Your Organization May Be Focused on the Wrong Things to Boost Employee Wellbeing

management Feb 06, 2023

By Shanna B. Tiayon


At Wellbeing Works, we work exclusively in the business of employee wellbeing, partnering with clients across industries to create better workplaces through: employee wellbeing data and metrics, strategy development and training. Employee wellbeing impacts key employee behaviors like retention (likelihood to stay at the organization in the next 2-years), talent attraction (likelihood to recommend the organization) and self-advocacy (asking for what you need to be successful in your job).   But employers interested in improving employee wellbeing may be focused on the wrong things. Below are a few trends and recommendations we’ve noticed from our research and work with clients.

Hire for Management Skills and Train Your Management Pipeline:  The employee-manager relationship is central to employee wellbeing. You’re probably thinking, “no surprises here”, but do you know the full extent to which this is true? Our signature research product at Wellbeing Works, our Organizational Wellbeing Assessment (OWA), assesses where employers are in four key areas of employee wellbeing:

  • Basic Needs: Employees are paid fair wages and benefits, have the equipment and resources they need to do their job and work in a physically safe environment.
  • Psychological Safety: Employees are able to show up authentically, make mistakes, push back and ask for support without fear of negative consequences.
  • Belonging: Employees feel a sense of connection to organizational goals, mission and values and to colleagues through meaningful work relationships.
  • Esteem: Employees feel that their work is valued and their contributions recognized.

Our research shows that the employee-manager relationship, largely dictated by the manager’s management skills, is one of the most pivotal influences on employee wellbeing across all four components. Employee wellbeing is almost impossible without effective management.

Most managers get promoted into managerial roles, not because of their great interpersonal or management skills, but because of their technical proficiency and only an estimated 30-40% of managers ever receive management training.  Does your organization hire for leadership positions based on demonstrated management acumen? Does your organization invest in  building a robust internal management pipeline through training and management based performance incentives? If not, both are vital for a healthy organization and necessary for maximizing employee wellbeing. 

Communicate Key Decisions and Policies. There are both objective (e.g. presence of an up to date job description) and subjective (e.g. perceived fairness of promotions) aspects of employee wellbeing; both can have an adverse impact if not managed well by the organization. Many employers miss an opportunity to improve subjective aspects of employee wellbeing by not effectively communicating with employees.

Did you recently conduct a market analysis of your salaries – share the results with employees and explain your compensation philosophy. Is there key criteria or performance metrics linked to how your organization promotes – write it down and make it clear to employees and managers.  Effective internal communication can provide employees with additional context, information or data to help them better understand key decisions, policies and procedures, often times improving their perceptions. When key information is not communicated, it leaves employees to draw conclusions on their own. 

Keep a Pulse on Employee Workloads to Bolster Psychological Safety. Throughout our research we’ve found that in addition to the management variables, perceptions about workload is a key driver of psychological safety. There is a direct correlation between psychological safety and workloads. When workload is perceived as manageable, psychological safety increases, when it’s perceived as unmanageable it goes down.

There’s an increasing push in organizations to ask employees to do more work, with less people, which may hurt psychological safety, a key driver of important outcomes like innovation, error reporting and team learning.  Organizations looking to boost psychological safety should start with exploring the current workloads of teams. Is the expected output of a team reasonable? Are team members constantly working overtime, just to keep up? If so, turn to your strategic objectives to assess if the excess workload reflects a deviation from strategy or a need to tighten up your strategy. Next, evaluate your internal systems (e.g. technology, processes), are the systems serving the work of employees or are the employees serving the systems (if it’s the latter then it’s probably not the right system).

If you’re interested in improving employee wellbeing in your organization, start with these suggestions and build from there. The goal is continuous incremental improvement towards maximizing employee wellbeing.



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