This post first appeared on the Clinton Foundation blog.
A study from The Well-being Lab at George Mason University found incredible insights on the current state of well-being in American workplaces as well as actionable things employers can do to help employees thrive and manage struggles. Contrary to many strategies in the market, wellness benefits alone cannot meaningfully change the health of employees. Specifically, the study found that leadership and culture have an incredible impact on well-being in the workplace. The researchers measured well-being through the PERMAH (Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, Accomplishment, and Health) model developed by Dr. Peggy Kern from the University of Melbourne.
Helping Employees Thrive
Unfortunately, one of the findings from the survey shed light on a sad reality of the workplace—only 14% of respondents felt their manager regularly shows care, compassion, and appreciation for them. Data from the survey showed that workers who reported that their managers regularly expressed care, compassion, gratitude, and appreciation towards them had significantly higher scores across the PERMAH factors. These workers also were also more likely to be able to manage their well-being as well as reported higher levels of job satisfaction, performance, and commitment to their organizations. The survey measured productivity since COVID-19 and found that caring and compassionate managers helped employees better manage the stresses resulting from the pandemic.
The results from the study also affirmed that well-being is systemic. A culture of caring was evident in team and organization scores, showing how workplace norms amplify individual experiences of well-being. For example, cultures that promote asking for help when someone is struggling had higher individual and team well-being scores. With 17% of employees never telling others they need help and 28% seeking someone outside of work to tell, many workplaces have a lot of work to do to create supportive environments. It says a lot that nearly a third of employees would seek help from someone outside of work even though people outside of work were generally less effective in supporting workers’ ability and motivation to care for their well-being.
Reducing Employee Struggle
With 69% of employees reporting that they don’t feel safe sharing their struggles at work, it's not enough for employers to help employees thrive. They must also help them cope with and manage their stress and anxiety. The best place to start is by creating an open environment where employees are welcome to share their struggles without judgment. This starts with leadership. Managers that lead by example or praise those who prioritize their physical and mental health support an environment that improves the well-being of everyone.
Although leadership and culture have an important role to play in employee health, benefits are also necessary to promote a thriving organization. The survey found that employers that offered three or more well-being benefits had workers that reported higher engagement. Wellness benefits offer employees with the resources to improve their health and well-being across multiple dimensions of health. Leadership and culture encourage employees to take advantage of these benefits for the betterment of themselves and their organization.
The study used a variant of the PERMAH Wellbeing Survey to sample 1,026 randomly selected workers across America. The survey was designed to help individuals and organizations better understand the factors that support and undermine well-being in the workplace.