Employee well-being is more than a buzzword. Here’s why

Alicia Raeburn contributor headshotAlicia RaeburnJune 13th, 20229 min read
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Summary

Employee well-being targets the overall physical, emotional, economic, and social health of employees. Prioritizing employee well-being can change the entire culture of your organization, building a team of happier, healthier employees. Learn how to create an employee well-being program in your organization, and why it matters.

Imagine closing your laptop, disconnecting from work, and reconnecting with your life at the end of your workday… with zero stress carrying over. If it’s hard to picture, you may be suffering from a lack of employee well-being—and you’re not alone. Employee well-being encompasses all aspects of your health, including less thought-of aspects like your sense of community. Improving it can have a huge impact on not just your work, but your personal life as well. 

With research pointing to alarming statistics regarding burnout, employee well-being might be more important now than ever before. According to our research, 42% of workers report suffering from both burnout and imposter syndrome at the same time. Almost one in four of workers experience burnout four or more times per year, while 40% think it’s an inevitable part of success. 

To mitigate burnout and overwhelm, we need to re-prioritize how we operate and feel at work. Establishing employee well-being as a priority changes your organization’s culture and helps your business run more smoothly. 

What is employee well-being?

Employee well-being is often discussed in tandem with employee experience, employee empowerment, and employee mental health. But while these terms have some overlap, employee well-being differs in that it encompasses all those other things. It’s the umbrella term that determines how the workplace impacts individuals in seven key ways: 

  1. Physical

  2. Emotional

  3. Economic

  4. Social

  5. Professional

  6. Community 

  7. Purpose

Employee well-being has historically been overlooked, but many companies are discovering the benefits of prioritizing it. That’s because effective employee well-being programs can help with retention and overall work satisfaction. And there are many different ways to start implementing employee well-being practices if you’re not ready to launch a full fledged program. At Asana, for example, we prioritize the economic health of our employees with competitive salaries, emotional health with access to free therapy sessions, and community health through a hybrid workplace.

Employee well-being vs. engagement

Employee well-being is the overarching wellness of your employees as it relates to work, which impacts employee engagement. When an employee’s well-being is cared for, they’re more likely to be engaged in their work and excited to be there.

But an engaged employee isn’t necessarily a happy or healthy employee. You can be engaged in your work while overloading your schedule, becoming overwhelmed, or being underpaid. However, if an employee feels positive about their well-being at work, they’re almost always more engaged. That’s why it’s so important to prioritize employee well-being.

Read: Employee Engagement: The Secret to Your Team's Success

Employee well-being is more than a passing fad…

…It also has real implications for the overall operations, finances, and management of your company, including:

  • Better retention. Happier employees are more likely to stay with your company long-term and invest in its success. In turn, this increases sales (as employees become natural cheerleaders for the company) and saves on hiring and onboarding costs.

  • Increased focus. Company support for brain-boosting activities like mindfulness and exercise help employees become more focused and productive at work. 

  • Improved team morale. When employees feel cared for and their basic needs are met, they’re more likely to engage, connect, and support each other—ultimately boosting your team morale.

  • More adaptability. Calm and centered employees can react to changes in a more objective and productive way, a key component of being more adaptable at work.

  • Reduced absenteeism. Because employee well-being includes physical health, prioritizing it leads to less illness and injury, which means fewer sick days or missed events.

7 key elements of employee well-being

Robust employee wellness programs incorporate aspects of these seven well-being initiatives. 

1. Physical

Physical employee well-being is the health of your employees’ bodies. Often, we think of exercise and nutrition as the only elements of being physically healthy. But we now know that sleep and rest are just as important for our physical health, and should also be considered part of your total physical well-being.

Aside from the health benefits and reducing healthcare costs, promoting physical well-being in the workplace also improves your employee’s work experience and boosts their natural energy stores. Simply put, it’s hard to focus on work tasks if your body isn’t cared for. 

Physical well-being example: Gym stipends help get your team moving, but there are even more creative ways to promote physical well-being. Try organizing a plant-based eating month where everyone in the organization shares recipes and supports one another. Or if your team is competitive, a challenge (such as hitting 100,000 steps as a team for the month) can be a great way to build a sense of community while keeping active.

