Wellness in the Workplace: What It Is and How to Achieve It

CoachHub · 12 July 2022 · 6 min read

Corporate America isn’t short of buzzwords. That’s true of its human resources practices, too. In the 1990s, the tides were turning toward “human resource management” and the value HR delivers to the business. That took off in the aughts with the “three-box” HR model of strategic business partner, centers of excellence and shared services. By the 20-teens, HR professionals were navigating all things tech, from cloud-based HR tools to BYOD policies, HRIS systems and internal social collaboration tools. Now, “employee well-being” has taken center stage as companies grapple with seismic workplace and societal shifts brought on by the global pandemic.

Here’s why wellness in the workplace matters: The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that 71% of employed Americans typically feel tense or stressed out—the opposite of mentally “being well”—during the workday. Stressed-out employees struggle with managing their motivation and energy. They can have difficulty focusing on tasks and don’t put full effort into their work. Excess stress can also cause employees to be irritable with customers and coworkers.

Defining health and wellness in the workplace

As you can imagine, the definition of health and wellness in the workplace can be infinitely broad and just as deep. Wellness has many dimensions, just as stress has many causes. To address employee well-being effectively, guardrails must be set so areas that require the most focus get the attention, budget and prioritization they deserve. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines employee wellbeing as, “the ability of individuals to address normal stresses, work productively and realize one’s highest potential.” That doesn’t do much to narrow the scope, so it can be helpful to think about workplace stressors in terms of categories. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), burnout is characterized by three dimensions

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion 
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job 
  • Reduced professional efficacy
workplace wellness

How to promote wellness in the workplace

Before embarking on a workplace wellness program, it’s important to understand precisely what is driving employees to feel overwhelmed or disinterested in their jobs. Although 1:1 conversations can be helpful, they are not the most reliable way to assess sentiment for one simple reason: people are generally not all that comfortable sharing personal information with others at work. Getting more information from employees about the issues that are causing stress at work can be obtained anonymously so that they can feel more free to express their issues and concerns. An option is to engage a company well-versed in employee well-being to put together an anonymized survey that helps you get to the heart of the matter. However, the key is to gather data you can—and are willing to—act on. 

For now, let’s assume that what you find can be sorted into the WHO categories outlined above, and talk about a few ways to promote wellness in the workplace. 

Feelings of energy depletion and exhaustion

There is mental exhaustion and there is physical exhaustion. Both sap energy. One of the most effective ways to address exhaustion in the workplace is to give employees the flexibility they need to deal with the rhythms of their days. Real life doesn’t happen only after 6 p.m. and on weekends.  

As we’ve seen, the newfound flexibility people gained when the pandemic sent work-from-home into overdrive has proven popular—so much so that companies are facing pushback when they try to force people back into the office who’ve found they can do their job at home more effectively and efficiently. They can still collaborate, too—technology’s come a long way, baby. On the flipside, some people found that being in the office was decidedly less stressful than trying to work from a chaotic home environment. Thus, the need for flexibility and an open mind. 

Executives are often far removed from the day-to-day work of their employees and many—though they may not admit it—simply equate productivity with being in the office. That’s why it’s so important to involve the employees who are actually doing the work in the conversations about how to structure a more flexible workplace. Even the most risk-averse leaders can find a way to implement changes that are meaningful to their teams. They might even be surprised by the positive impact. For example, Microsoft Japan implemented a four-day workweek (paying people the same as they would for a traditional five-day workweek) and boosted productivity by 40%. Their meetings became far more efficient. Operating costs fell. A New Zealand trust management company saw a 20% increase in productivity and a 45% gain in work-life balance when they went to a four-day week. It’s possible—and quite possibly, it’s the smarter way to go.

Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job

Assuming the issue lies within the workplace itself, it behooves leaders to figure out what’s causing the malaise and fix it sooner rather than later. “Analysis paralysis” and all those “that will never work because…” motivation killers have no place in an organization where wellness in the workplace is tied so closely to profitable growth. 

  • When one feels unheard, mental distance grows. One of the biggest mistakes companies make is asking for input and then doing nothing with what they learned. Do that often enough and people will simply cease contributing. When someone is trying to change something for the better—and in their eyes, it’s a relatively easy fix—and is subsequently ignored, “why bother” takes over. The same goes for people whose ideas are overlooked or shut down. Cynicism has roots in reality. 
  • Overloading people during busy times can backfire. While it may seem logical that “all hands on deck” and overtime will get the work done faster, research proves otherwise. Employee output falls precipitously after a 50-hour work week. Someone who puts in 70 hours produces nothing more with those extra 15 hours, according to a study by John Pencavel of Stanford University. Furthermore, operating costs go up. So do absenteeism and turnover—that aforementioned APA study found that stressed out employees are more than 3x as likely to say they intend to seek employment elsewhere in the next year.

Reduced professional efficacy

As we mentioned at the outset, stressed-out employees have difficulty focusing on tasks and don’t put a full effort into their work. They’re not interested. They’re not motivated. They don’t have the energy to care. When a formerly productive employee becomes less so, it’s time to find out why—because chances are, whatever is affecting them is holding others back, too. 

Since people inherently want to fix things, a personal conversation with a trusted coworker (in lieu of waiting for a survey) may uncover the issue, and a brainstorming session may be just what’s needed. For those not completely burnt out, hope springs eternal. Just be sure to actually do what needs to be done to fix it as quickly as possible (see “cynicism” above).

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Coaching for Wellness in the Workplace

Investing in health and wellness in the workplace dramatically improves employees’ mental and emotional health, reduces stress      and most importantly, can bring meaning and purpose to their work. Implementing a coaching discipline can help companies establish a caring culture that enables people to flourish. Well-trained coaches can help employees with self-reflection and mental health awareness, increasing positive emotions and bringing about higher levels of engagement, productivity and growth in the workplace. Consider implementing a program such as CoachHub Wellbeing™ that is personalized to meet each employee’s needs and enable them to take concrete steps to improve their mental health.

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