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Five Employee Well-Being Strategies Your Organization Needs

Workforce shortages. Burnout. Retention. Turnover. Hiring. Unrealistic Job Demands. You are not alone if you feel like you’ve been running on a hamster wheel for the last few years. 

Unprecedented levels of employee burnout emerging from the pandemic — combined with a national mental health crisis and labor shortages in most industries — are prompting many employers to rethink employee well-being as both a responsibility and competitive strategy.

Leading for Well-Being

Employee well-being is at the heart of an employer’s organization and responsibility to its employees. While each employee may define their personal well-being differently, employers are responsible for workplace well-being (job demands, workload, culture). Now, employers have a framework for facilitating planning and conversations at a systems level. 

The U.S. Surgeon General’s Framework for Workplace Well-Being articulates five essentials for all employers. Grounded in research on health and human needs, the framework applies to every industry sector, including yours. 

“A healthy workforce is the foundation for thriving organizations and healthier communities. As we recover from the worst of the pandemic, we have an opportunity and the power to make workplaces engines for mental health and well-being… It will be worth it because the benefits will accrue for workers and organizations alike.”
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy

The framework sets forth five essentials that can help us reimagine our workplaces into ‘engines of well-being’ and ensure that our most important resources—our people—are valued and protected. Business leaders: this includes you

      1. Protect workers from harm (physical and psychological)
      2. Foster a sense of connection (social support and belonging)
      3. Show workers they matter (dignity and meaning)
      4. Promote work-life harmony (autonomy and flexibility)
      5. Support growth (learning and accomplishment)

The framework acknowledges that many factors outside the workplace can impact well-being, but adopting this framework provides an opportunity for your business to define critical priorities that shape the culture of your organization — as a healthy place to work and a place people want to be. 


Protection from harm

Based on the human needs for safety and security, “protecting all workers from physical and non-physical harm, including injury, illness, discrimination, bullying, and harassment”  is largely codified in employment law.

On a basic level, this includes access to comprehensive healthcare coverage and mental health services and policies that allow for time off for mental health care. 

Safety includes continued efforts to reduce violence, promote a respectful culture, and promote equity, inclusion and accessibility. 

It may also mean rethinking some long-standing bad habits: back-to-back meetings, sedentary work, working through lunch, and sending and responding to emails late at night. 

Sleep is basic to human functioning. Inadequate rest increases the likelihood of on-the-job mistakes, injuries and interpersonal conflict. Sleep deprivation decreases leadership effectiveness in decision-making, relationship-building and interpersonal communication.  Most of us work in complex roles; we need to be in top cognitive condition. The brain needs rest.

Long work hours “have also been shown to raise workers’ risk for exhaustion, anxiety, and depression.” Let’s stop praising people for being available 24/7 or “constantly going above and beyond.” We can’t afford the cost of employee burnout in lost time and turnover.

“There is a tendency for people to view burnout as a personal mental health issue, but it’s the workplace and chronic job stressors that are the sources of burnout.”
-Dr. Christina Maslach

Connection and community

Our businesses are fueled by teamwork. We all need to feel like we are part of something larger than ourselves. Relationships reign. Fostering collaboration, developing trusted relationships, and creating a culture of inclusion and belonging (free from discrimination and bias) are essential for workplace well-being.

This framework lays out three goals, in addition to diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) policies, that can “improve work well-being and protect against harmful effects of workplace stress.” 


Fostering Supportive Supervisor Relationships

Thoughtfully onboarding and supporting new employees, developing a robust internal communication strategy, and building a culture of trust are small changes that lead to big payoffs. 


Fostering Supportive Coworker Relationships and Social Belonging

Take a look at the departments within your organization. Do they operate with a sense of protectiveness and a bit of “you don’t understand how hard we have it” attitude, or does each group openly support the organization as a whole? Each person, team and department has unique needs and challenges. Encouraging staff to recognize and openly learn from one another can help foster coworker support and positive relationships. Of course, cultivating a sense of fun, with humor and camaraderie, is always important. 


