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Wellbeing in the workplace

February 9, 2021

Yoga mat and computer

What does wellbeing look like?

Often, people think wellbeing at work simply means "People are happy". But look closely and you'll see that wellbeing is a multi-faceted topic that has many different aspects to it.

Physical environment, job design, relationships at work, workload and projects, work/life balance, communications and organisational culture – are all factors that can contribute towards a person's wellbeing at work.

Essentially, wellbeing is a sense of satisfaction or contentment. Your employees don't expect perfection, but if they experience a sense of satisfaction that their working lives are, overall, manageable and pleasant, they will be happier in their work and more likely to stay working with you.

How do you know what's needed?

Employee wellbeing might seem difficult to measure, but there are a number of formal and informal workplace indicators that can help you identify your employees' general level of wellbeing.


Look at the rates of absenteeism and sick leave in your team. Increasing or high rates suggest that your employees may not be satisfied in their work.

Also, watch out for 'presenteeism' – are your employees present but disengaged in their work?

Turnover rates and exit interviews

High turnover is a clear indicator that employees are not happy. To understand the cause of high turnover, utilise an exit interview. Exit interviews are an extremely valuable tool for helping you to understand what your employees are feeling, and why they feel another workplace would suit them better. Their feedback can help you to address issues and provide ideas for opportunities to improve your workplace.

Engagement surveys

Engagement surveys help you to understand the general mood of your workplace through measurable feedback. When given the opportunity most employees will happily share their thoughts on what could improve their experience in the workplace – whether it’s increased communication, additional benefits or role specific training.

Once the feedback has been gathered it’s vital that the survey results and subsequent actions are shared with the business – otherwise employees may feel their voice is being ignored, leading to even greater disengagement in the future.

Overtime and leave utilisation

Is there a pattern of overtime in your team? Are your people taking annual leave regularly – or are they accruing a lot of leave?

Design of role and manageable workloads will ensure your employees have the capacity to balance their work and personal lives. A balanced approach ensures your employees can be productive, well-rested, and capable of responding to challenges and managing stress well.

Of course, some employees love their jobs and choose to put in longer hours but, as a rule, if people are over-working regularly just to complete their everyday work, there's a problem.

Informal conversations and attitude

While it's not as measurable, the 'tone' of your office can provide you with some good clues about your employees' satisfaction.

What is the tone of the informal conversations around your office? Do people generally seem relaxed and happy? Or do people complain often, or get upset at each other?

What is the general attitude like? Do people seem to be stressed? Negative responses to these questions can be a symptom that workplace wellbeing is suffering.

Team vs individual wellbeing

It's important to note that workplace wellbeing issues may arise at two levels – they may be systemic issues that affect most of your team, or they may be issues at the individual level.

Team wellbeing

If you can see that wellbeing issues are affecting your whole team, you need to determine the reasons for this.

Are you over capacity? Does your team know how to ask for help? Do they know where to go for support? Are your managers equipped to provide support and information? Are there cultural issues where the group behaviours encourage unhealthy work practices – for example, most people work late, so people don't feel like it's appropriate to go home on time? Are people comfortable to talk about problems and resolve them in a low-stress way?

Managers play a vital part in setting the tone for the team. It's important that you model healthy work behaviours and encourage your team to do the same. If you're doing this but seeing no change in behaviour, you'll need to probe further to understand the root cause.

Individual wellbeing

You may identify that there are individuals in your team who are struggling with wellbeing issues – perhaps they're frequently unwell, struggling with their tasks or seem stressed.

Remember, your employees work and personal lives are interconnected, so the 'symptoms' of a wellbeing issue may not simply be related to work. Personal, health and family issues can all have an impact on an individual's satisfaction at work, and you may not be aware of private issues that affect your employees.

Even if it's a personal problem, if it's affecting their engagement in the workplace you should try to understand the situation and determine what support your employee needs. Do they need some additional time off, or to adjust their workhours?

Can you offer them access to counselling or an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)? Many organisations make EAP available for non-work-related issues too, as it helps employees to reduce the stress that is affecting their work.

Remember, your goal is to help your employees feel more satisfied with their working life, so take a positive and proactive approach in all you do.

How to improve wellbeing

Your people are unique, so you need to understand what matters to them. Strategies that work in one team may not be as effective in another – demographics, work roles and industry all have an impact. Find out what matters to your people, and what motivates them.

Many organisations have different approaches to wellbeing. Here are some common ideas that you might like to consider. Understanding your people will help you choose what will work to motivate and engage them.

  • Health and wellness programmes
  • Mental health awareness programmes
  • Salary continuance insurance
  • Health insurance
  • Flexible working options
  • Team activities
  • Training and development
  • Mentor programmes
  • Recognition and celebrating success
  • Salary sacrifice
  • Clear role expectations

Your chosen strategies should be aligned to the goals of your business too because they are a powerful message to employees about what matters most to your organisation.