Employee Well-Being: Why It Matters & How Coaching Helps

CoachHub · 17 May 2021 · 16 min read

People need to feel happy and motivated at work. If they don’t, organizations end up taking a hit with lower productivity and higher turnover rates. That’s why employee well-being is crucial for a company’s success.

Unfortunately, companies are demanding more and more from their employees in order to compete with other businesses. This type of pressure generates vast amounts of stress, toxic work environments and exhausted employees who longer feel engaged at work.

When businesses don’t invest in workplace wellness, it costs them much more than they realize. For example, a study from The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), has shown that 76% of working days lost have come from work related stress and anxiety. This doesn’t have to be the case and in fact, similar studies have shown how investing in employee well-being programs like coaching, have actually benefited an organization’s work culture and significantly improved their return on investment.

Why is workplace wellness important?

We spend a considerable amount of our time working. In fact, over the course of their lifetime, adults in the US spend on average 90,000 hours at work. With a significant portion of our lives spent in the workplace, work related stress can have a major impact on our overall well being and, in turn, our performance.

A study on stress in America in 2020 found that 70% of employed adults consider work a significant source of stress for them, increasing from 64% in 2019. Furthermore, when asked to rate their stress level in general, the average was reported as 5.4 out of 10, compared to 4.9 in 2019. Across the pond in the UK, more research revealed that there were 800,000 cases of work-related stress, depression and anxiety, with a loss of 17.9 million working days as a result.

Meanwhile, there is a mountain of evidence backing up the benefits of promoting positive employee wellness. Here are just a few:

  • Workplace wellness decreases absenteeism. Employees who report good health and low stress levels display lower rates of absenteeism. This can reduce company costs with an ROI of 2.73.
  • Well-being increases engagement. A study by Limeade and Quantum Workplace found that employees with higher well-being are more likely to enjoy their work, feel engaged at work, and recommend their organization to others.
  • Happiness in the workplace improves productivity. A recent study by Oxford University found that happy workers are 13% more productive.
  • Well-being drives organizational performance. According to a survey by Deloitte, 94% of HR leaders agreed that well-being drives organizational performance to some extent.

And this shift towards workplace wellness will only become more important for businesses in the future.

Workplace wellness: A priority for modern workers

In 2020, millennials made up 50% of the global workforce. With this new generation now dominating the workplace, promoting wellness will become even more important. A recent survey from Welltok highlighted that previous generations saw wellness as simply the absence of being sick. Meanwhile, in millennials, there was a greater emphasis on financial, social and emotional health. The same study revealed that 75% of millennials expect this holistic support, versus 64% of Gen Xers and 45% of Baby Boomers.

A survey from PWC also revealed that millennials are more open to trying a variety of careers and, as such, don’t show the same long term commitment to organizations as previous generations. This means that meeting their needs will be essential for those that want to attract the best talent.

Offering a flexible workplace, opportunities for growth, positive brand values and a great workplace wellness program will therefore be an important part in ensuring a positive employee experience for millennials.

It’s clear that employees need to be in good physical health to reach their peak potential. However, we need to look beyond physical health and consider the holistic wellness and mental health of our employees. That starts with understanding what workplace wellness is and how to detect the warning signs.

frustrated and disengaged employee

What is workplace wellness?

Workplace wellness refers to a holistic approach adopted by organizations to promote and enhance the health and well-being of their employees. It encompasses various health promotion activities, organizational policies, and environmental support mechanisms implemented at the workplace. These initiatives are aimed at fostering healthy behaviors among employees while also taking into account their overall safety. The concept extends beyond the workplace, often integrating with the broader community to create a supportive environment for employees’ health. This strategy is characterized by a coordinated effort to tackle various health aspects, ensuring a healthier, more productive workforce.

Detecting discomfort at work

Stress can manifest itself in many different ways. You may witness changes in employee behavior, habits and routine. For example, taking up smoking or smoking more frequently, taking more time off, changes in appetite and uncharacteristic mistakes. You may find that an employee becomes more withdrawn or sensitive and snappy when responding.

An extreme negative effect of stress is burnout. Coined by the psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in the 1970s, burnout is a severe stress condition that leads to physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. There are several signs that could indicate burnout in employees.

