Recently, we surveyed over 160 HR professionals across the globe. What we found shocked us.
More than 3 out of 4 HR people said wellbeing is a top priority, yet half of us don’t have a plan. Don’t have a strategy. Don’t have a way to support wellbeing. Almost a quarter of us are not even monitoring it!
And there’s a clear link between employee wellbeing and performance.
When employee wellbeing thrives, so too does employee performance. The inverse is true, too – unhappy employees are unproductive employees. So when employee wellbeing slips, so too does productivity and performance.
To do their best work, employees must feel safe, secure and mentally healthy. Which is more important now than ever before, as your business relies on your people performing at their best to weather this economic storm – and HR is accountable to employee performance improvements.
Here’s how employee wellbeing and performance are linked, and what you can do to measure, understand and improve performance through supporting employee wellbeing.
Because employee wellbeing is intrinsically linked to employee performance, when wellbeing suffers, so too does performance. According to a meta-analysis of Gallup research including over 2 million employees:
“Higher employee wellbeing is associated with higher productivity and firm performance.”
The same research also found employee health and productivity go hand in hand. When you’re unhappy, feeling down, or stressed, your brain isn’t fully functional. Resources shift from the part of your brain responsible for thinking and problem solving (prefrontal cortex) to the part which regulates stress (amygdala). Essentially, you can’t think straight.
In addition to these impacts on the brain, Research from CABA even found that poor workplace wellbeing causes a 63% decrease in productivity!
It’s obvious mental wellbeing impacts your employees’ job performance, which can have a flow-on effect to customer experience and loyalty. There is even a correlation between staff turnover and wellbeing at work.
Can it be this simple?
The answer is yes, it can. Numerous studies show that when employee wellbeing improves, performance improves too. A study published in Australian Psychologist found that improving wellbeing increases employee performance and decreases uncertified sick leave, turnover and stress-related compensation claims.
But just how important is employee wellbeing to HR? A paper published in Strategic HR review found “mental health is one of the key contributors to productivity, and employers should do more to ensure the mental well-being of their staff.”.
From neuroscience, we know emotion is contagious. Emotional transfer happens because our brains subconsciously mimic and synchronise with the emotional states of those around us. This survival mechanism helps us relate to each other, and is called neural synchronisation. But it can also bring your team down, according to Harvard Business Review.
So when employee wellbeing is thriving, positive emotions like joy, happiness, achievement, and belonging ripple throughout the workplace. These are transferred by the tone, mood, and facial expressions of your people. Just like when you see someone smile at you, and you can’t help but smile back. It’s innate.
Try not to smile.
This even happens remotely (through zoom, email and messaging). In fact, remote workers are more vulnerable to frustration and misunderstanding, because you don’t have the same visual cues you get from seeing the other person’s face.
The flow-on effects mean that improving employee wellbeing for each and every team member creates a wave of positive culture, and culture is tied to performance.
So how often should you be supporting employee wellbeing? And how do you support mental health in the workplace?
The answer starts with realising that wellbeing is ongoing.
It’s easy for us to get complacent when it comes to employee wellbeing, and assume because we celebrate events like R U OK? Day that we’re doing enough. But wellbeing is more than just a day in September or a once-off lunch-time discussion. Leaving wellbeing to once a year is a guaranteed way you miss the other 364 days.
Wellbeing happens everyday, it’s an ongoing priority for HR to support, nurture and help thrive. Because wellbeing fluctuates, week-by-week, HR should deploy ongoing, continuous support.
It also means equipping managers with wellbeing workflows and training throughout the year.
There is no such thing as a ‘quick-fix’ for employee wellbeing. But there is an easy-fix. The key is over-communication between leaders and team members.
With the link between mental health and performance in the workplace so evident, HR people should start with comms. Specifically, by increasing their frequency – especially to support employee wellbeing during COVID-19 with these altered working conditions. Working from home entails supporting wellbeing at home.
A recent study from H&H found that ‘internal communications’ impact on people’s emotions at work:
“People who perceive their internal communications to be ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ are almost four times more likely to feel regularly annoyed, and significantly more likely to feel irritable, anxious, impatient and worried.”
