One of the most positive workplace transformations that have occurred over the past decade is the slow yet steady prioritisation of employee well-being. Businesses around the globe are starting to realise just how powerful an engaged, motivated, and supported workforce can be.
Employees are already feeling the positive changes, with workers in the United States now agreeing with statements like “well-being programs are easy to access when I need them” far more commonly than they did back in 2019. Across the board, access, reliability, and depth of support are increasing, leading to a happier, more productive workspace for all.
Yet, although employers are improving, there is still a long way to go. Over 50% of employees regularly suffer from burnout, with our current generation continually facing more stress at work. In this article, we’ll turn to the leading methods, strategies, and tips to improve employee well-being.
We’ll cover the following:
- What can improve employee well-being?
- What are some effective strategies for managing and reducing workplace stress?
- How do you measure employee well-being?
- How can organisations create a positive work environment that fosters well-being?
- What role do managers and leaders play in supporting employee well-being?
- How can I achieve a better work-life balance?
- How do I manage work-life balance when working remotely or from home?
- What are the consequences of poor work-life balance?
Let’s dive right in.
What can improve employee well-being?
Employee well-being is a general term to describe how supported an employee feels at work. Most of the time, this term refers directly to an employee’s mental health and whether or not they can cope with all the stress that the job comes with. Improving employee well-being is all about identifying where stress, worry, and discomfort arise in a workplace and alleviating it.
Employees who are happier at work demonstrate higher rates of productivity and reduced churn. Considering that the average employee will spend over 90,000 hours of their lives in a workplace, the best way to improve employee well-being starts with investigating your own office.
Conducting surveys across your workplace and asking questions about employee well-being is always a wonderful place to start. An initial survey will give you a rough idea of how many employees are currently struggling with their well-being and areas that you can work on.
If there are any primary concerns that repeatedly arise from these surveys, then you should focus on fixing them before all else. If there are mixed complaints, then prioritising the fixes that will have the biggest impact is a more effective strategy.
In general, here are some factors that can improve employee well-being:
An Improved Work-Life Balance
An employee’s work-life balance is central to their well-being. If they perceive their job as consuming their entire lives, they are more likely to burn out and stop working as hard at work. Helping employees create clear boundaries and never expecting employees to work outside of office hours can go a long way.
Room for Growth
Over 70% of employees expect to improve their own job prospects throughout the course of their career with a company. Learning new skills, honing strategies, and growing in a role are all vital to keep employees motivated. Especially for objective-oriented workers, creating goals and room for growth will help to improve well-being at work.
Time and Money Compensation
Another central factor that can drastically affect employee well-being is the compensation your business pays. If your business undervalues your employees and lowball salaries, workers are much less likely to work productively for your business. Always offer fair compensation for roles you fill.
What are some effective strategies for managing and reducing workplace stress?
We all feel stressed from time to time at work. Across deadlines, difficult conversations with managers, or complex projects, there are numerous factors that could lead to employees having a stressful day. With so many potential stress factors, it’s not surprising that the majority of workers burn out in their roles.
Recent research by the University of Oxford demonstrates that happier workers are more productive, by an average of around 13%. As stress is the number one factor that leads to unhappiness at work, focusing on ameliorating the causes of stress can go a long way.
Luckily, the vast majority of factors that cause stress are areas that businesses can tackle. For example, if employees are feeling worried about deadlines, then start projects earlier to give them more time to get everything done. Lowering your expectations in terms of how productive each employee must be every day can help everyone feel more secure in their roles. After all, no one can bring 100% every single day.
Here are some other effective strategies for reducing workplace stress.
The only thing worse than feeling stressed about work is doing so alone. Attempt to foster an active community that discusses stress or workplace worries. A workplace with open lines of communication will help people find support in their time of need.
Offer Flexible Scheduling
Around 60% of all time at work is wasted. Whether employees are tired, in an afternoon lull, or have simply finished everything they need to do and are waiting to go home, there are numerous reasons that we waste time. Instead of clamping down on this and increasing stress, think about incorporating flexible working schedules. If employees can come and go when they like, they’ll be able to create a more effective schedule for themselves, lowering stress and boosting productivity.
Unfortunately, most meetings are a complete waste of time. Instead of forcing every single team member to attend a meeting where they listen and wait for it to end, start reducing meetings where possible. Most of the time, an email would suffice or actually provide an advantage as it doesn’t eat into your workers’ schedules.