  • Exhaustion: Feeling physically and emotionally depleted.
  • Isolation: Those experiencing burnout can feel overwhelmed and will stop socializing with friends, co-workers and family.
  • Escape fantasies: Turning to escape mechanisms such as alcohol and drugs.
  • Irritability: Normal stressors are exaggerated.
  • Frequent illness and absenteeism: Long term stress lowers your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness and other mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

Another common indicator is absenteeism, or when an employee frequently misses work without a valid reason. A number of different factors can foster this type of behavior, whether an employee is feeling insecure about their performance or they’re being bullied in the office.

Meanwhile, boreout occurs when an employee does show up to work physically but is continuously bored and mentally checked out due to a lack of meaningful work. This can become exacerbated when managers ignore their employees and fail to provide adequate professional coaching and guidance.

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How to evaluate employee well-being

More recently, organizations are modeling their work environment around the “hip” start-up culture to retain staff. Employees are given access to cool office-based perks like fancy espresso machines, nice office layouts, table tennis and afternoon drinks. However, the imbalance in an employee’s work/life, plus additional stressors has led to more workers who prefer having mental and physical wellness programs instead.

For leaders to understand exactly what employees need, so they can work efficiently and effectively, they really have to be empathetic and start seeing them as people first. Buying their affection or making statements like, “You guys are the backbone of our company,” or “This wouldn’t be possible without you,” may come across hollow or rehearsed, especially if they’re performing countless hours of overtime with little to no recognition.

To achieve a sense of well-being it’s important to consider the following:

1. Job Satisfaction

Job satisfaction consists of several components. Employees need to be able to work in a safe and healthy work environment in order to sustain productivity. It’s also important for managers to avoid favoritism and treat each individual fairly, especially when it comes to responsibilities, promotional opportunities and salary.

2. Work Engagement

For employees to be dedicated with their work, they need high levels of engagement. Being a leader means you have to stimulate and inspire your employees so they can perform at the best of their abilities. Studies have shown that engagement leads to high levels of creativity, task performance, organizational behavior, and client satisfaction.

3. Stress

“I feel stressed,” is probably the most common phrase a person uses when they aren’t feeling great about their job. It also takes a huge toll on their mental and physical well-being. Common factors include performance pressure, work environment, job uncertainty and issues with coworkers. That’s why it’s extremely important for leaders to listen to their employees’ struggles and show empathy and understanding.

4. Personal Happiness

It’s important to remember that each person has a life outside of work. Leaders have to consider that a person’s low performance can be a result of a family member’s sickness, problems in a relationship or even depression. Leaders should frequently check in on their employees and provide them with a safe space to open up. This helps create a bond and allows the employee to trust their employer.

A stressed out employee at his desk

What is the recipe for workplace wellness?

With work stress being such a prevalent and destructive force in the workplace, it’s clear that organizations need to take action to tackle it.

So now that we know what workplace wellness is, how do we actually go about improving it?

To answer this question, let’s take a deeper look at what factors lead to a positive employee experience in the workplace.

Employee Experience

Borrowed from the marketing department’s focus on ‘user experience’, the ‘employee experience’ is a way of looking at an employee’s journey throughout your organization, from the moment they apply for a job to the moment they exit your company.

This more holistic view allows HR managers to analyze the different interactions an employee may have throughout their lifecycle within your organization and design a better overall experience with the company. A great employee experience can mean higher retention rates, greater employee satisfaction and an increase in talent attraction. In fact, 80% of executives rate employee experience as very important to their organization.

Research by Deloitte identified five factors that contribute to a positive employee experience. These are:

  1. Meaningful work
  2. Supportive management
  3. Positive work environment
  4. Growth opportunity
  5. Trust in leadership

Let’s take a deeper look into how addressing these five factors can promote greater workplace wellness.

Meaningful work and growth opportunities boost job satisfaction

Everyone wants to feel the work they do has meaning and purpose. As we discussed previously, a lack of meaningful work is often the cause of negative behaviors like burnout and absenteeism.

But on the flip slide, studies show that employees who feel their work is meaningful are more likely to work for less, put in more hours, and experience higher levels of job satisfaction. Along with meaningful work, another study by SHRM found that both millennials (88%) and Generation X (89%) workers cited career development and professional development opportunities as important contributors to their job satisfaction.

