Employee mental health and wellbeing: 3 ways to make a big difference

by Bita Taghavi-Stevens

Employee wellbeing is much more than a buzz phrase.

Impacting everything from attraction and retention to engagement, productivity – and ultimately, your bottom line - if you don’t prioritise wellbeing, your people will be unhappy. And you might not even know until absences increase or they quit.

With the great resignation and 'quiet quitting' causing turmoil across almost every sector, it’s never been more vital to hold on to your talent. And that means improving your health and wellbeing strategy.

Here are 3 things you can incorporate right now that will make a big difference to your employee wellbeing…


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What do we mean by wellbeing?


When we talk about employee mental health and wellbeing, we specifically mean how every aspect of their job (environment, workload, culture, stress levels) impacts their overall health and happiness.

That’s why improving wellbeing isn’t just about obvious external factors like exercise and food.

At the core of wellbeing are elements like a strong sense of purpose, mood, motivation, energy levels, and cognition. Ultimately, wellbeing is about understanding your employees better so that you can help them improve how they feel and function.


Make praise and recognition part of culture


Do you celebrate achievements? Do you acknowledge work milestones? Do you praise the efforts of your employees?

It might seem like a small thing, but you can’t underestimate the positive impact of building praise and recognition into your culture.

A recent study found that 82% of employees feel happier at work when their efforts are recognised — and 70% say it makes them feel more connected to their peers.

How you demonstrate praise and recognition is up to you — and there are plenty of ways to do it, such as:


  • Giving a verbal compliment or praise – make it specific, i.e. a particular achievement or hard work in a task
  • Sending a handwritten note or card recognising someone’s hard work in their role or on a particular project
  • Setting up a specific celebration chat group on whichever instant messaging platform you use. You can then share achievements and praise on this group, so that employees receive recognition from the whole team.
  • Giving employees cash bonuses or a suitable gift
  • Promoting employees where possible. According to a study by LinkedIn, there’s a 70% probability of someone who’s been promoted still being with your company in three years’ time.
  • Treating failure/ setbacks as an opportunity for learning and growth



Conduct regular employee wellbeing surveys


A fundamental part of improving employee wellbeing is listening to your staff, and the easiest way to get their feedback is with a wellbeing survey.

Before developing a survey, think about what you want to achieve. Are you trying to get a general picture of how your team is doing or are you trying to identify wellbeing problems in particular employees? Do you want it to be quantitative (tracking a number over time) or qualitative (tracking the types of themes and problem areas)? You can focus on one type or use a combination of both.

When you’re developing your survey, make sure you keep it brief, relevant and clear. To get a holistic impression of your employees’ wellbeing, it makes sense to break it down into different areas.

Here are some examples of quantitative questions that can generate useful insights when developing your survey. These are typically answered with a 1-5 (strongly agree to strongly disagree) sliding scale:


Emotional safety

  • I feel safe to speak up at work


Mental space

  • I can sleep at night without worrying about work



  • I have motivating goals to work towards
  • I feel like my life has meaning



  • I feel that I’m in control of how I work
  • I feel like I’m in control of where I’m heading



  • I feel like I can talk to someone at work if I’m struggling with something or not feeling great
  • I feel like I can speak to someone at work if I’m worried about my finances
  • I rarely feel like low mood affects my ability to work


Here are some examples of more open-ended, qualitative questions:


  • List three emotions that you’ve felt this week.
  • What do you enjoy most/least about working here?
  • What changes have you seen since the last survey?


Surveys should be conducted regularly – and you should always communicate what you’ve changed/ implemented as a result of a survey.


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Help your employees find purpose


Meaning and purpose are fundamental to humans – perhaps now more than ever before.

A recent survey by McKinsey found that two thirds of US workers said Covid has caused them to reflect on their purpose in life – and 70% of employees said that their sense of purpose is defined by their work.

If you want to attract and hang on to your talent, they need to feel that their work is meaningful – both to themselves and within the wider world.

Here’s what you can do to help your employees find more purpose and meaning:



Begin with organizational purpose


The only thing you can directly control is your company’s purpose, but this can have a huge influence on your workplace and the individual purpose of your employees. So, what is it? Do you have meaningful goals and purpose? Are you living and breathing it?

McKinsey’s survey found that employees are five times more likely to be excited about where they work if they believe their employer cares about the impact they have on the world – and it is key that they really believe it.

Saying you prioritise Net Zero or ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) commitments is great – as long as you follow through. If you don’t, you’ll do more harm than good; employees will disengage and find it hard to trust or find purpose at work.


Connect the dots


On the flip side, if you can engage your staff in your organizational purpose, they’re likely to feel more invested – and find greater meaning – in their work. It’s important that your employees see how their role impacts the company as a whole, and how it aligns with the company’s purpose. This is key to them feeling that their role is meaningful and purposeful.

How can you show employees the good that they are contributing? How can you get them involved in the community initiatives or charities you're involved with? How can you engage them in your ESG strategies?


Focus on compassionate leadership


Purpose and wellbeing are inextricably intertwined. That means if you want to help employees find a stronger sense of purpose, their mental health and wellbeing needs to be nurtured. This can only happen if you have compassionate leaders who are flexible, transparent, and empathetic.

Take a close look at your managers and leaders. Do they lead with compassion? Do they pick up on potential problems within their team? Do they listen empathetically to the concerns of employees? If not, you need to work on this – as the saying goes: ‘people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers’.


Improving the mental health and wellbeing of your employees ultimately comes down to understanding them, holistically. When you know who your employees are, what they need, and what motivates them, you stand a better chance of creating the kind of work environment and support that will make them more fulfilled, productive – and likely to stick around.


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