How to measure wellbeing at work and why it’s important today

With the Great Resignation being an ongoing economic trend since 2021, it would be wise to pause for a moment and reflect on what could possibly cause such a mass exodus of the workforce at a global scale. While there are numerous reasons cited for this attrition with the pandemic being a root cause, prioritizing employee wellbeing has been reiterated as a powerful deterrent and potential cure for this crisis.

In fact, researchers from the London School of Economics discovered a direct correlation between employee well-being, employee productivity, and firm performance across all industries and regions in a meta-analysis of 339 independent studies from 230 independent organizations that span 49 industries in 73 countries.

📝 All articles on Wysa are reviewed by mental healthcare professionals before publication, who check that the content is thorough and accurate, and references the latest evidence-based research. Learn more. 

Why is it important to measure wellbeing at work?

Understanding the needs of the employee pool is key in fostering wellbeing at the workplace. When we think of wellbeing at work, what might come to mind are annual eye-checkups, counselling services, workshops, retreats and other wellness services that are placed haphazardly in your work calendar. While these are signs of an organization that invests in employee mental health and their physical wellbeing, its efficacy is often overlooked.

Implementing a wellbeing strategy without the aid of a needs assessment and the subsequent measurement of the baseline well-being in the organization has major disadvantages. For one, such programs would be too general and may not address specific challenges that are unique to the organization. But more pertinent is the question, how does promoting employee wellbeing lead to better business performance? Let’s find out.

Benefits of measuring wellbeing at work

1. Helps engage and retain employees

The association between employee well-being and engagement is well documented in research literature. Engagement is defined by Robbins and Judge as an `individual’s involvement with, satisfaction with, and enthusiasm for, the work they do.’ On an interesting note, well-being and engagement are reciprocal in nature. Hence, engaged employees are also likely to have better well-being than someone who is detached from their work. According to a global report published by Gallup in 2022 , employees that are actively disengaged and not engaged cost businesses worldwide $7.8 trillion in lost productivity. This amount is equal to 11% of the world’s GDP. 

High quality engagement is also a sign of employee loyalty. One of the prerequisites for engagement is that the individual finds it satisfying to commit to the work they do. Higher job satisfaction leads to reduced employee turnover and increased retention rates.

2. Improves productivity and work performance

It is a well known fact that employee health (both physical and mental) is closely related to their work performance and productivity. For instance, sleep deprived workers make more errors and omissions due to delayed reaction times and are more likely to have amplified emotional reactions in stressful situations. 

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) asserts that those who suffer from mental health issues are more likely to be less productive, churn out lower quality work and miss work more frequently. Wellbeing initiatives can facilitate in improving mental health and as a result improve the standard of work produced.

3. Boosts employee morale

One’s outlook towards work is strongly determined by the associations they make with the work environment. A workplace that breeds negative attitudes can spell disaster for employee morale. On the other hand, if employers strive to improve employee wellbeing, they are essentially planting the seeds for positive attitudes to flourish.

In Martin Seligman’s PERMA model of happiness, he highlights the importance of Positive emotions among other factors in improving overall wellbeing and building resilience in daily life. 

4. Prevents burnout

A study in the U.S calculated the projected yearly cost to each employer from fatigue-related decreases in productivity, motivation, and medical expenses to be approximately $1,967 per employee. When these productivity losses are totaled, fatigue at work costs U.S. businesses about $136.4 billion annually.

Therefore, no wellbeing assessment is complete without measuring stress levels. Yerkes-Dodson law delineates the relationship between stress and performance, as seen in the graph below:

From the graph, we can surmise that too little stress leaves us inactive, and too much pushes us closer to burnout. Effective stress management is a key component of a wellness program and is also vital for preventing employee burnout. Additionally, protecting employees from burnout also cuts medical costs, as burnout exacerbates existing physical ailments and is a risk factor for lifestyle diseases. 