However, this isn’t solely the responsibility of employees themselves. A recent study by SHRM revealed that 84% of US workers blame poorly trained management for creating unnecessary stress. In fact, according to the study:

  • 57% of workers say managers could benefit from training on how to be a better people manager
  • 50% feel their own performance would improve if their manager received additional training in people management

Having supportive managers who are able to motivate their team by providing meaningful work and opportunities for growth is essential to improving workplace wellness. Methods such as executive coaching can help train management to practice clear and open communication, listen to employees’ needs, and offer better growth opportunities by learning how to become a great coach themselves.

Happiness in the workplace: Creating a positive work environment

When Google conducted research into what factors made the perfect team, surprisingly, it wasn’t the teams with the most intelligent or the most senior people. It was the teams that had high levels of psychological safety.

According to Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson, “Psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.”

As we discussed earlier, negative work environments in which an employee feels insecure or worse yet, is being bullied, can cause high stress and lead to negative workplace behaviors.

On the other hand studies show that organizations that have high levels of psychological safety are more productive and achieve higher levels of performance. Research also shows that positive work cultures improve both employee wellbeing and productivity. In fact, something as simple as having a best friend at work or receiving positive feedback and recognition can greatly improve happiness in the workplace.

However, shaping a positive corporate culture can take time and effort. Check out our guide with tips on how you can use group coaching to build the kind of culture you want to see in your organization.

woman benefiting from an investment in workplace wellness

How to design your own workplace wellness program

Now that we’ve looked at factors that impact workplace stress, it’s time to begin taking steps to increase happiness in the workplace. The most difficult step for many HR managers is simply figuring out how to get started. The problem is, no two organizations are the same. Simply copying and pasting strategies will not work. It takes time, research and experimentation.

Here are a few steps you can take to start developing a workplace wellness program that meets your organization’s particular needs:

  • Conduct an organizational assessment: The first step is to assess the current health and wellness practices of your employees and workplace. Consider your workplace’s smoking policies, nutrition, opportunity for physical activity and your approach to managing stress.
  • Assign responsibility for wellness: Building a wellness program for your organization requires time and having an individual or group of people who can plan, promote and implement the program. We’ll explore this idea later with the role of coaching and the notion of a Chief Happiness Officer.
  • Get everyone involved: Involving all employees in the decision making process will increase willingness to participate and make sure the program meets everyone’s needs.
  • Develop goals and objectives: These should be some guidelines that explain what you want to achieve with the program. To develop these effectively, consider using SMART goals:
    • Specific (simple, sensible, significant)
    • Measurable (quantifiable metrics)
    • Achievable (agreed, attainable)
    • Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based)
    • Time bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive)
  • Design and implement the program: Make sure that the program addresses the needs and interests of your employees and consists of a variety of awareness, lifestyle change and educational programs. This can be done using a variety of learning experiences such as seminars, videos, and individual or group coaching which can encourage behavioral changes and education on mental health and stress management.
  • Measure outcomes: Evaluate the success of the program by looking at whether your objectives were met. As well as the outcomes, also evaluate the structure of the program itself and the process, for example, participation levels. We’ll go into more detail in the next section.

As discussed, the purpose of a modern workplace wellness program is, not to only focus on physical health, but on stress management and meeting the increasing need for a holistic consideration of the employee experience. Therefore, to ensure your program is effective, it’s essential to provide equal weight to both mental and physical health concerns.

As mentioned, the role of coaching is very important in the implementation of a workplace wellness program. Executive coaching throughout the organization is the best way to prevent an organization from dealing with stress, burnout, and other negative consequences of poor health management. Executive coaching helps with all of these steps as the external perspective can help an organization assess their needs, develop goals, and encourage and support everyone in getting involved with the program.

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How coaching improves employee well-being

Coaching is a very powerful tool for achieving well-being, not just professionally, but also personally. Coaching is centered on a personalized relationship that is encouraging and compassionate and built to help others overcome obstacles.

Research shows that coachees are twice as likely to stay at their company after experiencing higher levels of engagement and happiness. For employees, having a coach increases their ability to feel relaxed and helps them understand their individual value.