2. Emotional

The past few years have felt like an emotional rollercoaster for many of us. Much of that is outside of our control, but there are ways you can support your colleagues and team even now. If you’re operating with overly high stress levels, you can also feel distracted, anxious, or even suffer from physical health problems. 

As a team lead or executive, the first step is communicating to your employees that their emotional health matters. For example, at Asana we’ve made mindfulness one of our core values—not only because we believe in the impact of mindfulness, but also to make it clear that supporting mental space and well-being is one of our top company priorities. When helping with stress management, be sure to consider work-life balance. Building in rest breaks, offering (and encouraging) PTO, and providing meditation rooms are a few steps to help show employees that you care about their emotional health. 

Emotional well-being example: A full emotional well-being program helps employees cope with and address mental health issues related to the workplace. This can come in a variety of formats, whether it’s financial assistance through your healthcare benefits or an on-site counselor. But other options, including using apps for therapy or group meditations, can have a more immediate impact on your employees’ mental well-being.

3. Economic

There are so many benefits to finding the right job, but ultimately, all of us need to earn a living. Economic motivators are a form of extrinsic motivation—which means they often get a bad rap—but ensuring your employees are fairly paid is a key element of their well-being. Also, good economic health reduces stress and allows for more access to emotional and physical support. 

As an employer, you can provide a sense of financial well-being for your employees through salaries, bonuses, or other incentives. This helps. But you might also want to consider providing financial education or trainings to help employees learn how to best use their income. Also, make sure you’re adequately identifying, addressing, and working to solve any financial inequalities in the workplace.

Economic well-being example: Employers typically prioritize economic well-being through compensation: 401K matches, equity, salaries, and bonuses. But if you want to expand beyond those, you can also consider ways to increase your benefits. Offering commuter stipends, relocation assistance, or even the option for remote work can help employees gain control over their finances and boost their economic well-being.

4. Social

We spend more time at work than anywhere else. One of the more disorienting aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic was the sudden absence of coworkers in our day-to-day lives. Put mildly, there is a lot of change happening in the world right now, let alone the workplace. And some of those social work connections we normally rely on haven’t been in place to support us.

Strong relationships build trust and boost collaboration, and they also make work more fun. Plus, promoting social connections can help your team to become a stronger, more resilient unit, both personally and professionally.

Social well-being example: Often, companies organize after-work or weekend social events that are optional for employees to attend. These are a great way to meet colleagues’ friends and families—but to further promote in-office social connections, incorporate social “meetings” into your weeks. Try scheduling a short, informal check-in where the team meets monthly to discuss anything other than work. Or, add in time at the beginning of your team meetings to do a round-robin sharing session so you can get to know each other better.

5. Professional

Professional employee well-being is focused on career development. For most people, their current job is just one stop on their career journey. When your employees are with your organization, you have the opportunity to make a positive impact on their specific career goals and ambitions. To feel a sense of professional well-being, employees need a supportive work environment with clear avenues and pathways for advancement. 

Professional development increases employee morale and job satisfaction. It’s also good for business, because employees who feel supported are more likely to stay for longer. They won’t need to seek growth opportunities outside your company. Investing in routine trainings and skills development for your staff can turn your employees into experts, which can result in a more productive team and a higher return for your business.

Professional well-being example: For most companies, career development programs and internal job boards are the first way to develop professional well-being among their staff—but you don’t need to stop there. You can also add education perks and stipends to your employee benefits package in order to encourage workers to improve their skills. If you don’t have the resources for that, ask different teams in your organization to host internal trainings. For example, ask the marketing team to host a training for the sales team on how to better communicate important information about the company to customers. 

6. Community 

Community is built in conjunction with social employee well-being, but it differs in that it’s not just about feeling connected with other individuals. Instead, community is about feeling part of a collective group. For example, in your neighborhood, you might build a social connection with your neighbor over a chat in your front yard. But your sense of community at home would come from the collection of neighbors, businesses, and surroundings that make up your town. At work, many companies are changing to a hybrid structure with flexible work hours, so how we build our work community will also likely change.

