Home » Our Work » Wellbeing at Work: How to Lead Lasting Change

Wellbeing at Work: How to Lead Lasting Change

At the beginning of 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 4.5 million American workers voluntarily left their jobs in November 2021, the highest number on record. “The Great Resignation” is the unexpected and widespread trend following on the heels of a two-year pandemic that has brought about physical, emotional and mental suffering. As a result, business leaders have recognized that they have a responsibility to care for their employees. They know that their companies can only thrive when their people thrive, and they are seeking new ways to support wellbeing among their staff.

Women business owners are particularly tuned in to the wellbeing of their teams. McKinsey recently reported that women in leadership positions have done 60 percent more than men in leadership positions to provide emotional support to employees. Further, while 87 percent of companies say it is important to support employees’ wellbeing, only 25 percent acknowledge the critical nature of this work.

As experts in employee engagement, our consultancy conducted an online, digital focus group of participants from businesses around the world. We asked them to share their lived experiences around wellbeing in the workplace as a way of crowdsourcing answers to perplexing problems. My colleagues Richelle Feigin, Ph.D., and vice president, communications and engagement, and Laura Hunt, engagement consultant, co-led the focus group. They facilitated a dynamic conversation and curated many insightful comments and ideas to identify five best practices leading companies can adopt to improve workplace wellbeing.

Defining Wellbeing

“The term ‘wellbeing’ encompasses our physical, mental, financial and social health,” says Feigin. “When we consider wellbeing in the workplace, we need a balance of these factors to achieve success. Companies are under more pressure than ever to establish a unified approach to wellbeing practices. With workers in remote and hybrid situations due to the pandemic, that becomes more complex.”

Not surprisingly, our focus group participants rated leadership and line managers as having the greatest impact on promoting wellbeing as a priority within the workplace.

“Our participants said that they want their leaders to display humanity, vulnerability and to share their own stories about wellbeing and personal growth,” says Hunt. “People want to see wellbeing lived and experienced, not given as a directive. For example, it should be made clear that it is OK to attend wellbeing events during the workday. More specifically, respondents felt that the wellbeing agenda shouldn’t be a series of disconnected initiatives, but rather a more evolved way of working.”

Making wellbeing a part of the employee experience requires the sponsorship of leaders, the willingness of line managers to put policies into practice, and the commitment of individuals to participate in programs that promote overall health.

So what can business leaders do to bring about lasting change in the wellbeing of their own workplaces?

Five Best Practices

In our consulting practice, we have seen that the most successful leaders draw upon an array of policies and activities to promote wellbeing. Here are five best practices:

Commit to a wellbeing agenda as a leadership team. Establish wellbeing in your workplace as a key performance indicator. Invest in policies and programs that contribute to employees’ wellbeing.

Collaborate with your Human Resources department to bring the agenda to life. For example, in addition to its traditional benefits, one company introduced a suite of new, free services for employees, including access to meditation and mindfulness mobile apps, online fitness classes led by certified instructors, nutrition counseling, and personal finance coaching.

Create a strategic plan and an attention-grabbing campaign to raise awareness of the wellbeing agenda among the workforce. Develop tools and resources to inform line managers of new policies and programs so they can promote them with their teams. Consider hosting an event – whether virtually or in real life – to announce the wellbeing agenda and kick off a schedule of activities. One company enlisted employee volunteers to develop and promote a company-wide challenge to overcome the stigma of mental health issues. People shared their personal stories of challenges with depression, anxiety and addiction. In support of mental health awareness month, another global company launched a campaign to encourage employees to get out of the office during the day with other colleagues to get fresh air, move and connect. This same company offers a full annual calendar of educational programs and events on a range of topics from nutrition to exercise to caregiving, mindfulness and more. The key to success: leaders regularly talk about and participate in these activities.

Communicate the company’s wellbeing agenda on a regular basis. To sustain the wellbeing agenda beyond the initial momentum of the campaign launch, use business communication channels such as emails, intranets, internal social platforms such as Yammer and Workplace, and town hall meetings. We have seen that giving employees a forum to share experiences drives the wellbeing agenda and enriches the company culture. For example, one company hosts a storytelling series on its intranet. The first article focused on coping with the grief of losing a loved one to Covid. This story made the top 10 list of most heartwarming for the year. A senior leader in another company regularly posts on LinkedIn about her organization’s efforts and shares personal anecdotes about her struggles with wellbeing and how these programs help her to cope.

Celebrate success. Monitor employees’ participation in programs. Measure the impact of new policies. Then report regularly on the results of making wellbeing a workplace priority. Leaders can recognize the efforts of line managers and employees, listen to their recommendations for improvements, and implement them. Together, everyone celebrates the positive changes that a focus on wellbeing brings to the workplace.

“We know from our work with business leaders around the world that wellbeing and internal communications are intrinsically linked,” says Feigin. “When teams and individuals feel understood and well informed, the culture automatically improves.”

We welcome you to read Wellbeing at Work, our report based on our online focus group.