Boosting Performance by Promoting Well-Being
The work rules we learned early in our career no longer apply. The last three years have drastically changed what we do and how we do it, as well as the expectations between employees and employers. As an example, Dr. Tom Van Gilder, chief health officer at the virtual coaching company BetterUp, noted in a From Day One webinar that the rate of skills retirement–the time it takes for a skill to become irrelevant or no longer applicable–has declined from about 5 years 15 years ago to just 18 months. “Everything seems to be always in flux,” he said. Change can be good, but this constant state of change is increasing stress. Indeed, a 2021 Harvard Business Review study found that 85% of respondents felt that their well-being had declined in the past two years. The study also reflected a 25% increase in anxiety and depression. Why does that matter? Because employee well-being has a direct impact on performance – of individuals, of employee populations, and of organizations themselves. “There is a relationship between well-being and performance,” Gilder said, but take heart. “Well-being can be measured, and well-being can be improved over time.”BetterUp data, based on about 2 million coaching sessions with people around the world, suggests that, when it comes to well-being, about 5% feel strong, 35% feel steady, and 55% feel strained or unsteady. The last 5% feel stuck. Unlike the people at the very bottom of the scale, most people who languish in the strained or unsteady category won’t likely show up in mental health claims, Gilder explains. They don’t see themselves as having something treatable. “But they're not at their best, they don't feel their best, they don't perform their best.”There are a variety of resources for measuring well-being, including: • The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health • The HERO Scorecard, developed with Mercer • PositivePsychology.com • What Works Center for Wellbeing in the UK While an organization can try to tackle this issue at any time, it’s best to be proactive and not wait until things are unsettled or bad to start a program that measures well-being and looks for methods to improve it, he said. But regardless of when you start, Gilder says that improvements in well-being can drive performance and help create resilience and adaptability in your workforce.Martin Seligman, the originator of positive psychology, conducted a study of more than a million Department of Defense employees that showed happiness was the number one predictor and driver of success. The people who won the most prestigious awards were those with the highest well-being scores at the start of the study – four times as many in the top quartile compared to the bottom one. BetterUp’s own data shows a 16% increase in performance among people whose well-being improved than in those whose did not.What’s the connection? Gilder says resilience and cognitive agility are predictive of well-being and are also drivers of performance. “Resilience allows a person to adapt more smoothly in the face of change or stress, and it provides a buffer to burnout,” he said.Dr. Tom Van Gilder, BetterUp's Chief Health Officer, led the webinar (company photo)On an organizational level, where there are higher indices of resilience in individuals and across the population of the workplace, there is a greater ability to respond to change and to remain competitive. “As things change, the ability to see which way things are going and to react calmly and efficiently and effectively becomes an organizational predictor,” he said. Companies that have higher resilience have over a three and a half times higher annual return on equity, and almost three and a half times higher year-on-year growth, Gilder added. “This component of well-being is good for the individual and the organization as well.”How can you improve it? Coaching works. Even during the pandemic, BetterUp data showed that those who had coaching on well-being ended up with higher markers of productivity than those without coaching. One of their larger clients, Salesforce, has provided a wealth of data to BetterUp. Those accessing services showed a 75% increase in markers associated with flourishing than those who did not. It led to fewer missed workdays, better health, and an increase in the likelihood of delivering a top performance. The people who are really stuck get the most impact from accessing mental health care services. But there is a large percentage of people who don’t access those solutions, either because they're not identified or don’t self-identify as needing something or they are not aware of these options. Make sure that whatever mental health solutions you provide, through your health plan, EAP, or other benefits, that it is communicated to and available across your entire population. If you provide coaching, know that it isn’t therapy, and ensure that whatever coaching providers you use are trained to point to other resources and refer on as needed. EAPs are often underused because people don’t know about them. There also remains a stigma around mental health care. Be sure you are working to tear down those barriers.Don’t forget about financial well-being, too. In these inflationary times, money troubles and concerns can have an impact on overall well-being. Consider whether financial coaching or financial literacy education could help your employees become more resilient. Younger people may be more likely to engage with digital tools. Find out what your people will respond to and offer it. You may need to offer both digital and real-life options, depending on your workforce’s preference. Consider group options, too. This can help with issues of catastrophizing, Gilder said. “If people organize around specific topics, it can help them develop tools to cope with change and help them see positives that come with it. “We can’t change the rate of change, but we can become more comfortable with it.”Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner, BetterUp, for sponsoring this webinar.