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Your ultimate guide to employee well-being

11 min read
Well-being is an intrinsic part of the employee experience. To boost engagement and retention (and bottom line business results), get started improving employee well-being.


From engagement and retention, to productivity and the bottom line, employee well-being is the undercurrent driving your employees’ best work. And when well-being at work suffers, so does the health of your organization.

Given its importance, we’ve taken a closer look at the key drivers of employee well-being, the benefits of supporting well-being at work, how the pandemic has impacted employee well-being, what to consider when designing a well-being program, plus how to get started improving employee well-being at your organization.

What is employee well-being?

Work environments that purposefully support employee well-being – that is, the physical and mental health of employees – experience positive outcomes for individuals and the organization. Likewise, employees who report positive well-being experience positive emotional states, perceive themselves as more engaged, productive, and are more able to manage difficulties.

At Qualtrics®, we measure well-being using a five-point system of indicators:

  • Feeling calm at work
  • Feeling energized at work
  • Rarely feeling overwhelmed by responsibilities at work
  • Feeling positive about yourself at work
  • Having trusting relationships at work

Find out what else drives employees in our 2021 Employee Experience Trends Report

What are the benefits of supporting well-being at work?

If an employee isn’t feeling their best, they can’t focus on their work. Therefore, it’s critical to take care of your people – by investing in well-being and mental health resources – so they can be productive for your business.

Here are some of the benefits of supporting employee well-being:

  • Reduced healthcare costs. According to a 2010 Harvard Wellness Program Meta Study, for every dollar that’s spent on a well-being program, a company saves $3.27 because of reduced healthcare costs.
  • Decreased absenteeism. Wellness programs improve employee health and morale – two factors that decrease absenteeism.
  • Improved employee engagement. A survey by Virgin Pulse found that 85% of companies say well-being programs support employee engagement. Approximately 42% of the survey respondents reported that their top reason for implementing a wellness program was to improve employee engagement. In addition, engaged employees tend to contribute more than what’s expected of them, leading to better organizational outcomes.
  • Employer of choice. The American Psychological Association reports that 89% of employees will recommend their company as a good place to work if the company supports well-being initiatives.
  • Heightened feelings of empowerment. Employees who say their company proactively shares mental health resources are 61% more likely to feel their company is communicating to them the information they need to look out for their own well-being.

On the other hand, if you don’t invest in employee well-being, you risk employees burning out, not being as productive as they can, and increased safety risks. These risks include accidents at work, which can have detrimental emotional, physical, and financial implications.

Read more:  3 steps every organization can take to boost employee well-being

How has the pandemic impacted employee well-being?

The pandemic – and the pivot to remote and hybrid work – exacerbated many of our built-in boundaries with work. Especially for those working from home for the first time, remote and hybrid work meant working more – and not knowing how or when to switch off.

Given this, it came as little surprise that a study we recently conducted revealed burnout and stress among the top reasons why employees say they will look for a new job in the next year.

In addition to burnout, a number of other factors have impacted employee well-being since the start of the pandemic, including:

  • Workload. Workload is a powerful buffer to workforce safety, resilience, and well-being. Research from our 2020 Global Workforce Resilience Report revealed that employees who were at capacity in terms of workload felt the best about their safety, resilience, and well-being. Conversely, those employees with workloads far below their capacity expressed negative views of the same factors.
  • Being a parent and/or caregiver. Having to play multiple roles at the same time – that is, working from home while also being a parent and/or caregiver – has been extremely difficult on many employees. A recent study we conducted revealed that 45% of working parents felt discriminated against in the workplace as a result of focusing on family responsibilities during the pandemic.
  • Uncertainty around job security. As we move through the pandemic, workers in some industries feel more secure than others to look for new jobs (hence, The Great Resignation). For others, the pandemic has accelerated plans for automation in their industries, causing workers’ concerns over job security and longevity. Still, others view the pandemic-induced shortage of supplies as a factor that might impact their jobs in the near term.

