Traditional approaches to employee wellbeing have tended to focus on the individual person, encouraging and supporting people to move more at work, eat more fruit, learn mindfulness or practise lunchtime yoga.

While this strategy is beneficial for many people, we know that individual behaviour is influenced by context, and for employees that context is the organisation they work in. Organisational factors such as role clarity and autonomy, consultation about change, work demands and leadership support do directly impact and influence wellbeing as well as help or hinder individual wellbeing behaviours.  Wellness programmes will not work if employees are regularly overworking or feeling criticised by managers, or are overwhelmed by change processes.

I may be very appreciative of the lunchtime yoga class but unable to attend because my manager has called a meeting at that time and I don’t feel I can decline the meeting invite or have the conversation about rescheduling since our team is struggling to keep on top of our targets this week and I know my manager is feeling stressed about reporting that to the senior team. Or I’m feeling scared about all the change that is occurring and think I need to show my commitment by staying at my desk.

For wellbeing initiatives to be truly effective, employees need to believe the organisation (leaders) are genuinely committed to their wellbeing, and see this commitment demonstrated via action:

  • Clear and supportive communication around expectations and performance as well as organisational changes and priorities
  • Care and concern for them as a person
  • Consultation around workload capacity and priorities

The best way to find out how to support employees to strengthen their wellbeing is to ask them.

What do employees say?

When we ask people how their workplace or manager can best support them to strengthen their wellbeing, we hear very common themes:

  • Trust me – don’t micro-manage me – support me to manage my work hours and how I work so that I can be at my most productive
  • Talk with me – ask me how I am, ask me how I am feeling, and listen to me
  • Praise me and thank me – tell me what I’m doing well
  • Recognise and reward my efforts and attempts as well as my successes
  • Coach me – give me clear feedback and help me to grow and develop
  • Ask me what motivates me – help me break down workplace priorities into tasks that align with my motivators
  • See me as a whole person rather than just a worker – show genuine interest in me and my life in our conversations and interactions.

The Umbrella Wellbeing Assessment is an effective tool for organisations to seek direct feedback from employees about their wellbeing and to provide them with resources to improve their personal wellbeing. The assessment also provides a clear picture to organisations about the specific workplace factors that are having a positive or negative impact on employee wellbeing―and the Umbrella team follows up with recommendations to improve any that are having a negative impact.