Happy employees make a difference. According to a new study by Oxford researchers who analyzed millions of responses from Indeed users, companies with satisfied employees saw higher retention, higher profits, and even higher stock performance. As businesses grapple with a mercurial economy and a tight labour market, those that prioritize work wellbeing will continue to lead.
What does this mean for leaders? We asked six top experts on wellbeing to share their tips — large and small, for companies and individuals — on how to make work a better place.
Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, Director of the Wellbeing Research Centre at the University of Oxford, Co-editor of the World Happiness Report
Understand what employees value the most and focus on that: “When we survey people on what matters, it’s what some would consider the ‘fluffy stuff’ — like inclusion, belonging, having friends at work — that rank the highest.”
Aspire to holistic wellbeing: “When we ask the average American, ‘How satisfied are you with your life these days on a scale of zero to 10?’ the response is 6.9. An average Finn would say 7.8. What we have found is that the Scandinavian countries respond higher to the wellbeing question because they’ve got less insecurity around their jobs and access to health care systems. We can aspire to their numbers.”
Do good for others: “This could sound counterintuitive, but one of the most surprising findings in the World Happiness Report is that in difficult times, you see a rise in volunteering or helping others.”1
Monica Mo, founder and CEO of social impact platform WellSeek
Be a human role model: “Lead with transparency and vulnerability. Own up to the fact that you’re human. That way, other people feel like it’s okay to make mistakes and be human too.”
Empower employees to embrace change: “We want to stay in control of change because it feels destabilizing. But that need holds us back. Surrendering allows us to move through acceptance and look at our best options. As managers and leaders, we need to empower employees to feel like they’re part of the change and not just reacting to it.”
Know that managers matter to mental health: “The biggest indicators of an unhappy employee are low energy and motivation. You see that person has lost passion. Another sign is not connecting with your team. A recent study showed that nearly 70% of people feel like their managers have as much impact on their mental health as their partner.”2
Ian Sanders, author of “365 Ways to Have a Good Day: A Day-By-Day Guide to Living Your Best Life”
Get creative, like a chef: “In the past few years, we have had to deal with uncertainty. As human beings, we can be like, ‘Change means things are out of my control.’ But think like a chef: They’re always taking different ingredients and pulling them together. Be playful and experiment. Reframe how you feel about change.”
Encourage people to leave their desks: “Work can be solitary. It’s so important to have human interactions and to get outside to get that buzz. Make it a point to chat with a coffee barista or someone sitting next to you. Maybe walk around the block or down to the lobby and back. Or just take a break. There was a study that showed judges serving on parole boards were more lenient after taking a break. That says a lot.”3
Check in with yourself and your team: “Check in and ask, ‘How am I feeling right now?’ But be realistic: We’re not going to be 100% happy every day. We’re human, so know that sometimes you’re going to be on fire, and other days you want to hang up a ‘do not disturb’ sign.”
Dr. Gabriella Rosen Kellerman, co-author of “Tomorrowmind: Thriving at Work with Resilience, Creativity, and Connection — Now and in an Uncertain Future”
Lead with optimism — but be pragmatic: “Realistic optimism and imagining positive outcomes helps us stay motivated. We need to let go of always thinking about the worst-case scenario. With realistic optimism, we see a path forward.”
Be an open-minded problem solver: “Cognitive agility is a huge part of thriving through change. It is our ability to move from one idea to the other — or one level of analysis to another — without getting stuck in one place. When things are changing all around us, flexibility broadens our array of possible outcomes. We’re also better positioned to identify opportunities.”
Connect with your team, if only for a minute: “What gets in our way is ‘time famine,’ or this idea that we’re too busy to connect with someone. But we know from studying the interactions of doctors and patients that you can effectively build a connection with someone in as little as a minute. It’s not going to be the be-all and end-all way of building deep relationships at work, but it adds up.”4
Bill Burnett & Dave Evans, Stanford University professors and co-authors of “Designing Your New Work Life”
Practise radical acceptance to boost resilience in turbulent times: “The best power tool for handling disruptions — which we define as times when you say ‘things will never be the same’ — is acceptance and living in reality.”5 — Evans
Look past individual differences and keep the organization’s goal front of mind: “You can’t change your colleagues, but you can change your mindset about them. Like, maybe Fred’s a little weird and doesn’t talk to anyone. And Debbie talks to everyone all the time. Just accept them and go with the notion that you’re all trying to get the job done.” — Burnett
Remember that at the end of the day, a good attitude is most important: “We’re all deeply social animals. When I’m in front of a roomful of CEOs, I tell them that their No. 1 moral obligation is to be a healthy, cheerful person at work — not a jerk.” — Evans
1. Altruistic behaviours like helping strangers, donating money, giving blood, and volunteering are positively correlated with an increased wellbeing of the individual helper, according to the 2023 World Happiness Report.
2. 22% of people surveyed said managers are partially responsible for their direct report’s happiness at work, according to Indeed’s 2022 Work Wellbeing Insights Report.
3. “As Aristotle said, Man is a social animal. A clear finding of wellbeing research is the massive role of social connections in promoting wellbeing — and the corresponding power of loneliness to reduce it.” — 2023 World Happiness Report
4. Indeed’s Work Wellbeing Score is based upon 11 wellbeing drivers, including “being well-managed.”
5. “Resilience has been shown to positively influence work satisfaction and engagement, as well as overall wellbeing.” — Harvard Business Review