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Employee wellbeing: Caring for your people

Employee wellbeing encompasses mental, physical, emotional, and economic health, influenced by workplace relationships, resources, and decisions. It's enhanced by a positive culture prioritizing wellbeing, clear tasks, motivation, and benefits like financial support, health aids, and work-life balance measures.

Alexandra Marinaki
Alexandra Marinaki

Alexandra is a psychologist with a MSc in Talent Development and Creativity.

employee wellbeing

Flexible work hours, health insurance plans, yoga classes… Companies increasingly rely on benefits like these to boost employee wellbeing. By introducing such perks, employers feel confident that staff gains better work-life balance and feels more positively about their jobs and workplace. But a recent Gallup report showed that 76% of employees have admitted experiencing symptoms of job burnout for reasons ranging from poor management to unmanageable workload to unfair treatment at work. Sadly, the gloomy stats don’t stop here.

According to a CIPD 2020 survey report about Health and Wellbeing at Work, there has been a 37% increase in stress-related absence at work since last year (absenteeism), and 89% of employees said that they have worked while feeling unwell (presenteeism). Also, a McKinsey source states that workplace stress costs employers in the US nearly $200 billion every year in healthcare expenses.

So despite all the fancy perks and activities companies plan, employees do still get overly stressed at work. This negatively impacts both their mental and physical health. Sometimes, they may request sick leave to disconnect from their duties and recover. In other cases, struggling with bandwidth and work commitments, they might feel an extra urge to work even despite feeling under the weather. These issues do not only affect individual wellbeing, but also the business as a whole through decreased productivity and performance.

Blessings of employee wellbeing

The employee wellbeing definition refers to the state of employees’ mental and physical health, resulting from dynamics within – and sometimes outside – the workplace. These include their relationships with colleagues, use of tools and resources, larger business decisions that impact them and their work, and many other factors. In business terms, securing employee wellbeing can translate to:

  1. More productivity: Employee wellbeing boosts productivity and performance. When feeling well, employees display healthier behaviors and better decision-making.
  2. Higher employee morale: Employees feel more competent and valued when their needs are met at all levels, including physical, mental, and financial.
  3. Better talent: When your company has a good reputation in the market as an employer who respects and supports work-life balance, you’re more likely to attract skilled candidates and retain your existing employees for longer periods.
  4. Improved CRM: Happy employees are your best brand ambassadors. If you treat them well, that positive energy will pass on to your customers. Those employees will be motivated to understand how your products and services will best serve customer needs.
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To secure these assets, employers offer a wide range of benefits to employees such as:

  • Financial benefits – pension plans, income protection, etc.
  • Physical health benefits – life insurance, gym discounts, sick leaves, etc.
  • Mental health benefits – mindfulness meditation, coaching sessions, counseling services etc.
  • Work-life balance benefits – PTO, parental leave schemes, sabbaticals, etc.

But based on several business examples and the discouraging stats on burnout above, even when most of these aids are generously offered by employers, employees can still experience stress at work. This is why you shouldn’t perceive and face this problem as solely benefit-related as it’s more complicated than that.

Obstacles to sustaining wellbeing at work

The most common stressors that can negatively impact wellbeing at work are:

Leadership style

You probably have heard that employees quit bosses, not jobs. According to the CIPD survey mentioned earlier, a poor management style can increase employee stress massively. Take micromanagement as an example: having to explain every single nut and bolt of your daily task deliveries to your manager is inefficient and exhausting. It can also make the employee feel incompetent and unreliable.


Employees with heavy workloads due to understaffing or urgent business needs get often stressed about meeting deadlines. With less time to work on valuable projects, they often compensate for quality, and they worry that their results are inadequate. Helplessness, doubt and fatigue are the top feelings in such conditions.

Reduced social support

In order to thrive, employees need to be in a supportive environment that puts a positive value on effective collaboration and individual contributions. When competition is high and your performance is always compared to your peers’, lack in self esteem and toxic relationships arise, and can be difficult to resolve quickly.

Task clarity

Guidance in the form of training or mentoring, whether it’s practical (e.g. how to use a specific tool) or goal-oriented (e.g. what the end goal of a project is) is vital for employees to get the job done. Without clarity in work, employees feel confused and struggle in determining priorities or setting smart goals.