Therefore, one key tool in HR’s toolbox to support staff wellbeing through communication is continuous feedback. Continuous feedback means setting up an automated feedback process, like a micro survey (we call them check-ins), that goes out every month, week or day (depending on your preference).
This process creates a continuous feedback loop between leaders and their teams,, alerting them to when team members become stressed or overworked. Plus, the feedback is also a gold mine for HR insights, with intel from employees about how to improve their wellbeing, identifying flight risks, pre-empting attrition and highlighting manager effectiveness.
But to create an effective continuous feedback process, one that gauges wellbeing, you need to ask the right questions.
It’s not enough to just ramp up communications. Sure, over-communicating is a great preventative measure to track wellbeing. But it’s important to ask the right questions in the right format, ones that create psychological safety and encourage sharing. From there, you can track feedback over time and identify trends in the data.
Asking the wrong questions can reduce the honesty of your wellbeing feedback. Using the wrong format for the wrong questions can also cause frustration from employees. You wouldn’t ask your friend for hours of deep advice every single day. So neither should you make employees give time-consuming, detailed feedback too regularly. You’ve got to find the right balance.
Extensive research shows respondents tend to respond similarly to questions they think relate to each other (according to HBR). So, asking questions that are too similar will yield answers that are all the same (reducing the insights you gain).
You should try to ask a mix of open and closed questions. Especially in any of your frequent continuous feedback check-ins.
Closed-ended questions (yes/no or multiple select) are quick, easy and lend themselves well to trend analysis (more on that later). They allow you to get a grasp on overall workplace wellbeing.
Open-ended questions (what? how?) work well when used either in conjunction with a closed question:
Or, when optional.
There are also some best-practices for framing your questions. Here is a quick guide we found (open it up and come back to it, or you’ll miss the gold below!).
The same practices hold true for more extensive wellbeing surveys, with one exception. In surveys, you should ensure that at least a few text-based, open-ended questions are mandatory. This ensures you get deeper, qualitative data to uncover trends from.
With continuous feedback in place, the next step in supporting employee wellbeing (and performance) is data. More specifically, trend data.
This is an easy way to set yourself and your business apart with your HR. Be proactive by analysing feedback and finding wellbeing trends you can act on (before they become problems).
Especially when 22% of HR professionals are not even monitoring wellbeing, and 47% rely on manual emails to check-in on wellbeing (according to our recent survey).
There are two types of trends analysis you can do, today. The first involves closed-ended questions and quantitative analysis. Going through your employee wellbeing feedback, filtering by questions and seeing who needs help. This is how we approach it:
The other valuable type of trend analysis you can run involves qualitative (text-based) responses. If you ask a question like, “what are you struggling with this month?”, you may surface business-wide trends. Maybe certain tools aren’t working well. Or employees are concerned about the office return (and public transport).
You can mine these insight-diamonds from wellbeing feedback using text analysis. Running all your feedback through a text analyser can highlight commonly occuring keywords. These are your trends.
Here are 3 ways you can do this:
Whichever approach you take, it’s important to identify key trends and then create a plan to address them. Your plan and approach is where HR creativity comes to play. We can’t tell you exactly what to do, but you can find some ideas in our wellbeing playbook here.
We know there is a challenge with employee wellbeing and COVID-19. Especially for those regions still in lockdown. We’re all sick of this pandemic, and some of us are struggling as a result. In fact, recent research from AHRI shows everyone is struggling.
Which is why now is the time to look deeply at your employee wellbeing process. Because you can support employee wellbeing and performance, together. And right now, in such a tough economic environment, businesses need their employees performing at their best.
We can’t afford to have people underperforming.
Audit your approach, see if you’re covering these areas:
Wellbeing is important today, and supporting employee wellbeing year-round is here to stay. Are you doing enough?
If not, perhaps reach out to us. With our community of HR leaders across the globe, we’re working on solving employee wellbeing problems every day. Our collective HR geniuses are implementing employee wellbeing plans, setting up wellbeing feedback and uncovering trends to act on. Plus, you can get started, free, today.
Find out more here.