The internal structure of a business is the core factor that determines workplace stress. If you foster healthy work environments and seek to reduce stress factors, you’ll create a much happier workplace.
The internal structure of a business is the core factor that determines workplace stress. If you foster healthy work environments and seek to reduce stress factors, you’ll create a much happier workplace. Additionally, you can check our extended article on strategies for managing workspace stress.
How do you measure employee well-being?
To paraphrase the famous quote, that which isn’t measured cannot be improved upon. This aphorism is certainly true when it comes to employee well-being, which is notoriously ambiguous and subjective. In order to improve employee well-being, we need to first understand how to actually measure if our strategies are having an effect.
Mental health, stress, and employee sentiment toward their jobs are all subjective measures. Due to that factor, we cannot simply test for happiness or measure it through observation. Instead, businesses need to turn to qualitative investigations and surveys.
Surveys are a leading tool for measuring employee well-being as you offer your workers the opportunity to voice their opinions directly. Employee well-being surveys should typically have two core sections:
- Numerical Answers – Allowing employees to give an answer on a scale of 1-10 on how stressed they are feeling, rating their own well-being, and other numerical answers will give you a great empirical basis to start with.
- Written Answers – This section will involve a number of questions that relate to how an employee feels about their current working situation. You could ask them to explain why they selected certain numbers in the first section or ask for feedback or recommendations that your workplace could improve on.
Another fantastic strategy when measuring employee well-being is to ask workers about stress factors in the survey. For example, managers are a common reason that employees feel burnt out at work. You could ask how they would run their manager’s leadership, communication, and organisational skills on a scale from 1-10.
Questions that investigate the root causes of stress will help you find anomalies in your business. For example, if a certain manager seems to get much lower scores than others, then you could offer to give them some additional support to improve their leadership skills.
Of course, whenever running surveys that ask your employees to give feedback, you should always make them anonymous. The layer of anonymity lets your employees share their honest opinions without the fear of repercussions.
How can organisations create a positive work environment that fosters well-being?
Perhaps of all the aspects that impact employee well-being, the office environment that workers exist in. Across physical facilitates to the general atmosphere of the office, businesses can radically change how happy their employees feel at work by improving the workplace. After all, there’s a reason that tech giants like Apple have spent billions on creating an enjoyable workplace.
Employees will spend hours of their days in the workplace that you provide to them. If you offer a poor-quality environment, then their work and attitude will reflect that. On the contrary, if you create an inspiring space where employees can relax, feel comfortable, and work in an effective manner, they’re much more likely to reach the levels of productivity that you want.
At the end of the day, these changes come directly from you. Your business should strive to create a positive work environment to foster employee well-being. Here are some common strategies that businesses can use to create a better workplace:
- Invest in Privacy – While this may seem counterproductive to the modern open office idea, privacy is actually vital in the workplace. You don’t have to give every single employee a private office, but you should provide spaces where anyone can go to get private work done. For example, you could use office pods to create private spaces for deep work or small meetings.
- Define Your Company Culture – When hiring new employees, something you should make clear from your job proposal is your company culture and ethics. If you want to create a workplace that has like-minded, tolerant, supportive people, you should state this right from the first step. Clearly define your company culture and make sure that management roles lead from the front to bring it to life.
- Establish Communication Channels – One of the main causes of poor employee well-being is feeling isolated at work. If a worker doesn’t feel like they can talk to a manager about having too much work, they may burn out in silence. A positive working environment is one where communication runs freely. Be sure to empower leaders to host space for conversation with employees to make sure everyone can find support whenever they need it.
When creating changes to your workplace, it can be tough to know where to begin. Typically, there are two core areas that you can focus on.
Physical changes to your workplace involve investing in creating a space where employees want to come to work. Especially alongside the current conversation about remote working, making your workplace a great place to be should be a top priority.
Here are some common physical changes you can make to your workplace to improve employee well-being:
- Invest in Plants – Plants and other green spaces can decrease stress in the workplace and make them a more relaxing place to work.
- Food and Snacks – Many tech giants offer free canteens or snack rooms to keep their employees full during their work days. These little extra benefits can go a long way when it comes to making your teams feel appreciated.
- Flexible Spaces – Ensure that your employees can change how they want to work with ease. If they want to work in silence one day, make sure they have space to do so. Equally, create common spaces where people can co-work and work on collaborative projects together.
The richer your physical spaces are, the more likely your employees are to enjoy being at work. With higher rates of enjoyment comes more productivity, boosted well-being, and increased happiness.
