Making Employee Well-Being a Priority for Organizational Success

While there is no single definition of well-being, the CDC describes this term as judging life positively and feeling fulfilled, happy and healthy. And well-being is about health and happiness inside—as well as outside—the workplace.

After all, if the average American with a full-time job spends 8 hours and 8 minutes a day working or traveling to work, an individual’s professional life must affect his or her well-being.

So what does this mean for employers? Simply put, happy employees translate into improved business outcomes and a competitive advantage for companies.

In fact, research by Gallup on the economic impact of well-being found that thriving employees have 41% lower health costs, when compared to employees who are struggling. The research also studied turnover, which found 35% lower turnover costs in happy employees, when compared to employees who were unhappy.

Studies also show that happier employees are more productive in the workplace. Productivity increases by an average of 12% and reaches as high as 20%. But how can organizations make well-being a priority?


Begin with a Reality Check

According to Mercer, creating employee well-being is not a simple endeavor. It’s about each individual’s investment in health and well-being, culminating in choices they make each and every day.

Mercer suggests taking a hard look at your organization and answering the following questions about the barriers to well-being:

  1. Does the work environment look like it was designed to make people feel comfortable and happy—a place they would go to by choice?
  2. Do leaders model healthy behaviors? Do they take vacations, participate in community activities and socialize with coworkers?
  3. Are there resources to help employees who are struggling financially?
  4. Do your employees have a reason to get up and move throughout the day?
  5. Do employees understand why the work they do is important? And why they—as individuals—are important to your organization?
  6. When problems arise outside of work—a sick family member or a relationship crisis—do employees feel supported at work?

If the answers to these questions are no, Mercer suggests your organization has work to do. And this work is well worth the effort because making employee well-being a priority will have a positive return on an organization’s performance, innovation, customer service and quality.


Develop a Strong Well-Being Strategy

The first step in creating a well-being strategy is understanding what drives well-being within an organization.

Recent research from Great Place to Work®, a global consultancy on building, sustaining, and recognizing high-performing workplace cultures, found four main drivers of well-being: aligned values and ethical behavior, teamwork, work environment and processes, and recognition.


  1. Aligned values and ethical behavior: Values and their related behaviors shape the culture of an organization. An employee’s sense of belonging, job satisfaction and personal well-being are impacted by a poor cultural fit or weak values.
  2. Teamwork: Teamwork promotes collaboration and cooperation, which improves productivity and innovation, breaks down silos, increases employees’ sense of worth and produces strong bonds between co-workers.
  3. Work environment and processes: When employees have the right tools, support systems and processes in place, they can do their jobs. Additionally, this removes or reduces the everyday irritations and barriers they face, which can lead to frustration, stress and feelings of being undervalued or unappreciated.
  4. Recognition: Feeling valued is vital—and many employees complain about a lack of recognition from their managers. This includes not saying thank you for a job well done or managers not taking an interest in employees as individuals.


Putting Theory & Research into Practice

It is clear that a meaningful well-being strategy makes sense, and many companies are already realizing the benefits of happy and health employees.

For example, Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For names Quicken Loans as number 10 on its 2017 list. The mortgage lending company includes teamwork as part of its “secret sauce” that makes the company such a great place to work: “There is no they. We are the they. One team. United. All in the mission together. No corporate barriers. No boundaries. Just open doors, open minds and an open culture rooted in trust.”

And recognition is a top priority at Intel Corporation. The technology company strongly believes in the importance of meaningful employee recognition. Its robust recognition program offers numerous recognition and achievement awards, as well as personalized recognition experiences as a form of a department thank you—combined with the opportunity for employees to enjoy time outside of the office with senior leaders.

To help employees improve their focus and productivity at work, make better decisions and reduce stress levels, Aetna has created a culture that encourages workers to get more sleep. If employees can prove they get 20 nights of sleep for seven hours or more in a row, Aetna pays individuals $25 a night, up $500 a year. The company uses various methods to help employees track their sleep, including the use of Fitbit fitness trackers.

In addition to Aetna’s sleep program, CEO Mark Bertolini offers free yoga sessions to the company’s 50,000 employees, a practice he personally follows to reduce stress. Aetna employees also can take advantage of the company’s all-inclusive wellness center, which features on-site doctors and massage therapists.

Training is another way to improve the well-being and confidence of employees. Employees who receive training are better able to perform in their jobs. This builds employee confidence by providing a stronger understanding of job responsibilities, as well as the industry. And this confidence typically inspires employees to work harder and perform better. In addition, an organization’s investment in employee training shows employees they are valued and supported. Employees who feel appreciated and challenged via training opportunities tend to feel happier in their jobs.

Employing individuals who judge their lives positively and feel fulfilled, happy and healthy makes good business sense. In fact, since incentivizing employees to get more sleep, Aetna has seen many improvements in the company. Worker productivity has increased by 69 minutes per month, company stock has risen and revenues have jumped more than 75%.

“If we can make business fundamentals better by investing in our people, then that’s going to show up in our revenue,” explains Bertolini. “You can get things done quicker if people are present and prepared.”

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