup data also shows that only one in three managers feels as though they have had opportunities to learn and grow in the last year. Current training and information that is available to help them improve in areas such as coaching, is not easily accessible or intuitive.

So, what do leaders and managers need to focus on to foster a true coaching environment within their organization? In addition to modeling coaching behavior for their managers, leaders can make sure that the managers’ role expectations and performance metrics align with coaching goals, so they do not feel burned out or overworked, which detracts from their ability to successfully coach their employees. Second, they can ensure that their managers have the development support that they need – they can train them on how to coach.

When it comes to the actual coaching of managers, these are some key strategies leaders should model: being more curious, showing support through natural conversation, and focus on performance, strength, and engagement. To dive into these a little deeper, good coaches ask to understand; they listen more and tell less. They have a genuine interest in understanding the individual they are coaching and ask good coaching questions. For example, “What is going well,” or “How can I help you?” Good coaches also ensure that their conversations have a natural flow and are less formal. They should be authentic with their dialogue and focused on helping the individual to identify and use their strengths/gifts. Lastly, good coaching means setting clear expectations and performance goals, and then holding the individual accountable, rather than looking for mistakes and ways to punish the individual. They seek to encourage the individual to take ownership of their development, engagement, and performance.

Even if leaders and managers get the coaching aspect of the job right, we all know that there is a lot more to employee wellbeing. In fact, this is especially relevant in today’s climate, as employees’ confidence in their employer’s ability to prioritize and care about their wellbeing has significantly decreased since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the beginning of the pandemic, 50% of employees strongly agreed that their employer cared about their wellbeing. That number has now decreased by 13%, to 37% of employees feeling this way, according to Gallup.

Gallup shared ten self-explanatory ways that an employer can focus on a comprehensive plan to show their employees that they are actively engaged and care about their wellbeing.

  1. Maintain a strong and sustained leadership voice regarding the importance of wellbeing.
  2. Demonstrate a share and consistent definition of what is meant by “wellbeing.”
  3. Keep the line of communication constantly open.
  4. Lead by example.
  5. Include family members.
  6. Re-promote wellbeing programs and offerings.
  7. Scientifically evaluate the effectiveness of wellbeing programs.
  8. Leverage employee engagement to drive employee wellbeing.
  9. Develop a network of local wellbeing coaches and champions who serve as resources to collect and share best practices.
  10. Aim strengths at wellbeing.

Lastly, it would be remiss to ignore the fact that mental wellbeing remains a “medical blind spot compared with physical wellbeing,” according to Gallup. We are experiencing a world mental health crisis – one that has been on the rise for the past decade but has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 41.5% of U.S. adults exhibited symptoms of anxiety or depression in early 2021, and globally, this number jumps to about 7 in 10. Mental health disorders manifest in different ways than other illness; anxiety and depression can debilitate teams and institutions, just the same as they can debilitate families.

What does this have to do with effecting employee wellbeing in the workplace? Gallup finds that awareness of this health crisis helps to get ahead of it. This awareness is needed in order for prevention measures to be taken. Managers and employers need to know about this crisis.

In terms of how to effectively impact mental health, Gallup has partnered with Magellan Health to offer a quick mental wellness test, the results of which could help employees to impact their current condition. This will be the largest study on wellbeing, ever, which will not only deliver personalized solutions, but will also reassess to measure progress. This testing will be widely available to as many employers, health plans, and government agencies, as possible.

In summary, although it may seem that there are many challenges in the workplace at the current time, especially around employee wellbeing, there are proven things that leaders and managers can do to directly make an impact. And although many would argue that a 4-day work week could be the solution, the best solutions are those that have to do with leaders, managers, and companies, collectively putting in the necessary effort. By embracing coaching as a management principal and creating a comprehensive plan to impact employee wellbeing, at all levels in a company, true improvement in the workplace and in employee wellbeing, can occur. And let us not forget, that mental health struggles are at a high. Managers and employers must be aware of the crisis, as mental wellbeing is often overlooked in terms of overall employee wellbeing, yet, it is an integral component.







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