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Why Happier, Healthier Employees Make for Better Business

We asked our panel of experts about why it’s so important to promote employee engagement and well-being, and the best ways for employers to go about accomplishing this.

Alexi Robichaux

Co-Founder and CEO, BetterUp

What are some key ways businesses have been able to boost employee engagement and where has this made a real impact?

Employers can boost employee engagement by investing in precision support to develop mental fitness, and unlock personal and professional growth and transformation. By strengthening mindsets, skills, and behaviors, employees can increase resilience and productivity, decrease stress, and create a sense of shared purpose and belonging that has a ripple effect across their teams and other relationships. 

Coaching is one of the fastest ways to build mental strength because it focuses on whole-person development — the vital intersection of well-being and human performance. This model addresses psychological behaviors (growth mindset, values, the ability to build relationships, etc.), as well as leadership skills that are most highly associated with employee engagement, inclusive cultures, and business performance. 

Personalized coaching helps employees adapt and problem-solve when faced with change and uncertainty, by providing development for the skills each individual needs when they need it. With coaching, 77 percent of managers reported more adaptive teams. They also saw a 25 percent increase in team performance and individual performance increased by 130 percent. People then bring those skills back to their roles to create high-performing teams and adaptable organizations. 

What is the business case for investing in employee well-being programs and benefits?

By investing in employees’ growth, our customers have seen measurable behavior change in individuals and their teams, leading to change in their cultures and significant outcomes across their businesses.

BetterUp has found that a combination of coaching and personalized mental fitness support improves psychological and emotional health, leading to a 77 percent reduction in stress, 35 percent decrease in burnout, 75 percent increase in improved nutrition, and enhanced sleep habits and feelings of rest by 2.4 times, which in turn strengthens the cognitive and emotional function needed for adaptability and performance in uncertainty. 

Our data shows that those who have high well-being have 19 times greater productivity compared to those with low well-being, and experienced less disruption to well-being and recovered stronger throughout 2020. This proactive and long-term approach to building mental fitness through individual growth also leads to enterprise-wide impact, as organizations that grew the most in resilience saw more than three times higher year-over-year revenue growth and a three-times increase in employee retention.

Coaching and well-being programs create happier, healthier, and more fulfilled employees, who build stronger teams and, ultimately, drive organizational transformation and growth. 

What are some strategies companies can employ to prevent employee burnout and retain top talent?

Managers are one of the biggest influences on an employee’s experience and well-being day-to-day, especially in times of uncertainty and rapid change. By supporting the development of resilience, inclusive behaviors, and cultivating a positive employee experience, managers at all levels of the organization can have an outsized and preventative impact on employee experience and burnout. 

Our data has shown that high-resilience leaders have direct reports with 52 percent lower burnout, 78 percent lower turnover intention, 176 percent higher resilience, and a 57 percent greater sense of meaning and purpose. Their teams also report higher performance, greater agility, and more innovation. Similarly, with coaching, leaders improve their own inclusive behaviors by 33 percent on average, and their teams reported 2.5 times higher belonging, about 2 times greater team innovation, 1.5 times team performance, and 8.8 times higher Net Promoter Scores for their managers. 

When managers receive personalized development support, they experience personal growth and have a multiplier effect across the organization.

Arjun Vora

Co-Founder, Zira

What challenges have you seen companies face during this time as employees are working from home? 

After talking to our employees, we learned that the line between their work life and personal life has blurred — and this is incredibly tough on employees. Companies have to move fast to provide more flexibility to their employees by allowing them to own their schedules. Companies have to evolve their collaboration and engagement models, and make sure all employees’ voices are still being heard. 

What are some key first steps an organization can take to change their employee engagement model for the better?

We focus on three main areas here. First, aligning business OKRs (objectives and key results) with personal goals — set employees up for success with business initiatives that align with their own career goals. It’s simple; employees want to make sure they are heard, and are a lot more engaged if they can connect their work to their individual growth plans. 

Next is candid, continuous, two-way feedback. Feedback should not be once or twice a year, and it needs to go both ways. Sharing feedback immediately allows you to be a lot more candid because the context is fresh. 

Finally, recognition. Create transparent cultural values and openly reward employees for exemplifying them. This incentivizes the employee to continue performing, encourages the rest of the team, and creates a culture where we celebrate each other’s success.

Arianna Huffington

Founder, Thrive Global

Why is company culture so important for employee well-being?