What to consider when designing an employee well-being program

Whether you’re constructing a new program at your organization, or looking to bolster the program you already offer, here are some aspects your employee well-being program should cover:

  • Physical health: Employees’ physical health plays a major role in their overall well-being, as well as their engagement and attitudes towards work. When employees practice unhealthy habits – such as not getting enough sleep or eating diets low in necessary nutrients – not only do they not feel their best, they can’t perform their best at work. Wellness programs, such as on-site (or virtual) yoga classes, fitness challenges, nutrition coaching, sleep training, and more, can help support and promote healthy habits.
  • Mental health: Stress and burnout are two of the biggest threats to employee engagement, and as mentioned above, employees’ stress levels have skyrocketed during COVID-19. To help employees cope with stress, wellness programs can offer mental health resources – such as counseling – through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or other stress management resources. These could include (on-site or virtual) stress management classes, courses in meditation or yoga, or chair massages.
  • Financial well-being: Some of your employees might find managing a budget or even paying for everyday expenses difficult. Offering support around financial well-being, such as webinars or online courses, can help employees feel more confident in managing their personal finances – and better prepared for the unexpected.
  • Social well-being: Employees who have supportive connections in the workplace are more likely to feel connected to their jobs and more engaged with their work. For those employees who lack social connection, wellness programs can help facilitate like-minded connections in a healthy setting. Whether it’s through book clubs, running (or walking) clubs, on-site fitness classes, or virtual fitness challenges, employees feel more engaged (and happier!) when they can connect with their colleagues.
  • Occupational well-being: Wellness and productivity go hand in hand. Employers benefit from supporting healthy habits that boost work performance. For example, companies can encourage employees to take regular breaks throughout the day, go for a walk when they are feeling stressed, and provide healthy, energy-boosting snacks in lunch and break rooms.

When designing an employee well-being program, remember to take a holistic approach; the sum of the above components is greater than the individual parts.

Supplemental reading: How to build a healthy company culture with employee wellness programs

How to get started improving employee well-being at your organization

Now that you understand the benefits of, and components to, designing an employee well-being program, it’s time to take action.

Here are five steps to help you get started improving employee well-being at your organization.

Step 1. Meet employees where they are.

Employees’ concerns – and what’s important to them – will change over time. Listening tools allow leaders to tune in to those evolving needs and then act on that feedback accordingly. This goes beyond guessing at the needs of employees – and who we think has those needs – by being more intentional with actions and supporting employee well-being in real-time.  

Start with listening and understanding the issues affecting well-being at your organization before you start investing in programs that may or may not improve well-being.

If you understand what’s affecting well-being, you can better target the actions to improve it.

Step 2. Focus on DEI.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are intrinsically linked, and organizations that work on improving DEI also see benefits to employee well-being, as well as engagement and retention.

In our 2021 Employee Experience Trends Report, we found that nearly one in four employees don’t feel included or like they belong at their organization. Those feelings have a detrimental impact on well-being – ultimately motivating those employees to look for work elsewhere, at an organization where they feel like they can be themselves.

Tune in: The Intersection Between DEI and Mental Health and Well-Being (webinar)

Step 3. Help employees manage their workload.

As mentioned above, an employee’s workload has a lot to do with their well-being. And our research suggests that there’s a sweet spot for employee workload – not too much work, but also not too little.

Open and regular communication between employees and managers can keep workload at manageable levels, and help leaders anticipate when an employee might start to feel overwhelmed.

Step 4. Encourage managers to lead with empathy.

In addition to workload, managers being more supportive, leading with empathy, and generally understanding and knowing what’s going on in their employees’ lives goes a long way in supporting employee well-being.

For example, for those working parents and caregivers juggling responsibilities, having a manager who is aware of their situation at home and also flexible and empathetic with when and how work gets done will help said employees feel seen and supported – and that the manager (and organization) appreciates the value they bring.

Step 5. Provide more mental health services as a benefit.

From covering mental health-related expenses to additional EAP resources, providing employees with free and easily accessible mental health resources will help to better support their overall well-being.

Find out what else drives employees in our 2021 Employee Experience Trends Report