Often, the best way to build a community is through doing activities together. With some folks working from home and on different schedules, it's no longer as simple as organizing last minute happy hours to celebrate a deal. Instead, you will likely have to plan ahead for community-building events. But it's worth prioritizing—this is the backbone of your work culture. 

Community well-being example:Team-building games are great, but you can also implement volunteering days to tackle a challenge as a group. Doing something completely different from how you spend your work days will test different elements of your brain, and encourage creative teamwork as you problem-solve in new ways. For example, bringing your engineering team to build houses in a local neighborhood for a day is a great way to open up their minds while fostering a sense of community—both to each other and the city you work in.

7. Purpose

Purposeful work is more rewarding, engaging, and fulfilling. If you feel like your daily work tasks are just work about work with no real value, you’re less likely to foster a sense of workplace well-being. And while employees can find purpose in their individual career paths, they also want to work for people and organizations whose values align with their own. 

It’s better for your organization, too. Company mission or vision statements act as a north star for your organization, defining not just what you do, but who you are as an organization. While these statements sometimes feel vague, they’re actually extremely important for connecting individual work tasks back to a bigger purpose.

Read: How To Write an Effective Mission Statement

Purposeful well-being example: At Asana, we create this sense of purpose through areas of responsibility (AoRs). Each employee is responsible for one or more Areas of Responsibility, which is more specific than a job title. For each one of their AoRs, they are the leader and ultimate decision-maker. For example, a team member with the job title “Content Manager” would also have a more specific AoR—for example, “Blog Lead.” While they hold the Blog Lead AoR, they would have full control and decision-making power over everything that happens on the company blog.  

Read: Rethinking the org chart: Areas of Responsibility (AoRs)

How to create an effective employee well-being program

Often, employee well-being programs are created by leaders in the human resources department. But in order to be effective, employee well-being has to become a part of company culture. Stocking snacks in the vending machine won’t mean much if your team has never had an opportunity to connect to your overall company mission. Instead, your employee well-being program needs to be well-rounded. Practice what you preach, and use these best practices to get it up and running.

  • Survey and rate your current employee well-being offerings. Ask your employees—no one knows better what they need than them.

  • Consider your company mission and values—what kind of a workplace do you want to be? Your people are the core of that.

  • Get leadership buy-in by showing the benefits and values of having an employee well-being program.

  • Build out a well-being strategy. An HR department does not equal an employee well-being program. It should be centered and strategic, specific to your company.

  • Outline goals. Then track and measure them through routine assessments.

  • Share your employee well-being strategy. Tell your employees, stakeholders, and even customers how you’re changing the workplace.

The benefits (and challenges) of investing in employee well-being

Investing in employee well-being comes with various benefits and challenges, including:

Benefits:

  • Employee engagement: Happier and healthier employees are more likely to be engaged.

  • Health care: Healthier employees need less health care, reducing your overall costs.

  • Retention and recruiting: Employees who feel cared for are more likely to stay on with the company, and even promote it to their personal communities.

  • Enjoyment: When employee well-being is at the forefront of your company, work feels fun and engaging.

Challenges:

  • Undefined: Employee well-being is subjective. It’s different for everyone, and can be challenging to standardize.

  • Establishing boundaries: Well-being needs boundaries to be most effective. For example, you can establish specific times to meet with your team for them to discuss their emotional well-being at work. This creates a safe space for them to share, and encourages them to make these conversations a normal part of their work life.

  • Reporting: Employees aren’t always honest about their well-being with managers or even colleagues, so it can be hard to build out goals and metrics to measure. 

Breathe in, breathe out… and prioritize employee well-being

Bottom line, your employees rely on you to improve their well-being while they’re at work. The more support you can offer them, the better their work—and your workplace—will be. 

Developing an employee well-being program will take time and thoughtful consideration. It helps to be able to coordinate your efforts with your team and even company-wide, especially as you roll it out. Using a project management software helps you coordinate your efforts across teams and keeps you focused on what matters most—the individual well-being of everyone on your team.

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