Creating Conditions for Effective Teamwork

High-quality communication, shared goals, and mutual respect between members are essential to teamwork and workplace well-being. Ensuring that everyone receives important communications, no matter what “rung on the ladder” they occupy. When people understand how their work impacts others and what challenges they collectively and individually face, you provide an opportunity for teams to develop mutual respect. It can be tricky to balance valuable meetings with too many meetings, but it’s important that no team or department works in a vacuum. 

Work-life harmony

As business leaders, you’ve likely spent your career focusing on the needs of customers and clients, but now it’s time to put on your own oxygen mask. Creating a culture of work-life harmony means intentionally modeling well-being practices. Ensure that vacation time is honored, digital boundaries are established (resist checking your emails before bed or when you first wake up!), and you budget your energy and time — just like you set a financial budget.

We know work doesn’t wait when someone is out of the office. Identify cross-training and role coverage needs to allow rest/recharging at appropriate times.

Set and communicate practices prioritizing work-life harmony, including a right to disconnect.

Mattering at work

Mattering at work includes the following key components:

      • Providing a living wage
      • Engaging workers in workplace decisions
      • Building a culture of gratitude and recognition
      • Connecting individual work with the organizational mission

Taking time to reflect on the importance and impact of work is good for the soul. Good leaders practice appreciation and gratitude. After all, as the saying goes, a person who feels appreciated will always do more than what is expected!

Align your communications strategies with your mission and goals, helping employees see the connection between their tasks and business success. This may look like recognizing individuals, teams, and departments for their work, elevating the importance of each team member, and ensuring that all new hires understand how critical their role is.  

“Everyone in the workforce wants to feel appreciated, seen and valued,” said CEL vice president Janet Swiecichowski, APR.  There’s never been a better time to tell stories that spotlight your employees and the impact they make.”

Opportunity for growth

Robust growth opportunities include training, continuing education and mentoring. Are there opportunities for growth at all levels? Opportunities can include:

      • Conference registration and travel
      • Training or boot camps
      • Certifications and credentials
      • Online subscriptions
      • Reimbursements for books and guides
      • Tuition assistance
      • New software/office tools

Mentorship and growth opportunities are key to enticing younger generations into your workforce. New hires want a sense of connection to your organization and mission. Understanding your new hires’ motivations, skills, and passions can ensure you’re pairing the right person with the right job. Ensure equitable pathways for advancement by making opportunities available and accessible to every worker.

Adopting the Framework

Engage employees to identify opportunities to practice and apply the framework for workplace well-being.  (And most likely, you’ve already done much of this work):

Assess the well-being needs of your employees on a systemic level. This may include a staff survey to identify engagement, burnout or workplace stressors. Ask employees in mid-year checks what is working and what is not. What are the greatest workplace stressors? What is fueling energy and motivation, and what is depleting it? Both Gallup’s Q12 and Mind Garden’s MBI have respected survey instruments. Develop baseline metrics to measure your well-being strategies over time. 

Develop and implement policies and practices that support well-being. Reduce the number of initiatives, programs and new roll-outs that overload the system and its people. Consider explicitly retiring initiatives and engaging employees in creating a What to Stop Doing list

Engage staff in the process. It may be counter-intuitive to ask staff to help redesign their work or develop workplace well-being practices, but involving employees in decisions that affect their work is foundational to engagement and ownership. Involving staff can ensure you’re targeting resources in the most effective areas. 

Monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of your strategies. Set methods to collect data regularly and identify areas of improvement. 

The pandemic, Great Resignation, and competition for talent may have accelerated an evolution in workplace well-being. But companies like Gallup, Deloitte, and others have sounded the alarm for years. Deloitte hired its first Chief Well-being Officer in 2015 and has an entire team devoted to the Future of Work. Business leaders can learn from their investments. 

By adopting the U.S. Surgeon General’s Framework for Workplace Well-being, you can make meaningful progress in supporting (and keeping!) the people you need. “It’s never about me; it’s always about us,” said Cindy Leines, CEL founder and CEO. “Success isn’t climbing over others to get to the top; it’s lifting each other up so that we all succeed.” 

Successful workplaces depend on creating healthy, human-centered environments. Forward-thinking leaders will be wise to engage employees in rethinking the future of work and employee experience if they want to attract and retain a quality workforce—and that is your competitive advantage.

Published on: January 5, 2023