As a former Gallup consultant, I’ve always had a deep respect for asking questions the right way and measuring the right things. Measuring the wrong things, asking too many questions or asking the wrong questions can make us highly distracted and increase our workload trying to solve problems that don’t necessarily make a big enough impact on the lives of employees or the bottom line.

So with hundreds of surveys, assessments and tools out there to choose from, how do you decide what’s truly worth it? What could you ask that will get to the heart of the matter? What can you measure that, when improved, will pretty much guarantee an improvement in hard business metrics, culture and the overall quality of life of your employees?

Yes, the answer is well-being.

Employee well-being is at the root of every major people issue — employee retention, productivity, absenteeism, health care costs and more. You name it, and it all goes back to whether or not employees feel good about work and about their lives overall and there is endless research to prove it.

Well-being is not a soft metric. It is a measurement of empowerment. When measured correctly it enables you to know whether you have the kind of employees who are energized, confident, balanced, focused and resilient — ready to take on life however it comes at them. Empowered employees innovate, think clearly, know who they are, what they want and feel like they are in the driver’s seat of their lives. You want an organization full of employees like that.

But in order to get there, you’ve got to measure well-being the right way. You can’t throw a handful of mental health questions to the end of your already long survey and call it a day. You’ve got to commit to having a well-being scorecard — a tight set of questions that you ask at least once a year —  and continue to ask every year after that. In short, you’ve got to create an employee well-being benchmark that is seen as your primary measurement of success.

What kind of questions should your assessment include? Well sometimes you’re at the mercy of the vendor you choose. But in general, there are a few key categories that you must hit and all questions should be research driven — connected to specific factors that’ve been proven to drive overall well-being and business outcomes.

Key metrics to focus on are:

  1. Engagement: Whether or not an employee is engaged in their work lies at the heart of workplace well-being — and well-being in general. Work is where we spend most of our time and it’s a key part of our identity. So before all else, employees have to feel an emotional connection to what they do. They have to feel excited to go to work every day. If they don’t, it could affect their work performance and longevity with the company.
  2. Individual well-being: This is where it starts to get tricky. You need to know how employees are doing in their lives overall — independent of the workplace. Well-being is subjective, so understanding how employees feel about their quality of life is key. Think of this category as your end result. The questions in this category should address how employees are doing socially, financially, physically, mentally and emotionally.
  3. Cultural barriers and drivers of well-being: This one is crucial and perhaps the one that falls short on most surveys. This category measures the impact that the workplace is having on employees. This is the category that assesses things like the root causes of burnout, elements of toxic culture, manager support and leadership behavior. So the questions in this category should be carefully selected to ensure they are touching on the research-based factors that cause employee well-being to erode or improve.

If you address these core metrics in your assessment, you will be in good shape. However, I encourage you to do a more extensive analysis of the current state of well-being in your organization by conducting a “well-being audit.” A comprehensive audit includes the measurement, employee well-being interviews as well as an audit of any current well-being tools, programs and resources that you currently use. Conducting an audit will give you the full picture of what well-being looks and sounds like within your organization — empowering you to tackle issues head on and identify best practices that already exist, such as “no-meeting” days. And while this process may feel lengthy and tedious, it will set your organization up for long-term success by building a solid foundation — where well-being is woven into the fabric of the culture.

It’s also important to acknowledge the fact that measurement alone can’t move the needle on well-being. And one of the best ways to create enthusiasm around your commitment to well-being is to create learning and development (L&D) programs that teach well-being best practices. Well-being is a complex topic with so many moving parts — and therefore the opportunities to train employees, managers and leaders are endless. I suggest three tracks — one for all employees, another specifically for managers and one for senior leaders.

Each of these tracks has a distinct intention. For employees, the objective is to help them help themselves by arming them with information about how to improve all aspects of their well-being — mentally, emotionally, physically, financially and socially. For managers, the goal is to empower them as people leaders and coaches. Managers are the glue to a well-being strategy. And finally, the senior leaders need to be aligned on the “language of well-being” and must understand how their own commitment to well-being (or not) has a ripple effect throughout the organization. Senior leaders set the cultural tone for the organization and creating more highly conscious leaders through effective development programs can be a game changer.

So take the time to craft a “well-being curriculum” for your entire organization and invite all your employees to embark on a well-being journey together.