Environmental workplace changes are modifications you make to the atmosphere of your office to create a supporting and relaxing environment. These changes span everything from providing mental health services to outlining the importance of taking breaks while at work.
One of the best places to start when it comes to creating a better workplace environment is with managers. As we’ve discussed, managers can make or break a workplace environment. By teaching your managers how to lead with care, you can create a nicer place to work.
Another great idea is to regularly talk about mental health in the workplace. When employees see CEOs and other C-suite executives discussing how their own well-being can fluctuate, it carves out a space for open and honest conversation. Sometimes, all your employees need is to be reminded that they’re not alone when it comes to coping with work.
What role do managers and leaders play in supporting employee well-being?
Everyone has that ‘bad boss’ story. Unfortunately, considering that 85% of managers don’t receive any training before starting their positions, this story is far more common than we might believe. Managers are directly responsible for assigning work, overseeing projects, and ensuring that projects finish on time.
With the sheer scope of responsibility that managers have to deal with, they have an enormous impact on the performance of individual employees. Managers who support their teams, foster healthy working environments, and assign workloads fairly will often be met with productive workers. However, a well-rounded manager isn’t always the case.
There are a number of ways that managers can focus on improving their management styles to facilitate better working conditions:
- Dismantle Hierarchies – Although you are working as a manager, you shouldn’t put yourself above the rest of your team. The best leaders work amongst their teams, pulling just as much weight as everyone else. By dismantling hierarchies and letting employees shine without talking down to them, you can create a much more positive working environment.
- Give Great Feedback – One of the defining factors of highly engaged employees is positive feedback. Nearly half of all top-performing employees regularly receive positive feedback, with managers being able to use these short conversations to motivate and engage their workforce.
- Understand Your Team – When joining a new team, you may think that you have a new selection of employees, each of whom can perform more or less the same role. While this may be true in some cases, most of the time, you’ll find that specific employees shine in different areas. By understanding your team and where they shine, you can put them to work that they’ll enjoy more. In consequence, you’ll have employees who are more motivated and productive at work.
Managers bring employees together, but they can also be the single biggest factor for demotivation and stress at work. At the very least, your business should focus on teaching new managers and leaders how to perform their roles successfully. Just because someone is a great employee, doesn’t mean they’ll also make a great leader.
Don’t forget to read through our list of strategies that managers can use to support employee well-being.
How can I achieve a better work-life balance?
Work-life balance has been a trending phrase over the past few years in the workplace. Our relationship with our working lives became all the more complex during the pandemic, when many individuals weren’t able to commute to work due to lockdown regulations. Without the clear physical separation between office and home, we began to realise how far work had invaded our lives.
The average employee does not have a particularly great work-life balance. In fact, only around 23% of employees believe they can effectively separate their home life from their work life. While organisations would typically shift the blame onto employees for not being able to compartmentalise the two, companies are actually typically to blame here.
After all, if a manager tells an employee that they must finish a project by the next day, without giving enough time to complete the work during working hours, then they place an expectation of working while at home onto the employee. Achieving a work-life balance in these situations has nothing to do with the employee and everything to do with unfair internal policies.
When seeking to offer employees a better work-life balance, here are some of the most important things businesses should consider:
- Working Hours Should Be Paid – If you expect an employee to work outside of their 9-5 to complete work, then you should be prepared to compensate them with overtime for those hours. Working beyond the typical scope of a working day places extra stress on your employees. If you want them to avoid burnout, only assign as much work as they can get done during working hours, or pay for additional time.
- Allow for Boundaries – If an employee cannot be contacted outside of working hours, they are much less likely to accidentally overwork themselves or spend free time worrying about work. In your business, you can incite a no-messaging policy after 5 pm, ensuring that any communications wait till the next day. These policies will help employees create clear boundaries that reinforce their work-life balance.
- Promote Flexibility – We’ve all read the studies that demonstrate how giving employees more flexibility with initiatives like the four-day workweek helps to boost productivity and quality. Promoting flexible working structures, whether that means in terms of the days or hours that employees work, will ensure employees work in the way that’s best for them. The more flexibility you give to your workers, the more likely they are to create a working schedule that gives them the time they need to rest.
Work-life balance is rapidly becoming one of the most important concepts in the American workplace. Over 70% of employees cite this balance as very important to their lives, demonstrating how central it has become to corporate culture.
