3 Ways to Improve Employee Wellbeing ASAP

David Garcia, New Stand CEO

This month, our CEO David Garcia joined Hebba Youssef, chief people officer at Workweek, to kick off season two of Youssef's HR Therapy discussion series. Watch their full convo on "Why You Should Care About Employee Wellbeing," and read on for the key insights Dave shared, in his own words, for improving workplace wellness.

How can employers positively affect employee wellbeing? To me this is a cultural question. Culture as the way teams manifest, share, and protect their collective beliefs. So the first step is, do you believe wellbeing is important? Then, how is that manifested? How is it protected? With this approach, there are three things an employer can do to promote wellbeing:

1. introduce healthy, guilt-free downtime

Downtime should make up 20% of the workday, and it's one of the most necessary aspects of your day. Downtime increases productivity and creativity and improves brain health.

The challenge is that when you engage in downtime, you have "productivity guilt." Productivity guilt is hustle culture dragging over into how you're assessing yourself, where you're feeling like you should be doing more. Productivity guilt can be reinforced formally, like when you reward effort instead of outcomes, or informally, like a late night message from the boss with the expectation that you're responding.

Downtime is like sleep. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad. Most downtime today is spent browsing the web—scrolling Twitter is not necessarily good for your brain health. As an employer, you can make genuinely refreshing and recharging socially acceptable. You can do that formally by scheduling meetings to default for 15 or 45 minutes, or eliminating stacked meetings so people have times to refresh.

Productivity guilt is hustle culture dragging over into ... feeling like you should be doing more.

You can even do something like Shopify did recently, which is remove all recurring meetings. If you're more of a remote culture, you can move away from instant messaging and Slack and use email and internal blog posts more, so people can work async and not feel like they're always required to respond.

Hebba's input: I know somebody who only schedules 25 or 45 minute meetings, giving people 5 or 15 minutes back. I've found myself running from meeting to meeting and being like, “I'm so sorry, I need to use the bathroom, or eat this oatmeal.” I was like, why am I showing up half myself? Because I had no downtime to recharge in between.

2. BUILD fellowship

At New Stand, we think about relationships through shared experience. Sadness is intrinsically tied to community—do you feel fellowship with your colleagues? Take the concept of a work best friend, or you may have called it a “work spouse” in the past. If you have a best friend at work, you're 2x more likely to report satisfaction at work. Because you have a trusted person you can express yourself to in a safe way.

As an employer, you can encourage low-pressure socialization, something like an onsite event. We've hosted things like truffle-tasting workshops which have no impact on work, but people get to meet new colleagues and try something out. Or if you're remote, you can play a game on something like Zoom and even invite team members to join in anonymously, so people can just get into the habit.

Ultimately these are demonstrations of care from the employer to the employee. One of the big things we track is, do you as an employee feel like your employer cares about you? If you say yes to that question, you're 9x more likely to stay at a company for more than three years. That, to me, is the biggest thing an employer can do—demonstrate your care.

If you have a best friend at work, you're 2x more likely to report satisfaction at work.

3. Create a culture of recognition

The last thing is the most important and the one I'm most passionate about. If we go back to wellbeing being informed by your outlook for the future, recognition is one of the most important aspects of why you work somewhere and why you stay. So creating a culture of recognition is incredibly important in fostering wellbeing.

Most people get some kind of recognition annually, but only around 2% of people receive recognition every day. About a third of your staff never gets recognized at all. And it's not just about low performance; people are just not being recognized. As part of cultivating stronger leaders, we need to teach why recognition is so important, and also how you recognize: You acknowledge effort, recognize contributions, and then reward outcomes. Because if you reward effort on its own, you only cultivate hustle culture.

Hebba's input: You literally pay nothing to recognize someone. When people are like, ‘Oh, I can't do employee wellness, we don't have money, we're in a recession,’ recognition is free. You can go recognize your employees and they will have higher satisfaction at work.

About a third of your staff never gets recognized at all. And it's not just about low performance.

If there’s one thing leaders can do to start improving wellbeing at work, what would it be?

Introduce guilt-free downtime. Make taking a break socially acceptable at work. It doesn't cost you anything. It's the idea that you can opt out of a meeting if you need to go for a walk or do whatever you need to do. 

The way we think about work since the pandemic has definitely helped advance us, but there were also steps backward, like this bleed-over in time. The stat is something like you're working 20% to 30% more when you work from home, because you start earlier, stop later, you’re working through lunch. And this has affected our perception of how and when to show up.

Hebba's input: The hardest part as HR professionals is that a lot of our leadership teams don't want their employees to take breaks, secretly. So when we introduce this concept of guilt-free downtime, it's going to be interesting to see how leadership reacts. Because ultimately, your culture should be modeled by your leaders.

(Quotes edited for length and clarity)

Discover something new. Subscribe to our newsletter.