How to Assess Employee Wellbeing

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Over the last decade, the world of work has made huge strides when it comes to grappling with mental health challenges. Whilst there was once real stigma attached to mental health and employee wellbeing issues at work, nowadays employers are starting to take a much more proactive approach in supporting employees.

Cultivating good employee wellbeing at work can have a range of other benefits, besides the obvious health ones. Better wellbeing can potentially improve everything from profitability and efficiency through to staff retention and recruitment.

Ensuring the wellbeing of employees is one of the key focuses of the Human Resources department, so learning how to assess that wellbeing is an important skill to have at your disposal.

How can we explore the connection between specific indicators, like employee engagement, and the condition of general employee wellbeing in your organisation overall then? In this blog, we attempt to explore the question in more detail, with a variety of practical tips. Let’s go.

What is employee wellbeing?

Employee wellbeing can seem a bit of an ambiguous term. Like lots of things in HR, it can have a variety of different definitions based on who you speak to. It’s good to be completely clear on what we’re exploring.

When we refer to employee wellbeing we generally mean feelings related to our moods. These are often changeable and things that come and go. For instance, Oxford Languages describes wellbeing as ‘the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy’. When it comes to the world of work, people often use employee wellbeing as a way to refer to how much employees enjoy their jobs, or how much they feel comfortable in their roles.

Mental health, on the other hand, refers to specific medical conditions related to your mental wellbeing, like depression or anxiety. This blog by British Red Cross Training explores the difference between wellbeing and mental health in great detail.

In their dedicated factsheet on employee wellbeing, updated by Rachel Suff, a Senior Employee Relations Adviser, the CIPD explore seven elements that they believe employers should consider when it comes to making a best practice approach to employee wellbeing at an organisation:

  1. Health – the mental and physical wellbeing of employees
  2. Work – the quality of work and working environment
  3. Values and principles – what things the workplace values
  4. Social environment – how the voice of employees is respected
  5. Personal growth – what opportunities employees have to develop their skills
  6. Good lifestyle choices – the lifestyle choices that an employee makes
  7. Financial wellbeing – how well an employee is able to support themselves and their family financially

As you can see, wellbeing and mental health are closely tied together and there’s massive overlap between the two. It’s good to bear this in mind when it comes to assessing employee wellbeing at your own organisation.

With that in mind, here are some tips that you can use to assess employee wellbeing in your business:

1.   Create a staff survey

Of course, bear in mind that some employees may not feel entirely comfortable with telling you exactly how they’re feeling or what they’re thinking about wellbeing in your workplace. Being brutally honest can be hard – particularly if you feel that you might end up with a target on your back, or be labelled a trouble-maker, for speaking truth to power. It’s for this reason that some employers use anonymous surveys to try and gather information about employee wellbeing in a workplace. This can help to make employees feel a bit more relaxed about delivering constructive criticism.

There’s a range of resources available online to help you create your own survey. You’ll be able to tailor these to meet your own needs more fully. This blog by Harvard Business Review is one of the most comprehensive we’ve seen about how to design a staff survey that can gather the information you need. Here are some basic tips to bear in mind when creating your survey:

  • Design questions with your key focus clearly in mind (ie. to find out the state of wellbeing in your organisation)
  • Plan a release schedule and strategise when to send reminders in order to maximise return rates
  • Consider incentivising the survey to encourage people to complete it
  • Make sure its accessible: provide digital and physical ways to complete it
  • Ensure it doesn’t take too long to complete

2.   Explore retention rates – and what you can do to boost them

Retention – the turnover of employees that your organisation experiences – can be an excellent diagnostic tool when it comes to understanding wellbeing in a workplace. Generally, a high rate of employee retention and a low rate of employee turnover can indicate that your employees are satisfied and have a good level of wellbeing at work. A low rate of retention and a high rate of employee turnover, on the other hand, can suggest that employees are not satisfied at work and that general levels of wellbeing are not good across the organisation.

A survey by the Executive Development Network, cited in People Management Magazine, found that 86% of people said they would leave a job if it did not support their wellbeing. Other studies and surveys have uncovered similar findings. Research from Deloitte on mental health at work found that 61% of respondents said that they were leaving a job because of poor mental health and wellbeing.

