What is employee wellbeing?

Empower employee wellbeing and discover why employee health and happiness are crucial for performance. Learn about the top barriers to employee wellbeing and effective strategies to overcome them in this OpenBlend guide.

Employee health and wellbeing are of paramount importance, both from the point of view of your people and your organisation. An estimated 35.2 million working days were lost in 2022/23 due to self-reported work-related ill health or injury according to The Health and Safety Executive. 

The average level of employee absence is 5.9 days per employee per year - not only does this have the knock-on effect of driving costs up, but overall productivity declines too. By contrast, when you focus on employee wellbeing and promote wellbeing and good health among your employees, it has the opposite effect of creating a much more positive workplace and a better-performing workforce. 

The CIPD 2023 Health and wellbeing at work survey identified the top three benefits of employers increasing their focus on employee wellbeing as:

  • Better employee morale and engagement.
  • A healthier and more inclusive culture.
  • Better work-life balance.

At OpenBlend, we believe a focus on employee health and wellbeing should be at the heart of the performance process.

Ensuring 1:1 check-ins are regular and incorporate conversations about wellbeing are vital to being able to understand and promote wellbeing across your organisation. And while an understanding of employee wellbeing involves health and exercise, workplace wellbeing isn’t just about your employee's physical health. It includes less discernible factors like a sense of belonging at work, fulfilment and clear career goals and direction. It’s about understanding your employees at an individual level, what might be going on outside of work that's otherwise impacting their performance at work, and taking the necessary steps to alleviate factors that 

To help you evaluate your organisation’s approach, we have examined what defines employee wellbeing and how the current climate is affecting the health and wellbeing of your workforce. What can you do to create a more positive and productive team and ensure their wellbeing is paramount? Read on to find out.

What does employee wellbeing really mean?

Wellbeing, or wellness, in itself refers to how someone feels about their life in relation to all the things it is made up of – their home life, their health (mental and physical), their job, their hobbies, their relationships. Do these things make them happy?

When you assess workplace wellbeing in a traditional sense, it was at one point limited to physical health, sickness and safety while at work. But with a big increase in the number of reported mental health issues – in 2019/20 stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 51% of all work-related ill health cases and 55% of all working days were lost due to work-related ill health – it’s now well recognised that, in many cases, the main risks to people’s health at work are psychological. You might be interested to find out in fact that, the current rate of self-reported work-related stress, depression or anxiety is higher than the pre-pandemic level (HSE). As such, the definition of employee wellbeing has evolved to incorporate everything that has an impact on an employee's ability to perform at their best.

On a macro level, when we talk about wellbeing, it is specifically targeted at how job roles, expectations, stress levels and the environment at work affect someone’s overall health and happiness. But on a micro level, it explores everything from an individual’s experience with mental health and their overall happiness and job satisfaction to their working relationships, personal development, peer support and even wellbeing in a financial sense.

All of these factors are essential to consider in order to create a full picture of your employee’s wellbeing – and as it is reported that only 23% of people describe their mental health as average, while 28% say theirs is currently good – getting the full picture is more important than ever to manage performance and drive and maintain productivity.

Why is workplace wellbeing more important than ever before?

The COVID-19 pandemic put concerns about health and wellbeing at the top of the priority list for the majority of employees - and their employers. 

Health and exercise remained at the top of the list of most important employee motivators for our users for the third year running following the COVID pandemic. FYI - it also saw a 14% increase between January 2020 to January 2021.

According to research by Nuffield Health, figures reveal 80% of Brits feel that working from home has negatively impacted their mental health. This encompasses worries about getting ill with the virus, either for themselves or vulnerable family members; concerns over income or job loss; and the loneliness that has come from months of social isolation. The inability to find a work-life balance and switch off at the end of the day is also affecting people’s mental wellbeing. In addition, 30% of respondents reported that they were finding it hard to separate their home and their work lives.

What’s more, in 2019 the World Health Organization (WHO) finally made reference to burnout within its International Classification of Diseases, describing it as ‘a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed’. And as Harvard Business Review points out, this acknowledgement of burnout by the WHO, and the language used to describe it as a syndrome – paying particular attention to the use of the word ‘managed’ – demonstrates that poor wellbeing at work, is more than just an employee problem; it’s a business problem that requires an organisational solution.

In order to support the wellbeing of your employees at all times – especially the tougher ones – you need to understand the things that are impacting their happiness and their ability to cope with stress the most.

Key barriers to employee wellbeing

Several key factors can impact employee wellbeing. While it’s crucial to consider each individual’s unique circumstances and avoid broad sweeping assumptions, addressing and paying attention to some of the key barriers identified below can lead to healthier, more motivated, and engaged teams.

