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How to talk about well-being with your team

April 8, 2021 - 17 min read

two women talking about well-being

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Start the conversation

Take steps to foster psychological safety

Talk about how you prioritize your own well-being

Discuss the resources available to employees

Regularly speak with team members one-on-one

Talking about workplace well-being helps the entire company

Research shows that manager support is the most effective way to inspire well-being improvement in the workplace. Workers who feel their employers prioritize workplace well-being are more engaged, more likely to stay, and more likely to recommend the company to others.

Talking about well-being normalizes mental health and ensures workers are aware of tools they can use to improve their overall well-being. However, talking about well-being can be difficult for both workers and team leaders.

Managers need to have regular conversations about workplace well-being with their teams, and set an example by visibly attending to their own well-being, so both employees and the company can develop the mindset and practices to thrive.


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Start the conversation

Whether workplace well-being has been a focus at your company or the initiative is new, communicate to your entire team that you — and the organization as a whole — are prioritizing it.

Begin the conversation in a team meeting and define the concept of well-being. Explain that it's not just physical fitness or mental health but a holistic approach to maintaining overall health, happiness, and satisfaction in life.

It’s also important to explain that mental well-being isn’t the same as mental health. Mental well-being isn’t clinical and doesn’t involve a diagnosis. It encompasses our thoughts and feelings and affects our personal potential and how we cope with challenges. It can vary across time, and it underpins our ability to perform at our best.

The truth is that most of the workforce isn’t feeling or performing at their best. In fact, 90% of employees aren’t mentally ill, but they’re also not mentally strong. And 55% are classified as “languishing” and suffer more from daily stressors, according to BetterUp research.

The pandemic has worsened the situation, with more workers reporting that they suffer from stress, exhaustion, anxiety, burnout, and depression, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And only 47% of workers say their manager is focused on their well-being.

The good news is that well-being is within our power to control, or at least improve. Everyone needs to attend to their own mental well-being in the same way that we might attend to our physical fitness without waiting to become ill.

Once you’ve established what workplace well-being is, communicate to employees that they can come to you for help at any time. Explain that you’ll be speaking with each team member individually during your regular one-on-one meetings. Also acknowledge that people have various levels of comfort when it comes to discussing their own well-being and that they don’t have to discuss their health or mental fitness if they don't want to.

Turn the conversation over to your team then and ask if they have questions, feedback, or any ideas on how the organization can prioritize workplace well-being. Be prepared to listen. Employees often have insight into the ways team work habits, manager expectations, or organizational policies get in the way of individual well-being.

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Take steps to foster psychological safety

Psychologically safe team members feel comfortable sharing ideas, expressing concerns, and asking questions without fear of negative repercussions. Take steps to foster psychological safety among team members, so they’re more receptive to discussing workplace well-being.

  • Practice active listening. Be fully present when someone speaks, use nonverbal cues to indicate that you’re listening, reflect on what you’ve heard, and summarize it.
  • Ask open-ended questions. Prompt discussions among team members by posing questions that require thoughtful answers and can lead to more questions.
  • Recognize participation. When an employee shows vulnerability by asking a question or sharing an idea, express gratitude, empathy, and appreciation for their insight.
  • Acknowledge issues and their impact. When problems or concerns arise, validate them and discuss possible impacts, as well as solutions.

These small actions will go a long way toward making people feel heard and valued, and they’ll encourage more employees to participate in workplace well-being discussions. Be prepared to follow-up on obstacles they identify. Follow-through is an important part of authenticity that will reinforce the psychological safety and positive feeling of being cared about that you hope to create.

Talk about how you prioritize your own well-being

Some employees may be especially resistant to discussing well-being because of the stigma around mental health. But studies show that workers want managers to talk about mental health even though 60% of employees say they haven’t spoken to anyone at their job about it before.

Encourage employees to open up by discussing your own struggles with mental well-being and the steps you take to address them and build mental fitness. This vulnerability goes a long way in helping your team feel more psychologically safe and comfortable discussing workplace well-being. It’ll also encourage them to follow in your footsteps and focus on their own personal well-being.

Be thoughtful about what you choose to share — as Brene Brown says, vulnerability doesn’t mean unfiltered personal disclosure. Share in order to build trust and create a space for your team to begin to work on their own mental fitness. Share with an eye toward modeling a way of working through well-being challenges productively.

By sharing your own experience, you’ll lay a strong foundation for future well-being discussions. You can also lead by example through your actions. Demonstrate how you focus on well-being by using available tools and resources, taking mental health days, participating in well-being programs, and integrating well-being activities throughout your day, whether that means taking a walking meeting or blocking time to meet with a coach or counselor.

Discuss the resources available to employees

Companies may offer a variety of well-being tools, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that workers are aware of them or understand how to access them. In fact, nearly 46% of employees say their companies haven’t shared what mental health resources are available.

Review your company’s offerings with employees — including health and mental health benefits, access to sleep experts and nutritionists, coaching opportunities, financial counseling, and education and training. Workers who say their company has shared these resources are 61% more likely to believe that their company prioritizes their well-being.

Be clear that these tools are available but not mandatory, and acknowledge that not everyone needs the same kind of help and that there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.

BetterUp Care™ is an ideal tool for teams because it’s designed to meet individuals where they are, help them identify areas for improvement, and grow with them as they progress. It begins with an assessment, which looks at key mental-health indicators, and it matches users with the resources they want and need, including licensed therapists, personal coaches, and sleep specialists.

Regularly speak with team members one-on-one

Demonstrate that employee well-being is a priority by providing opportunities for workers to share their ideas, questions, and concerns with you privately.

One way to do this is by incorporating well-being into existing processes and making it part of your one-on-one check-ins. This provides a safe space for team members to be vulnerable and establishes regular opportunities for you to collect individual feedback.

You can broach the subject of an employee’s personal well-being by simply asking how they’re doing. Almost 40% of employees worldwide say that no one at their company has asked if they’re doing okay, and of these people, 38% are more likely to say that their mental health has declined during the pandemic.

Those who don’t feel like their managers support them are 48% more likely to say that anxiety about their job is a major reason they struggle with their mental health.

Simply asking your team members how they’re feeling or how they’ve been coping with stress can help employees feel valued and cared for. And most workers want their employer to ask. Nearly 58% of employees say they’re comfortable with their manager asking about their mental health, and 41% want their managers to inquire about it.

It almost goes without saying, but if you ask, you must stay present and listen to the answer. Our human nature is to not want to see others suffering, but that can lead a manger to try to soothe or minimize what is being said. It might be a little uncomfortable. By just staying quiet and listening, you provide a service.

You can also bring up the subject of workplace well-being during these one-on-one meetings by saying that an employee hasn’t seemed like themself lately or by noting a change in their behavior. This communicates that you pay attention to your team and opens the door for a well-being discussion.

Talking about workplace well-being helps the entire company

These conversations not only help workers thrive, but they also create a culture of well-being, help the organization perform better as a whole, and positively impact the bottom line.

Employees who understand that well-being underpins peak performance and believe their manager is invested in their mental fitness are more likely to take steps to improve their own well-being. This makes them happier, more creative, less prone to burnout, and more engaged at work, according to BetterUp research.

Plus, improving workplace well-being for your team makes you look good, too. BetterUp research has found that mentally fit managers lead teams that are 31% more productive and have direct reports who are nearly 80% less likely to leave voluntarily.

Learn more about how BetterUp can help your team — and the entire organization — improve workplace well-being.

Ready to take your leaders to the next level? Try a demo of BetterUp.



Published April 8, 2021

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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