The most obvious impact of poor employee retention on a business is the increased costs that will come with hiring new employees to replace those who have left. A high turnover of employees can also have a drastic range of other impacts on an organisation though, too, affecting everything from productivity and profitability through to its culture. Arguably, a high churn of employees coming and going can create a feeling of instability and lack of control, as well as increasing work pressures on employees that remain with your employer. Ultimately, this can create complex employee wellbeing issues, contributing to a vicious cycle of burn-out and employee exits.

Solving the retention issue (if your organisation has one) can feel challenging. That’s because wellbeing and retention are often tied up with a range of other issues, like company culture and management, in a huge knot. It’s the job of a HR professional to try and unpick those knots and examine the best way to improve the situation. To solve the issue, you’ll need to think strategically and logically.

If you’re looking for advice about employee retention rates and the indications that they can give you about wellbeing, this factsheet produced by the CIPD explores the issue in depth and is well worth a read.

A woman working at a laptop

3.   Pay attention to employee engagement

Employee engagement is a slippery term that has a huge variety of different definitions. Generally, though, when we refer to employee engagement in a HR context, we’re thinking about the attitude of employees towards their work – whether someone is motivated enough to

Similar to how retention rates can often be used to give an indication of wellbeing, rates of employee engagement can also tell you a lot about the culture of wellbeing in an organisation. This makes them a useful metric for Human Resources professionals to examine in terms of assessing the health of employee wellbeing.

The Utrecht University definition of employee engagement (which the CIPD recommend organisations adopt) focuses on three core elements that it considers as defining engagement:

  1. Vigour – how much energy and effort employees put towards their work
  2. Dedication – how proud or inspired employees of the work that they produce
  3. Absorption – how engrossed and interested employees become in their work

High rates of employee engagement will likely correspond to higher rates of employee wellbeing and better mental health overall in a workplace. At the opposite end of the scale, low rates of employee engagement can often correlate to lower levels of employee wellbeing, indicating a potentially serious problem for your organisation.

Employee engagement rates can often be the canary in the coalmine when it comes to how people are feeling at work. After all, it’s not difficult to see that those employees who are happy, motivated and supported at work will be the ones who are more likely to show more engagement.

Again, another factsheet created by the CIPD, specifically about employee engagement, is a great resource to consult to find out more about what you should be looking at when exploring engagement and wellbeing.

You can examine rates of employee engagement by creating a survey, similar to the one that we outlined in the first point.

4.   Examine efficiency and productivity rates

In combination with employee engagement, efficiency and productivity figures can also be useful metrics to consult when assessing employee wellbeing.

There has been a wide range of research and studies carried out into the effect of happiness and good mental wellbeing on productivity over the last few years. Research by the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford for instance found that 13% of workers are more productive when they are happy. A similar study by Gallup in 2019 found a connection between higher rates of employee engagement and better productivity overall. Findings like this suggest that there is a potential link between efficiency,

As a result, Human Resources professionals who are trying to assess overall employee wellbeing in their workplace might find it useful to explore current rates of productivity and efficiency. This could potentially give you an indication of the state of employee wellbeing.

Two smiling workers

5.   Listen to feedback from line managers

As the main professionals in a workplace in close, daily contact with employees, line managers are often in the unique position of being able to gather information about the wellbeing of employees. Often they can do this unconsciously, without even meaning to.

Being in such close contact with employees means that line managers are well placed to pick up on verbal and non-verbal signs that suggest an employee is struggling with their wellbeing. For example, they might hear things about the wellbeing of employees on the grapevine, or they might notice things themselves about the behaviour of an employee. Ultimately, good line managers will have their ears to the ground when it comes to monitoring the wellbeing of their teams, observing their employees and potentially being able to detect issues.

Tapping into this resource can be one of HR’s most effective tools when it comes to assessing the state of employee wellbeing in the workplace. Here are some more tips for how to do this effectively.

  • Engage with line managers and listen to what they’ve observed
  • Develop a reporting system that line managers can use to report any employee wellbeing to you anonymously

Assess employee wellbeing and improve your workplace

As we’ve explored in this blog, the wellbeing of employees in your workplace can feel tricky to explore but there are a range of different tactics that you can use to gain an understanding of it. We hope this blog has given you a good understanding of some of the best practices to focus on when it comes to gathering the important information you need about how employees are feeling at work.

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