When it comes to employee well-being, research from Gallup shows that career well-being— liking what you do day to day — is the greatest contributor to a person’s overall well-being. People who like what they do enjoy higher levels of physical and mental health, feel a greater sense of loyalty to the organization and achieve higher levels of success at work. Given that human beings spend a large sum of their waking lives at work, it makes perfect sense.
However, it’s not just the actual job or the work environment that has the heaviest impact on employee’s well-being. Frontline managers and supervisors have more influence on employee satisfaction than the job responsibilities or any other characteristic of the individual employee.
A common phrase highlights that fact: People don’t leave their jobs; they leave their bosses. Individuals frequently cite a “bad” boss as a reason they left a job. The most common complaints about bad bosses include micromanaging, not giving clear direction or feedback, not following through and not encouraging professional development. These traits can be called “gatekeepers of well-being.” Without realizing it, these traits put up barriers, which keep people stuck, hinder creativity and interest and negatively impact the employee’s happiness and well-being at work.
Bosses have significant influence over and responsibility for cultivating conditions for employees to thrive at work. By choosing to be multipliers of well-being, they can enable their teams to experience high levels of satisfaction and engagement, bringing the best of themselves to life and work every day. Being a multiplier of well-being requires bosses to apply and live by five key behaviors.
Take action to maintain and enhance their own well-being.
Leader behavior has been shown to directly influence the behavior of followers. When employees see their boss taking action to maintain or enhance their own well-being, it communicates that self-care is important. Taking a short walk in the afternoon, scheduling walking meetings, leaving the desk for lunch, providing healthy foods at staff meetings, using leave time for a family event, participating in employer-sponsored well-being programs and events and keeping work to within work hours are all ways that bosses communicate that well-being is important and encouraged.
Promote a culture of psychological safety.
Psychological safety, as defined by Dr. Amy Edmondson, professor of leadership and management at the Harvard Business School, is “the belief that you won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.” At the heart of psychological safety is a sense of trust and belonging. Facilitating that trust and belonging starts with the leader. The leader must be willing to be vulnerable; to admit when they make a mistake or don’t know something. They must take risks and encourage others to do the same. They must celebrate wins but also encourage learning from mistakes.
Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, demonstrates this idea of encouraging learning from mistakes by suggesting that when students make a mistake, they throw up their hands and exclaim, “how fascinating!” Zander suggests that this way of approaching mistakes leads to the exploration of possibility and new ideas and promotes creativity and learning.
Apply self-determination theory.
Research from the American Psychological Association states that human beings have three basic psychological needs: autonomy, competence and relatedness. Each of these are vital components for well-being, motivation, job satisfaction, commitment and performance. To support autonomy, competence and relatedness, managers and supervisors should encourage creative thinking, innovation and clearly outline goals. They should also let employees have a say in how to achieve their goals, encourage learning and professional development, provide regular feedback, tie praise back to the values of the organization, get to know employees on a more personal level and provide opportunities for team building.
Show care and concern.
Leadership is fundamentally about relationships— and strong relationships are built on care and concern. Bosses who are multipliers of well-being take the time to really get to know their employees. They allocate time for one-on-one conversations to talk about work but also to ask about family, hobbies or a recent vacation. Effective bosses coach based on the employee’s strengths and look for ways to support the employee to craft the job to better meet their needs and interests. They personalize recognition and make sure employees are rewarded and acknowledged in ways that are meaningful to them.
Apply the principles of servant leadership.
Bosses who subscribe to this theory of leadership spend their time investing in people instead of trying to get more out of people. They continuously look for opportunities to bring out the best in their team. They look at leadership as a partnership instead of in an authoritarian position. They ask for input and feedback. They see themselves as serving the employee instead of the other way around. Tony Schwartz, president and CEO of The Energy Project, states that leaders act as “chief energy officers,” and understand that “the most fundamental job of a leader is to recruit, mobilize, inspire, focus, direct and regularly refuel the energy of those they lead.”
Every manager and supervisor can contribute to or detract from a culture of well-being by acting as either gatekeepers or multipliers of well-being. Leaders should continue improving their leadership skills by discovering opportunities that emphasize the principles of well-being, such as through ongoing education and leadership courses.
Employee well-being isn’t just good for employees, it is critical to the success of the organization. Employees who are thriving wake up excited about what their day holds; they embrace a growth mindset and seek out creative solutions to problems; they uphold their boundaries and can prioritize effectively. They have a positive attitude and are the employees who elevate teams and organizations from ordinary to extraordinary.