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Leadership Development

The Critical Role of Managers in Employee Well-being

By ROHEI
28 April 2021

In a Nutshell

  • Much of what employers are providing for employee well-being do not adequately address employees’ needs. 
  • Among the different levels of leadership in the organisation, it is the manager who has a key influence on the employee experience, and thus, on employee well-being. 
  • Relationally competent managers are what organisations need to support an employee’s well being.

 

If leaders have learned anything in 2020, it is that employee wellbeing is an essential factor in business survival. If your people aren't healthy — physically and mentally — you won't succeed. - GALLUP

 

In Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends report, 80% of survey respondents “identified well-being as an important or very important priority for their organization’s success.” 

In our experience, looking after people and their well-being has never failed to bear good fruit. Every organisation has a responsibility to care for its people. Every leader has a role to shepherd their staff and support their well-being.

In this “evolving normal,” what can leaders and organisations do to address employee wellbeing? As we’ll see later, companies are putting in some effort and investment in this area, but it appears to be falling short.  

Read on to find out what is the most effective solution for employee well-being, to help staff thrive amidst the ever-shifting realities in today’s workplace.  

 

Urgent Attention Is Needed for Employee Well-being

Defined as “the condition of an individual or group characterised by health, happiness, and prosperity,” the issue of well-being at the workplace is of growing importance. Deloitte says that well-being had “already been emerging as one of the top 10 global human capital trends over the last few years.” It was not the pandemic that brought it to centre stage.

The pandemic, however, unlocked more challenges in employee well-being. According to Gallup's recent report, Employee Burnout: Causes and Cures, “76% of employees experience burnout on the job at least sometimes and 28% say they are burned out ‘very often’ or ‘always’ at work.”

Well-being Infographic

 

Companies Have Stepped Up But Something’s Missing

Deloitte’s 2018 Global Human Capital Trends report, The Rise of the Social Enterprise, highlighted that “while well-being was being seen as a corporate responsibility and a strategy to drive employee productivity, engagement, and retention, there was a noticeable gap between what employees valued and what companies were delivering around well-being.”

Many companies have made major shifts to address employee well-being. These include flexible work arrangements, improving the quality of the work environment, and providing amenities such as fitness rooms and daycare facilities. So it’s no surprise that “71% employers believe they support employee mental health well or very well.” However, McKinsey’s recent Behavior Health Employer Survey found that “only 27% of employees rate offerings as good or very good.”

Misalignment between company efforts and employee needs is a pressing issue. Lack of mental health support is one of these areas in which employees feel there has been neglect. “Only 25% of employees believe that their company provides good support for mental health conditions,” reports Aetna International in Business of Health 2020: Tackling Polarised Perceptions in Corporate Health and Wellness.

Misalignment between company efforts and employee needs is a pressing issue. Lack of mental health support is one of these areas in which employees feel there has been neglect.

 

In the Evolving Normal, Employees Need to Be Heard

In aligning well-being efforts with employees’ needs, the solution goes beyond programmes and perks.

Much of what employers are providing, which includes benefits and a helpline, do not adequately address employees’ needs. 

The stigma that exists around mental health has made it difficult for employees to openly talk about issues they may be having. Employers can address it by creating a safe place for employees to seek help, and express their needs. 

 

No one questions an athlete who takes their nutrition seriously. No one questions an athlete who takes their sleep seriously. No one questions an athlete who treats their mental fitness seriously. Because they know that it keeps them in peak performance. 

In the context of work, they think of themselves with a hero or warrior mindset. - ‘I need to take up more, I need to take up more’ and the notion of investing in your own well-being is put to the side. - MCKINSEY

 

Who is Responsible for Employee Well-being?

Individual workers must look after their own well-being, but supporting their well-being is a shared responsibility across the organisation. 

Among the different levels of leadership in the organisation, it is the manager who has a key influence on the employee experience, and thus, on employee well-being. 

7 Gallup Workplace Insights: What We Learned in 2020 suggests that “employee wellbeing and engagement are highly reciprocal (influencing each other) and additive (boosting each other).”

The influence of a manager in employee engagement and well-being is hard to contest. In Why Great Managers Are So Rare, Gallup reported that “Managers account for up to 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores.”

“Managers play a central role in employees' professional and overall lives,” Gallup says.

Managers interact closely and frequently with staff and are in a position to make a positive impact on staff well-being.

 

How People Managers Can Transform Employee Well-being

 

Even in the most uncertain of times, the role of a manager remains the same: to support your team members. That includes supporting their mental health. — HBR

 

Managers will need to re-frame the way they see their role. As the new normal evolves, the role of a leader is evolving as well. 

Here are some ways leaders can evolve in a way that supports and transforms staff well-being.

 

1. Overcome the fear of asking 

Many managers are afraid to ask staff how they are doing. They think that, “if you share a problem with me, I really want to help you. However, how do I solve all these personal issues? I dare not ask the question in case it is something that I cannot handle.” 

What leaders are really afraid of is not being able to help employees with what they are going through.

“60% of people are reporting higher levels of anxiety today compared to pre-COVID. I think many managers fear to go into this area [of deep connection] because a lot of us are such problem-solvers at heart, and it comes from a good place,” says our consultant Wen-Wei Chiang says. “If you share a problem with me, I really want to help you. However, how do I solve all these personal issues?”

When staff open up to leaders about what they are facing, they are aware that their leaders can’t solve all their problems. Being listened to makes them feel valued and heard. It also helps leaders understand what matters, and what doesn’t matter as much, to the staff when it comes to well-being.

Learn more about building strong bonds with your team.

Young business woman talking to her collegue and smiling 

 

2. Develop coach-like leadership

People managers must be coach-like leaders to successfully lead and manage teams.

However, in The Manager’s Role in Employee Well-being, Gallup says that "[M]anagers often feel uncomfortable and overwhelmed at the notion of promoting employee well-being — unsure of best practices and resistant to being a ‘life coach.’”

It may be intimidating and completely new territory for managers, but in this evolving normal, a coach-like leader is what staff need very much, for their growth and well-being. This is something managers can be trained in, as they grow into this role. 

Coach-like leadership is a radical shift from leadership that simply shows the way and tells people what to do. The leader moves from being above a person to walking alongside. Listening and understanding, he is then able to respond meaningfully and lead effectively. 

When leaders work together with teams in this manner, the issue of well-being gets addressed regularly in different ways. Well-being is not a programme outside of work. With coach-like leadership, it is integrated and embedded in the way you work.

Read more about The Power of Coach-Like Leadership.

 

Coach-like leadership is a radical shift from leadership that simply shows the way and tells people what to do. The leader moves from being above a person to walking alongside. Listening and understanding, he is then able to respond meaningfully and lead effectively. 

 

3. Build relational competencies

Relational competencies are more than just social skills. While sociability is a foundational element in building relational competencies, and Relational Leadership, in particular, leaders today need competencies like conflict resolution and trust restoration. 

Building these competencies gives you the confidence to delve deeper into issues and though you can’t always solve every issue, being there for your employees strengthens their support system, giving them a better sense of well-being despite day-to-day problems and issues.

Find out how to lead with relational competencies.

Relational Leadership Pyramid

 

Relational Leaders and Managers Enable Organisations to Support Staff Well-being in a Meaningful Way

Relationally competent managers are what organisations need to support an employee’s well being. 

Becoming a relational leader requires an investment in time, as well as a shift in the mindset and even a heartset shift in managers. When you value the person and not just the worker, you can transform the employee experience and impact their lives not just as staff but as people.

How well is your team doing? Find out here.

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