Why employee wellbeing and productivity are inherently linked

Megan Thompson · November 25, 2020

Nearly all business leaders look for ways to improve productivity and workplace performance. But targets, KPIs and slicker tech, while important, aren’t necessarily the answer. It is often employee wellbeing that ultimately influences organisational performance. 

Employee wellbeing and productivity are two sides of the same coin. Wellbeing is essential to delivering positive experiences and emotions at work, improving productivity, reducing absences and increasing retention. Realistically, one cannot exist without the other.

What is wellbeing?

“Wellbemployee wellbeingeing can be understood as how people feel and how they function, both on a personal and a social level, and how they evaluate their lives as a whole.” (New Economics Foundation)

Wellbeing is fundamental and a vital need for us to exist safely and happily as humans. However, it is important to understand that how we feel and how we function go hand-in-hand to define our state of wellbeing.

In the workplace, wellbeing is often thought of as Friday beers, gym memberships and ping-pong tables. While these perks are nice, they don’t address our underlying human needs. When push comes to shove, employee retention, productivity and motivation are rarely improved upon with these schemes.

The current state of employee wellbeing

Surviving and Thriving spectrumBefore Covid, most employees’ wellbeing levels were closer to the thriving end of the WeThrive wellbeing spectrum. Besides the odd Monday morning lull in motivation, the majority of people were relatively happy in their roles.

However, the recent ONS survey offers a worrying insight into how Covid-19 has affected employees across the UK. 1 in 8 adults have developed moderate to severe depressive symptoms, and 38% of adults say that lockdown has negatively impacted their wellbeing.

Poor mental health leads to more employees slipping down to the surviving end of the wellbeing spectrum, where cortisol and adrenaline levels begin to have a negative impact. This can both make us feel physically unwell, and emotionally stressed reducing productivity and outputs at work.

Our Covid-19 working landscape survey

We surveyed a range of employees across the UK from CEOs and directors to founders and managers. On a basic, logistical level there were clear misunderstandings about the working landscape. When asked how much of the time they thought people would be working remotely in the future, directors said 82% of the time. By contrast, managers thought remote working would be in place just 69% of the time.

Unsurprisingly the survey revealed an even further divide in employees’ state of wellbeing. Whilst directors felt that 92% of the time they had reacted well to Covid-19 from their employee’s perspective, only 72% of managers agreed.

But what are the real implications of these misunderstandings? When it comes to simple, logistical queries such as how working practices may or may not look in 2021, all employees should be on the same page. However, this clear divide in the data indicates that MDs and managers are doing a poor job of understanding what their current working environment looks like. Therefore, it is clear that MDs and senior leadership are also failing to understand how their people are feeling and coping.

No employer wants this variance in understanding. A lack of awareness regarding wellbeing ultimately pushes employees towards the surviving end of the spectrum. Without an effective support system in place employees’ productivity and motivation will fall, leaving more room for errors and accidents.

How do we close the gap?

productivity and wellbeingThere is currently a real opportunity for organisations to improve their wellbeing strategy and provide employees with a system that really works. For many, this means needing new information and new ways of thinking to catch early signs of poor wellbeing.

Start by framing your wellbeing strategy around easily identifying things that can be changed to move more people up to the thriving end of the wellbeing spectrum. Getting a view of how your people feel is invaluable – especially in a remote work setting. Undertaking regular wellbeing audits at your organisation will help you understand your employees capacity to cope and ultimately be more productive at work.

Unfortunately we can’t make Covid go away. But business leaders can take active steps to control and reduce stress and anxiety levels as best we can.

What does good look like?

  • Collecting regular feedback across the whole employee experience from a people perspective (not just process)
  • Intermittent pulse surveys to ‘temperature check’ how people are coping
  • Pinpoint teams / individuals who are struggling to cope
  • Feeding this back to managers who proactively address issues in 121s and team meetings
  • Providing a safety net – employee assistance program, mental health first aiders

For a full breakdown of our six point plan for a successful wellbeing strategy watch our safeguarding employee wellbeing and improving productivity webinar recording.

About WeThrive

Employee Engagement, Evolved

WeThrive is the agile employee engagement platform that uncovers how your people truly feel, enabling managers to create highly effective teams, increase employee retention and employee wellbeing and deliver better business results.

Try the survey to learn more.