We sometimes overlook that work should be a positive experience; employees are not merely reinforced by their monthly paycheck to keep up the good work. The more they enjoy what they do and take pride in it, the better results they’ll deliver. So, if most of their daily tasks are dull, employees might feel less motivated to go the extra mile.

This list is not extensive. These are some basic constraints but remember, each of your employees has a different background and not everyone is driven by the same incentives and events. For instance, some people find working in a competitive environment exhilarating, chasing bonus after bonus with excitement, while others would simply burn out in such an atmosphere.

Finally, common personal issues outside the workplace (e.g. a pregnancy, a relationship conflict, a death of a loved one, etc.) may also indirectly affect employee wellbeing. Background, preference, and personal factors indicate the complex nature of employee wellbeing. No matter how hard you try, you’ll never be able to perfectly control all essential wellbeing elements because every single case is unique. However, you can take steps to ensure a healthy work environment for your employees.

Bridging the gap

In this video, leaders and employees from NextJump, Johnson & Johnson and USAA explained how their health wellness programs succeeded, leading to core benefits such as sales growth and high employee engagement:

So, there seems to be one outstanding factor in a successful employee wellbeing program: having a work culture that prioritizes wellbeing. In short, this means that if you provide your people a workplace where wellbeing is valued as much as performance, their stress levels will probably decrease.

Now that you know this crucial ingredient of the successful wellbeing formula, how can you create such a culture?

Know yourself first…

The first step you should take is understanding what your existing culture is really made of and how this affects your workforce on any given day. Do you support employees when they fail? What do you really measure during employee performance reviews, results or effort?

Sit down with executives and managers to discuss what type of culture you want to create going forward and which parts you would be willing to change. Then, turn to your people for feedback.

Conduct a thorough research to understand employee needs and figure out how you can meet them. Questions you could ask include:

  • How have XYZ benefits contributed to your work-life balance?
  • Have you ever felt overly stressed at your current workplace and why?
  • What measures/benefits would you suggest to improve wellbeing at work?
  • Which one of our current benefits do you need the least?

These survey results will show you the way. For instance, you may find out that it’s more important for your employees to have access to stress-management services rather than discounts for well-known restaurants. One possible adjustment would be to provide mental health sessions either in the form of subscription to a mindfulness app – for example Headspace – or through personal counselling sessions, and put a pause to food discounts for a while.

Praise for effort and growth

The majority of factors that hinder employee wellbeing would hardly exist if managers invested in building effective leadership skills. Understanding your employees’ boundaries and working habits, and respecting their unique needs and motives will help you provide the best opportunities to them. Ask managers to make the most of 1:1 meetings and practice providing constructive feedback to employees.

It’s reasonable to praise employees for results, as numbers are crucial to keep a business at the top. However, focusing solely on results is a huge trap. In an exclusively target-driven and competitive environment, it’s easy to neglect the values of respect and personal development.

So next time, instead of simply saying kudos to employees for their results, praise them for their effort, their patience and resilience as well. Prove to them that their growth is your number-one priority and that you value them first as humans and second as performers. They’ll feel safer this way, ready to fail, learn and succeed against all odds.

Another good practice would be to tweak the narrative of your workplace culture: How do you portray your company’s mission and vision? What is your tone when communicating with employees? Is your slogan caring and inspiring? Here’s a hint: if it includes words such as “share”, “care”, “respect” and “grow”, you are headed in the right direction.

Preventing vs. Reacting

Based on the above-mentioned CIPD survey, most companies take reactive rather than proactive measures to support employees suffering from exhaustion and fatigue. This is not the best way to go. As Erasmus said, “Prevention is better than cure”.

For instance, if you invest in mental health services early on, you’ll see fewer cases of employee burnout, absenteeism, and so on. Nurture a wellbeing-friendly approach before your employees and business are at risk to avoid irreversible consequences (e.g. increased employee turnover).

In a nutshell, if you’re looking for another HR buzzword, employee wellbeing is not one of them. When employees feel fatigued and stressed, they are unable to use their strengths to contribute to business growth.

To support wellbeing at work, build and maintain a workplace culture that makes employees feel safe, a company that feels like a second home. When it’s well thought-out and effectively implemented, you’ll see lower incidences of employee burnout and higher rates of engagement.

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