Where feasible, your business should take steps to make obtaining a winning work-life balance as easy as possible for your employees. If you take the first steps, your employees are likely to follow.
How do I manage work-life balance when working remotely or from home?
The past few years have dramatically revolutionised how employees engage with their jobs. The most pressing change was caused by the pandemic, with workers from all over the world moving online and working remotely. Although remote working has become less popular since restrictions faded, with some companies rejecting this working style completely, it is still alive and well.
Around 87% of workers will work remotely in some capacity during any given working week. When work is always accessible to an employee, it can be much harder to create clear boundaries with their workplace. If they were commuting to the office, there is the expectation that once they leave the building, their work has finished for the day.
However, when a laptop is always in reach, and your living room is now an office, it can be hard to create these same boundaries. Here are some leading strategies that employees can use to maintain their own well-being when working remotely:
- Make Use of Technology – Mobile phones and laptops have plenty of features that make it easier for you to set boundaries. For example, once 5 pm hits, you could create an automatic notifications filter that turns on on your phone. This filter could block notifications from your work email and apps like Slack from coming through. If you’re not aware of these messages, it is much easier to fully ignore work once you’re off the clock.
- Set Boundaries, Where Possible – Although you are theoretically always just a message away, try to make it clear to your manager and coworkers that you do not want to receive messages outside of working hours. While it can be scary to state your boundaries, keeping them will prevent you from burnout and maintain your well-being, even during stressful periods.
- Focus on the Benefits – One of the major benefits of working from home is that no one is directly monitoring what you do. We’ve all been at work at 3 pm, having already finished everything we need to do and counting down the hours till we can go home. When working from home, you no longer have the same necessity. A great way of improving your work-life balance at home is to complete your work quickly and then take more time off during the day. As long as your productivity doesn’t dip, this can be a fantastic way of rescuing your own day from work.
Remote work is still a relatively new initiative, meaning people are still figuring out the best ways to maintain their work-life balance. But, by using the above tips and others from our article on strategies to maintain your work-life balance while working remotely, you’ll be able to get to grips with this digital new normal.
What are the consequences of poor work-life balance?
Unfortunately, if you don’t get the better of your work-life balance, it’ll get the better of you. While we all have busy weeks, if you routinely find yourself working late, missing dinners with friends, or getting up early to finish work, then you’ll start to face consequences sooner or later. Not all of these consequences will be work-related, with workaholics often suffering from poor social relationships and a general sense of unfulfillment.
A poor work-life balance all starts with stress. This is unsurprising, considering that 80% of workers cite that stress is one of their default emotions at work over half of the time. As the amount of work that an employee has to complete increases, their base level of stress will also rise. Increased stress can lead to lower-quality work, missing deadlines, and a lowered sense of self-esteem.
When an employee feels stressed out, their first reaction isn’t typically to blame their workplace for giving them too much work. On the contrary, they look inward and blame themselves, feeling that they’ve worked too slowly or aren’t competent in their role. This fallacy is the core issue that leads many to burn out, self-loath, or hate their jobs.
If your business doesn’t help employees realise how important a stable work-life balance is, you could start noticing the following impacts on the workplace:
- Decreased Morale – No one is their best self when they have a full schedule. The lighter moments of work, like talking to coworkers, having lunch, or sharing a joke, are few and far between when the whole workplace is worried about finishing all of their tasks. If workers feel stressed at work, the morale of the company will suffer, leading to lower rates of employee well-being.
- Mental Health Struggles – Businesses with poor work-life balances typically have workforces with higher rates of anxiety and depression.
- Lower Productivity – if employees have to constantly juggle 100 tasks, they’ll end up completing them to a lower quality to keep all the plates spinning. Overworking employees only hurts the business, as it demotivates workers while reducing project quality.
Luckily, your business can create active changes that help employees to take back control of their work-life balance. Read through our article on avoiding the consequences of a poor work-life balance to find out more.
Employee well-being is a sprawling and complex topic that’s hard to pin down. While many organisations cite the need to improve employee well-being, doing so is another story. Even if you only take small steps to start to remedy stress factors and improve working conditions, every little movement forward greatly helps.
For companies that want to create an organisation with low employee churn, high rates of happiness, and even higher productivity figures, focusing on employee well-being should be at the top of the priority list. Over the past few years, wellness and mental health conversations have come a long way. But, we’re still only just getting started.
Make 2024 and beyond the year that your business starts to take the power of your employees seriously. A happy employee is a hard-working one.