Coaching is also customizable, so leaders have a choice on what skills they would like to improve on and how they can further advance their well-being goals. Several studies have shown that coaching creates ripple effects of well-being throughout a company. When a coached leader experiences psychological well-being they often generate positive interactions with their employees. Thereby, creating waves of positive change in well-being amongst the team.

The effects of Covid on well-being

No one could have anticipated that an entire workforce would have to transition from an office to their living room, especially in such a short amount of time. Prior to the pandemic, remote work was seen as a job perk that was offered to some, but not all. While the effects of Covid on an employee’s well-being is still being measured, there have been early studies that have shown negative effects.  For example, according to Forbes, “Only 20% of leaders believed they were effective at leading virtually.” Managers are under immense pressure to respond to conflicting demands and attend to every team member’s needs quickly, which has led many to exhaustion.

Another study from Oracle revealed that, “78% of employees felt impaired in their mental well-being.” Similar studies have shown that prolonged lockdowns have had huge effects on mental illness and anxiety. Employees are feeling more vulnerable as ever, as there has been a great concern on job security. Also, burnout is on the rise and there are clear signs that the pandemic has lead to serious retention issues.

Even more alarming is how Covid has harmed the progress towards diversity and inclusion. For example, prior to 2020 women were steadily increasing their presence among senior-vice-president staff and were less likely to opt out of work than men. However, this trend was halted by the pandemic as it brought more challenges and pressure for women, particularly working mothers, women in senior management positions and women of color. It was reported that 1 in 3 women were more likely to leave or downshift their position compared to men.

These are just a few reasons why it’s even more important to invest in better people centric programs like coaching. Coaching has been cited by experts as a powerful tool to help provide management the support they need in order to remain resilient. Coaching also supports workers by giving useful tools and strategies to feel healthy and happy while working.

As Ben Wilmott, Head of Public Policy CIPD said on the topic of workplace well-being during and post Covid-19, “Employers have a fundamental duty of care for physical and mental well-being under the Health And Safety At Work Act.”

“I think one of the biggest learnings from the pandemic and remote tools is that it brings the focus back to a human centered approach. This varies from flexible working to emphasis on health, safety and well-being. Not only do companies want to find solutions that support the practical and logistical elements of working remotely, but also foster and cultivate the human aspects of working, which are ultimately, what makes work meaningful and fulfilling.”

– Rosie Evans, Senior Behavioral Scientist at CoachHub

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Workplace wellness in a nutshell

Now, more than ever, is the time to begin implementing workplace wellness strategies. And this need isn’t just coming from external factors. There is also increasing demand for a holistic approach to health from younger generations of workers and HR experts.

And it’s not just because there is a demand from employees, investing in increasing happiness in the workplace gives significant ROI while sad, stressed employees will impact your business negatively.

But making these programs as effective as possible requires assessment in order to understand people’s needs, set achievable goals, and increase engagement. With the increasing authority of HR within organizations (as seen in the creation of positions like the Chief Happiness Officer), it’s clear that the department will play a key role in encouraging a healthy lifestyle among teams and thereby improving job satisfaction, employee engagement and the employee experience.

Finally, both group and individual coaching has an essential role to play in the implementation of workplace wellness strategies and getting organizations functioning at the highest level. Specific training helps with getting employees onboard with a scheme, demonstrates an invested interest in employees, and can develop key individuals such as the Chief Happiness Officer who can continue to focus on preventing stress, and promoting a healthy workplace both physically and mentally.

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CoachHub is a leading global talent development platform that enables organizations to create personalized, measurable and scalable coaching programs for their entire workforce, regardless of department and seniority level. By doing so, organizations are able to reap a multitude of benefits, including increased employee engagement, higher levels of productivity, improved job performance and increased retention. CoachHub’s global pool of coaches is comprised of over 3,500 certified business coaches in 90 countries across six continents with coaching sessions available in over 80 languages. Serving more than 1,000 clients worldwide, CoachHub’s innovative coaching programs are based on proprietary scientific research and development from its Innovation Lab. CoachHub is backed by leading tech investors, including Sofina, SoftBank Vision Fund 2, Molten Ventures, Speedinvest, HV Capital, Partech and Silicon Valley Bank/SVB Capital. CoachHub was certified as a carbon-neutral company and consistently measures, reduces, and implements strategies to minimize its environmental impact.

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