5. Improves company culture

Human beings have an intrinsic need for belonging to a community. It was reported that socially integrated people have better mental health regardless of their stress levels. Workplaces have immense potential to nurture the sense of community by placing an emphasis on the wellbeing of the employees. In the era of social isolation, a strong and supportive work culture can mean the difference between a lonely desolate employee and a happy productive employee. By encouraging and facilitating teamwork through group activities, we can create this net positive effect.

6. Enhances brand reputation

While employers rely on brand perception to increase their customer base, consumers as a whole are increasingly becoming politically and socially conscious about the companies they engage with. Consumers want to do business with companies that take care of their employees. This became quite apparent during the wake of the pandemic when consumer surveys revealed that the way a company treats its employees is among the top 5 considerations when purchasing from a brand.

7. Attracts talent

Another study by Gallup reveals that ‘wellbeing and work life balance’ is only second to ‘pay and benefits’ among the top 6 variables that employees look for in their next job. It is no surprise that companies now and in the future will have to not only cater to brand perception from the consumer end but also from the employees. Wellbeing initiatives can greatly improve employees’ perceptions of the company which can in turn lead them to leave favourable reviews for future jobseekers.

How to measure wellbeing at work

Before we list out ways to measure well-being, it’s essential to address the issue of program participation. In Gartner’s 2020 Survey it was found that while upwards of 80% of employees have access to wellbeing offerings in their place of employment, less than 25% actually used them. Therefore, regardless of the medium you choose, we have to bear in mind these three strategies to maximize participation:

  • Reduce the stigma and indifference surrounding well-being and mental health 
  • Increase employee understanding of needs and resources. 
  • Decrease the time and effort required to engage in wellbeing initiatives.

1. Send out a survey

To gather data on the emotional needs of the workforce, surveys have been ubiquitously used across the globe by research agencies. However, they can also be implemented by the workplace to tailor customized wellness programs.

An indicator of a good survey is the specificity of the wellbeing metrics it takes into account. For instance, a survey questionnaire that is focussed on tracking depression or anxiety gives a better picture than one that simply captures mood and general wellbeing. Secondly, the use of standardized tests with high reliability and validity ensures that the data collected from the survey questions actually measures what it is supposed to measure.

A good example would be Wysa’s anonymous employee mental health barometer. Aside from keeping your data anonymous, it makes use of standardized screening tools for anxiety (GAD-2) and depression (PHQ-2) which have high validity and reliability but also are short and therefore, takes less time and effort to complete. Based on the findings from the data collected, Wysa further provides recommendations on what actions to take to improve employee wellness.

⚠️If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, help is at hand. Please visit this list of helplines and resources for different countries.

2. Take stock of employee absenteeism and turnover

Serxner (2001) discovered that those who participated in wellness programs had lower absenteeism rates than those who did not. Furthermore, it was also found that employees who actively reduced risks in the areas of mental health, stress and back pain are absent less frequently than individuals who stayed at risk.

Tracking absenteeism and employee turnover gives us the opportunity to explore the gaps which when filled can reduce costs to the company.

3. Assess employee work performance

The use of employee KPIs or Key Performance Indicators is considered a best practice in companies across the world. While the KPIs chosen are subjective to the company’s needs, the fact that they can be quantified helps determine the fault lines and critical areas to pay attention to. Using KPIs that track employee wellbeing in the workplace like satisfaction, retention, motivation, and peer engagement would give valuable insights to support the wellbeing of employees.

4. Use mood trackers

Emotions are contagious. We know from research data that negative emotions make us less receptive to taking in information and handling tasks effectively, since a lot of our processing power is expended on dealing with the emotional burden. Hence, how employees feel on a daily basis is valuable data that can predict future productivity and performance.

Moreover, many of our triggers and stressors at work often go under the radar and we tend to notice it only when it’s too late. Mood trackers can give us the opportunity to pause, reflect, help us recognize patterns of behaviour that induce more stress and use this data to craft an optimal wellbeing strategy.

Image credits: Fig1.1

Photo by Mikhail Nilov

wall street