  1. Workload: Heavy workloads often result in long hours and work overload, leading to negative outcomes such as mental and physical health issues, decreased alertness and performance, and increased absenteeism. If an employee seems to be struggling due to the pressures of their workload, it needs to be addressed, and addressed promptly. Keep work-life balance in mind. 
  2. Relationships: It probably comes as no surprise that relationships at work are one of the most important factors for workplace wellbeing. A culture that prioritises trust, support and open communication is vital to maintaining a healthy work environment. In the same vein, mistrust and poor relationships with colleagues can lead to role ambiguity, poor communication, low job satisfaction, and diminished psychological safety.
  3. Autonomy: Employees with greater job control tend to be more intrinsically motivated, which correlates with reduced anxiety and depression, better engagement, improved performance and motivation, and lower levels of emotional distress and absenteeism. AKA: Give your employees what they need to get the job done, and trust them to get it done. Don't micromanage. 
  4. Lack of recognition: Work can be hectic, and as a result, 'non-essential' conversations, including feedback, praise, and recognition, often fall by the wayside. Acknowledging employee contributions is key to maintaining good levels of wellbeing in the work-related sense.
  5. Conflict: Whether it's a lack of effective communication and collaboration on projects or a slight disagreement in processes or procedures—while some conflict can be a healthy spur to get the job done—more often than not, when conflicts arise and are left to fester, they often lead to stress and a drop in commitment or motivation.
  6. Burnout: It is very easy for the barriers between work and personal time to dissolve. This lack of distinction between home and work life can lead to high stress levels and experiences of burnout if not resolved.
  7. Physical work environment: Physical conditions within a workplace, including lighting, noise levels, ergonomic furniture, and overall workspace design, can impact employee wellbeing. Whether equipping your teams with what they need to work well from home, or in the office, a well-designed, comfortable, and safe physical environment is crucial for preventing physical strain, reducing stress, and enhancing overall job satisfaction.
  8. Job security: It doesn't take an expert or a research report to determine that concerns about job stability, finances, and future employment are a big cause of stress and anxiety. Providing clear and regular feedback on individual performance, combined with internal communications about your organisation's future, are all part and parcel of keeping your teams reassured.
  9. Career development: Lack of opportunities for growth and advancement can lead to employee dissatisfaction and disengagement. Offering training, personalised employee development programmes, and clear career progression paths can enhance motivation, job satisfaction, and retention.

Finally, access to health and wellness programmes, including mental health support, fitness initiatives, and healthy lifestyle resources, can also be crucial to maintaining employee wellbeing. Which poses the question: what tools and resources do you have at your disposal, or that you can impact, that can lead to improved employee wellbeing?

5 steps to improve wellbeing in the workplace

As a manager or people leader, you hold a pivotal role in nurturing the wellbeing of your team. Considering all the aspects mentioned above, here are 5 steps that should be factored in at a workplace level to ensure 

1) Equip managers 

Managers are the lynchpin to employee engagement and wellbeing. Those who are trained and coached to have the right conversations will be better equipped to ensure that measures to improve workforce wellbeing trickle down throughout the organisation. Managers are responsible for assigning fair workloads, setting clear objectives, and providing constructive feedback—tasks that require them to have the right support to fulfill their roles effectively. In-the-moment learning can be the right way to approach this need.

2) Prioritise learning and career development

It's hard to talk employee wellbeing without also considering career wellbeing. Employees who feel their roles challenge them and foster growth tend to be more energised, motivated, and even more innovative compared to those who feel stuck. According to LinkedIn's 2024 Workplace Learning Report, 7 out of 10 employees say that learning enhances their connection to the organisation, and 8 out of 10 feel it adds purpose to their work. It's evident that there's a fundamental connection between countering disengagement and investing in learning and career development programmes.

3) Set goals and track results in the right way

Sure, hitting those output targets and KPIs is important, but let's not forget about the person behind the job title. After all, without them, we'd be facing bigger problems, like retention issues. So, make sure you're balancing workloads, setting goals that inspire but aren't impossible, and clearly laying out expectations. And don't forget to keep a close eye on progress and how tasks are being managed—it's all part of maintaining a happy and productive workplace.

4) 1:1 conversation

Regular 1:1s are pivotal to managing employee wellbeing levels across your organisation. Make sure they are scheduled in on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. And if these are already in place, have you checked in to see whether they are frequent enough to deal with the challenges that may be impacting on on wellbeing? By setting up (and sticking to) regular 1:1s, you can keep a close eye on what’s changed, how they feel, how productivity has increased (or decreased) and what needs to happen next. For your employees, the very nature of feeling like they are moving forward is a morale boost.

5) Be inclusive when it comes to performance

Be sure to factor in wellbeing discussions when you are implementing employee performance management initiatives and undertaking performance reviews. Ask the right questions during performance check-ins and really listen to the answers to gain valuable insights into how your employees feel. Remember, not all factors impacting performance are visible, and considering everyone's circumstances is essential to building a full picture. This inclusive approach is the most effective way to enhance workplace wellbeing and witness a boost in productivity. 

How to evaluate and understand employee wellbeing using OpenBlend

To better understand wellbeing across your organisation, you need a performance management platform that gets to the heart of the task at hand.

Conversations about mental and physical wellbeing require structure and accountability that elevates them from a simple ‘chat’ to an open, honest 1:1. We know that it is vital to productivity, which is why it must always be part of performance conversations. 

OpenBlend's three simple questions on employee wellbeing, along with simple visuals, bring structure to otherwise tricky conversations, making them easy and solution-focused. And our platform is ideal to help you learn and effect change because it powers conversations that focus on everything that impacts an individual’s productivity, namely wellbeing, as well as weekly priorities, performance goals, key motivators and feedback.

For example, if you know that health and exercise are important to a large number of your employees, or that making a difference at work is as important as money – how would you incorporate this data into your employee wellbeing strategy? Making sure your employees feel listened to and valued is the first step to increasing employee engagement and workplace productivity.

Initiatives surrounding employee wellbeing need to be tailored to business and employee needs. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to creating an effective strategy; its approach should be based on those of its employees and the organisation in question.

Trust us. Our people-centric approach has helped global brands and organisations including avios, M&C Saatchi, and Lacoste boost workplace wellbeing. How can it help you improve yours? Book a demo to find out.

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