The past several years have been hard on employees. From a global pandemic that disrupted — and fundamentally changed — how and where people work, to mass layoffs, longer hours, and wages that haven’t kept pace with rising inflation, workers across industries are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and burned out.
Employee mental health and overall wellbeing is at an all-time low. In fact, 84 percent of workers in a recent survey from the United States Department of Health and Human Services said their workplace conditions have contributed to at least one mental health challenge.
In both the public and private sector, fostering wellbeing in the workplace is a priority. The US Surgeon General released the Framework for Workplace Mental Health and Well-Being to help employers develop resources and employee wellbeing programs to better support their workforce. And, according to consulting firm Deloitte, employee wellbeing is at the top of the C-suite agenda.
Why Is Employee Wellbeing Important?
The heart of any organization is its people. Employees are the creators and innovators of new products and services, the driving force behind growing sales and strong customer service.
When employee wellbeing is low productivity, retention, and recruitment — and an organization’s bottom line — suffer. Unhappy employees are disengaged. They are quick to leave — and to share their stories on social media and job boards. According to the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor and Statistics, in any given month, more than 3 million people voluntarily leave their positions. It’s estimated that American companies are losing $1 trillion annually due to employee turnover.
Employees who are suffering aren’t just doing so at work; work-related mental health issues can also impact their personal lives and overall health. They could have trouble sleeping or maintaining relationships, or they may continue to feel anxious or depressed long after they have left work.
Focusing on employee wellbeing and creating a positive work environment where employees feel valued improves productivity, reduces turnover, fuels innovation, nurtures customer retention, and drives revenue.
Fostering workplace wellbeing is not exclusively about career-related mental health, either; it’s also about caring for each employee holistically. If an employee is struggling outside of work, it is important for them to know that they have support and resources from their employer to navigate through whatever challenges they may be facing.
To support employee wellbeing, it’s helpful to understand a few of the key contributing factors that are impacting employees.
More Than Ever, Employees Are Burnt Out
The American Psychological Association defines workplace burnout as “an occupation-related syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress.” Burnout involves ongoing emotional exhaustion, psychological negativity, and feelings of inadequacy.
Burnout happens when employees are asked to take on more work than they can reasonably manage and are pushed hard to perform based on unrealistic corporate goals. Employees feel exhausted and stressed, which negatively impacts their health, job satisfaction, and, ultimately, their performance. A survey on employee mental health and wellbeing found that more than half of American workers are feeling some level of burnout. Employees experiencing burnout may take more sick days. Over the long term, they may disengage entirely, doing the bare minimum to keep their jobs — a phenomenon known as quiet quitting.
Poor Employee Engagement
Companies that invest in their workers have employees who are actively engaged, which means significantly less absenteeism, lower turnover, higher levels of customer satisfaction, and higher profitability. While burnout is one factor that negatively affects employee engagement, others include a toxic corporate culture, poor management practices, insufficient employee benefits, a lack of work-life balance, and no growth opportunities.
Leadership style, which is often driven by corporate culture, significantly impacts an employee’s wellbeing. Managers who ignore work and home issues, make unreasonable demands, and don’t actively listen and collaborate with their teams slowly wear employees down, leading to burnout, lack of engagement, and poor employee wellbeing.
6 Ways A Good Manager Can Improve Employee Wellbeing
The old saying “people don’t quit bad jobs, they quit bad managers” has stood the test of time. Managers play a significant role in supporting an employee and are one of the top reasons people choose to stay or leave an organization. Even if an organization has a supportive corporate culture, good benefits, and employee wellbeing programs, a poor individual manager can still drive an employee to leave.
For organizations, supporting employee wellbeing begins with training management to be thoughtful and compassionate leaders. Here are six ways managers can improve employee wellbeing.
1. Support Open Communication About Mental Health
We have come a long way from the time when mental health issues were ignored or even ridiculed. With anxiety and depression at an all-time high, especially in younger workers, it’s important to acknowledge mental health concerns and build a corporate culture where employee mental health is prioritized.
Managers should keep the lines of communication open with their employees and ask if there is anything that is causing them stress or leading to feelings of burnout. Simple questions asked often can help employees see their managers as someone who supports them. These include:
- How do you feel about your workload?
- Do you need help completing your tasks?
- Do you have any family obligations this week that we need to work around?
- Do you need anything from management to support you?
Following up on this support is important as well. It shows that managers are invested in their team’s wellbeing.
2. Shift Perspectives on Performance Reviews
Performance reviews can be stressful for employees, especially if they aren’t meeting regularly with their managers to discuss performance throughout the year. Without regular feedback, the annual review process can be daunting.
Managers can make performance reviews less intimidating by building in regular checkpoints, ensuring they give praise when it’s warranted. They can also learn tricks to rephrase negative feedback into something that will help employees grow. For example, instead of saying:
“You missed a key deadline. Be sure that never happens again.”
Rephrase it to:
“I noticed you missed this deadline. Can you walk me through what happened so we can work together on finding ways to ensure we won’t run into the same issues in the future?”
Finding ways to turn performance issues into opportunities for growth helps demonstrate that managers are invested in helping employees achieve success in the ways that work best for them.
3. Implement an Employee Wellbeing Program
Wellness programs are policies and practices that employers can do to support an employee’s wellbeing. Employers that have implemented wellness programs report a decrease in absenteeism and an increase in productivity. Wellness programs also can improve employee morale, lead to higher levels of employee engagement, and reduce stress.
Leadership teams can research current trends in employee wellness programs and survey their employees to build a wellness program that suits their workforce. Examples of benefits offered through wellness programs include:
- Flexible or hybrid work arrangements
- Paid time off for taking a “mental health day”
- Incentives for getting annual preventive health check-ups
- Monthly wellness initiatives and contests, such as a step challenge
- Employee recognition for key service milestones and outstanding job performance
4. Welcome Feedback
There is often a disconnect between what managers think their employees need versus what employees actually need. To close that gap, managers simply should ask employees what they need, then follow up with the suggestions.
Whether it is having weekly check-in meetings, sending an email, or asking employees to complete a survey, employees should be encouraged to share all of their feedback, including negative feedback.
Once feedback is received, the employer should take the feedback into consideration, and be transparent about what is — and what is not — possible.
5. Speak With Leaders You Admire
Everyone has a favorite manager or leader, which could include teachers, mentors, and managers from other departments. Managers should tap into their network to learn management tips from people they admire.
Schedule lunch or coffee with that person to talk about their management style and how they handle employee wellness. Take their advice to develop your own positive leadership style.
6. Take a Course to Develop Management Skills
Many leaders strengthen their management skills by taking management courses. These courses not onlyteach the fundamentals of business management, including understanding market dynamics and designing and executing business strategy, but they also help managers learn skills to support and lead employees.
Courses can help managers navigate leadership transitions, improve their ability to influence change across the organization, and shape corporate culture.
Improve Wellbeing at Work by Developing the Right Management Skills
Successful organizations are driven by strong leadership that understands the importance of supporting employee well-being. Today’s businesses can’t rise to the next level without investing in their people.
To support leaders, the Harvard Extension School offers a Wellbeing at Work microcertificate. Students complete two courses focused on improving corporate culture and keeping employees motivated, engaged, and happy. Students also learn strategies to encourage high levels of productivity while maintaining employee satisfaction along with promoting psychological safety in the business world.
Courses are offered at times convenient for busy students. Upon successful completion of the selected courses, students will earn an official Harvard Extension School credential, conferred through CeCertificates.
Learn more about the Wellbeing at Work microcertificate and enroll today to gain the leadership skills needed to support employee wellbeing.