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Taking the Pulse of Employee Well-being and Workplace Culture

It was no surprise that the pandemic sparked a surge in news articles about employee well-being. But the topic didn’t die down after the world turned the corner on the health crisis. On the contrary, once the conversation took root, well-being at work moved from a subject people rarely discussed to a dominant one.

The turnover trend that swelled in the pandemic’s wake was one of the primary reasons worker well-being remained a hot-button item. After finally getting important personal issues on the table, people were no longer willing to brush their mental and emotional health under the rug. As a result, The Great Resignation was largely driven by workers fed up with how their jobs made them feel.

Employers increasingly prioritized employee well-being as they fought to retain and attract staff. And as they took measures to support their people, many business leaders discovered an additional outcome—their companies became more successful. By elevating employee well-being to a prominent place in their workplace culture, they improved the health of their entire organization.

What Factors into Employee Well-being?

Consultant Sharon Silvonen writes about the distinction between employee wellness and well-being for LinkedIn. She points out that many well-meaning employers believe they have accommodated their staff’s well-being by providing perks like enhanced health insurance, gym memberships, leave policies, and nutrition advice.

While these initiatives may impact well-being, Silvonen argues that they don’t address many difficult issues people experience at work:

“These sorts of perks and programs are what I would classify as wellness, rather than well-being, in that they drive good health through self-care practices. They’re often very generous and highly appreciated by employees, but still entirely peripheral when it comes to matters of the workplace or people’s actual jobs.”

Silvonen notes that many companies outsource these wellness measures to specialty providers and then consider their work on employee well-being done. But she observes that this approach leads to two adverse outcomes.

“ A focus on wellness while ignoring the fundamentals of well-being is akin to a parent buying a fancy toy for their child, or hiring a nanny, without making the effort to spend quality time with them. Secondly, such surface-level initiatives tend to target the smoke rather than the fire of workplace well-being issues.”

Instead, she recommends that companies address the root cause of well-being erosion at work.

Psychotherapist Cecile Rozuel offers a clarifying definition to help organizations improve in this area:

“Workplace well-being is concerned with the psychological, emotional, and physical well-being of people in the context of work.”

Many workplace elements impact employee well-being, including management style, the level of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and opportunities to grow. Dr. Rozuel says generating well-being requires “an in-depth examination of why we work, what we work for, and how we work.”

Weaving Employee Well-being into Workplace Culture

Jim Purcell, a founder of the Returns on Well-being Institute, says organizational culture provides the foundation for employee well-being. In an article for Forbes, he asserts:

“Culture comes before programs because it’s the seedbed that determines whether employee well-being programs die or flourish.”

Purcell recommends that leaders assess and re-engineer their workplace culture to ensure it positively impacts employee well-being. To ensure goals are met in this area, “the culture must become the primary strategic priority, managed with objectives, timetables, and accountabilities.”

Culture is the sub-current that influences every aspect of the employee experience. It shows up in the everyday behaviors of a company’s staff, from the upper tier down. Leaders can shape their company’s culture by defining and coaching the behaviors they want to permeate their company.

Specific behaviors that uplift employee well-being include:

  • Generous Listening

    Sharon Silvonen notes, “Research into what employees want most from their employers, and particularly their direct managers, is just to talk to and actively listen to them.” People need to feel heard and safe to bring up issues impacting their ability to perform at work. Leaders should help their managers to exhibit and coach genuine and active listening skills.

  • Embracing Diverse Perspectives

    In tandem with prioritizing listening, a supportive culture is one in which everyone’s perspectives are not only heard but also valued. Often employees feel underappreciated at work because their input, opinions, and suggestions are routinely downplayed or ignored. This contributes to a lack of self-worth and diminished well-being.

  • Treating Everyone with Dignity and Respect

Most companies have diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies, yet many employees report rampant disrespect on the job. To counter this, employers must activate the spirit of their DEI policies within their company’s culture. And management must model and continuously coach these practices to ensure they become the norm.

  • Establishing Expectations

Much workplace stress is brought on by confusion about objectives, timelines, and roles. But employers who prioritize asking for and setting clear expectations alleviate the anxiety generated by vague directives. They establish a calm environment where people understand and can effectively carry out their responsibilities.

  • Mentoring
    The ability to grow and achieve at a higher level in their profession is a significant factor in employee well-being. When mentorship is part of the culture, workers feel their employer wants them to advance and has their best interest at heart. People become more engaged with their employer and develop higher levels of self-esteem in a culture that encourages their development.

The Benefits of Prioritizing Employee Well-being

Organizations that establish standards of well-being greatly elevate the employee experience. And as Dr. Rozuel points out: “Providing a safe and nurturing work environment is increasingly recognized as a moral duty of employers and a social responsibility of organizations.”

But as noted above, workers aren’t the only beneficiaries of this endeavor. Companies with a thriving workforce flourish. An article in Corporate Wellness Magazine outlines four significant benefits for business leaders who work to enhance employee well-being:

  1. Improved Productivity

    Workers who feel cared for take better care of themselves and are inspired to put forth their best effort at work. They’re more energetic, focused, and better equipped to overcome the challenges of their jobs.

  2. Reduced Absenteeism

Employees who feel their well-being is prioritized are less likely to call out sick, arrive late, or leave early. And they aren’t prone to “presenteeism” or being physically at work but mentally checked out.

  1. Enhanced Employee Satisfaction

    A supportive company culture generates employee engagement and loyalty, which leads to higher retention rates. People feel like they belong where they are appreciated.

  2. Attracting Top Talent

Social media and other internet outlets give workers a platform to talk about their experiences at work. As a result, companies with a strong reputation for championing employee well-being emerge as winners in the war for talent.

From a business standpoint, a leader’s ROI for an investment in employee well-being is their company’s long-term success.

Employee Well-being for the Long Term

A leader’s first step in improving their staff’s welfare is acknowledging their company’s responsibility to address the topic and making it a corporate undertaking. Their next move is identifying how to authentically improve it and eliminate legacy beliefs that employees are solely responsible for how they feel at work. Finally, leaders must determine a process to maintain a focus on employee well-being and ensure that their tactics to improve it stick.

As Jim Purcell points out:

“Once established, new cultures of well-being must be nourished and maintained. In truth, a culture of well-being is not so much an ‘initiative’ as it is a permanent change in how work is conducted.”

CultureWise CEO David J. Friedman tells leaders that the best way to instill culture-improvement behaviors in their companies is to practice them ritually. Otherwise, they risk introducing another “flavor of the month” initiative that will quickly fade. He explains further in his book, Culture by Design:

“The danger in rolling out programs that don’t last goes beyond simply their diminished effectiveness. Even more importantly, these failures lead to cynicism in our workforce.”

And nothing will induce cynicism faster than insincere, weak, or short-lived initiatives that are supposed to improve employee well-being.

Not surprisingly, companies cited in Great Places to Work make well-being a hallmark of their corporate cultures. Their research shows the following about employees at the 100 Best Companies to Work For:

  • 9 out of 10 feel cared for
  • 4 out of 5 look forward to coming to work
  • 4 out of 5 feel psychologically and emotionally healthy
  • 4 out of 5 find meaning in their jobs

One of the key credentials for making this prestigious list is a company’s ongoing commitment to building and sustaining a high level of employee well-being.


Schedule a call with a CultureWise specialist to learn more about developing a workplace culture that actively improves employee well-being and organizational success. And sign up for a complimentary subscription to Culture Matters for a comprehensive look at all matters related to workplace culture.