It’s important because we now know an enormous amount about how stress and burnout affect us, both at home and at work. The science is clear that when we prioritize our well-being, we’re more creative, productive, and resilient, and we make better decisions. Well-being isn’t just a perk, it’s a competitive advantage. And there’s a direct connection between the health of a company’s bottom line and the health and well-being of every company’s most important resource — its people.

So in the same way well-being boosts our immune system, culture serves as a company’s immune system, giving it the resilience to meet inevitable challenges.

What made you realize your workplace burnout was beyond the point of comfort? What steps did you take to reduce your stressors?

My turning point came in 2007 when I collapsed from exhaustion and broke my cheekbone. I had bought into the idea that burnout was just the price we have to pay for success. But I came to realize that that’s just a collective myth.

So I learned everything I could about the connection between well-being and productivity. And I made a lot of changes to my life based on what I found out. I started getting more sleep. I started meditating again. And I became much more deliberate about building in time to recharge.

How have you found success in your own workplace wellness initiatives?

In my own life, I’m more productive, more energized, and more present. And with Thrive Global, I very deliberately wanted to model the idea of a sustainable startup, proving that burnout isn’t necessary for success, even for a startup. We’re living out our principles and showing that not only can we have exponential growth and prioritize employee well-being, but that well-being, unplugging, and recharging are actually key to exponential growth. 

Jeniffer Strub

Director of Human Resources, Vyond

What challenges have you seen companies face during this time as employees are working from home?

Since the pandemic began, millions of people have shifted to remote work. Some of the benefits remote workers celebrated in the early days of working from home, such as no commute and casual dress, are competing with the feeling of not being able to step away from work. Now, as we approach the milestone of one full year of working from home, burnout is a real concern.

What is the business case for investing in employee well-being programs and benefits?

Disengaged or burnt-out employees do not perform at their best. Well-rested and confident employees are more likely to make better decisions and maintain a good work-life balance.

Many employees feel like they’re struggling alone, so it’s important for leaders to recognize and quickly address signs of disengagement and burnout on their teams.

What are some strategies companies can employ to prevent employee burnout and retain top talent?

First and foremost, it’s important for leaders to talk about mental health. That means engaging in thoughtful, intentional communication with employees about the importance of things like work-life balance, checking in on colleagues, and asking for help when one needs it. One way we’ve been promoting this ethos is through video training messages, like one on how managers can encourage their reports to practice self-care.

A survey we conducted on 1,000 U.S. adults showed that 45 percent of employees want training on mental health and self-care. Consider providing video training for managers about how to support and communicate with their team.

Another strategy is to create a positive and accepting culture around your company’s PTO (paid time off) policy. Before COVID-19, more than 1 in 4 American workers felt guilty about taking time off and 58 percent did not take their allotted vacation days due to feeling there was too much work to accomplish. Some of this culture has shifted during the pandemic, but many companies still have work to do.

Because of the restrictions on travel and other activities that have been imposed during COVID, many employees have been hesitant to use PTO.

PTO policies are in place for a reason, and leaders need to communicate the importance of taking time off to recharge for the benefit of employees and the company. 

Liz Ryan

CEO and Founder, Human Workplace

What are some key ways employers can boost employee engagement and where has it made a real impact?

Engagement springs from trust. It takes time to build trust between individual managers and their teams, and between the organization and its employees in general, but it’s a worthwhile investment. You build trust more through your actions than through your words. Treating employees fairly, listening to them, acting on their suggestions, and resolving their complaints all generate trust and, therefore, engagement.

What are some key first steps an organization can take to change its employee engagement model for the better?

Many if not most managers have to find time to talk one-on-one with their employees, because they have so many other responsibilities. Senior leaders need to prioritize leadership time, and of course they need to practice it themselves. Once-a-year engagement surveys don’t cut it. One-on-one engagement with employees is the only way to create the trust that employee engagement rests on. 

What are some strategies companies can employ to prevent employee burnout and retain top talent?

 If your organization intentionally or unintentionally rewards people for working long hours, burnout is sure to follow. For most folks, 5-5.5 hours per day of intense work is the limit. After that, productivity dropped precipitously, and beyond that, the quality of work suffers. Employees’ physical and emotional well-being suffers. The No. 1 step every organization can take to prevent burnout and reduce turnover is to stop rewarding people for the volume of work they produce.

Why would any smart, motivated person want to work for a company that rewards people for pushing themselves to their physical and mental limit? That’s not a reputation that will help your firm. You want to cultivate a reputation as an organization that rewards people for having great ideas and being outstanding team members.

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