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Influencing Employees

This article accompanies Bending the Trend

Saturday, October 16, 2010
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This excerpt from WellBeing: The Five Essential Elements, by Tom Rath and Jim Harter, addresses the role of managers and leaders in increasing employee well-being.

Increasing Wellbeing in Organizations: The Role of Managers and Leaders

If you lead or manage people, your actions have a direct impact on the wellbeing of others. When leaders embrace the opportunity to improve employees' wellbeing, they create more engaging places to work and greater returns for the organization. And they even help strengthen their employees' families. But when leaders opt to ignore employees' wellbeing -- dismissing it as something that's "none of their business" -- they erode the confidence of those who follow them and limit their organization's ability to grow.

Over the past decade, Gallup has worked with hundreds of organizations to help their managers create engagement and boost the wellbeing of their employees. One of the best questions we have asked more than 15 million workers is whether their supervisor (or someone at work) seems to care about them as a person. Implicit in this question is the notion that an employee's manager or supervisor cares about him as a whole person, not merely as an employee or as a means to an end. This question serves as a barometer of whether an employee feels as if his manager truly cares about his wellbeing.

What we've discovered is that the world's best managers see the growth of each employee as an end in itself, instead of as a means to an end. They realize that each worker's wellbeing, and in many cases the wellbeing of his or her entire family, is largely dependent on their ability to lead and manage. Ritz-Carlton President Simon Cooper told us how he sees the greater purpose of his organization as serving not only its 38,000 employees around the world, but also their families. This type of progressive thinking is not uncommon among the best leaders we interviewed, as they often consider the broader influence they have on their followers and the networks that surround them.

Mervyn Davies, the former chairman of Standard Chartered Bank, described how he helped more than 70,000 bank employees (across 70 countries) know that the organization cared about their personal lives. Davies did so by being open about his own challenges as his wife battled breast cancer, while at the same time helping employees realize that the bank was just as concerned about their emotional and physical health. During his tenure, Davies initiated several programs aimed at boosting employees' overall wellbeing, and he always encouraged his direct reports to put family first. He knew there was no way employees could truly love their organization if it didn't have a heart.

When managers and leaders invest in employees' wellbeing, they are likely to influence organizational growth in the process. When we asked employees the question about whether their manager cares about them as a person, we found that people who agree with this statement:

* are more likely to be top performers

* produce higher quality work

* are less likely to be sick

* are less likely to change jobs

* are less likely to get injured on the job

This all adds up to a more efficient and higher performing organization. Through large-scale studies across more than 150 workplaces, we have found that what's best for the employee isn't at odds with what's best for the organization. No doubt some leaders will continue to ignore employees' wellbeing as if it is beyond the scope of their jobs, but they do so at their peril. The research we conducted suggests that employees with low engagement and low wellbeing will quickly drag the group's performance down.

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In sharp contrast, the most progressive leaders not only understand that they are in the business of boosting their employees' wellbeing, but they also use this knowledge as a competitive advantage to recruit and retain employees. They know it will be easier to attract top talent if they can show a prospective employee how working for the organization will translate into better relationships, more financial security, improved physical health, and more involvement in the community.

Leaders can't just tell employees that they care about their wellbeing. They have to take action if they want to see results. And this requires continual measurement and follow-up to help workers manage their wellbeing over time. Just as the most successful organizations have worked systemically to optimize their levels of employee engagement, they are now turning their attention to employee wellbeing as a way to gain an emotional, financial, and competitive advantage.

Excerpted from WELLBEING: The Five Essential Elements, by Tom Rath and Jim Harter, Gallup Press, Hardcover, May 2010, www.wbfinder.com

For more information on the direct and indirect costs associated with low wellbeing in organizations, e-mail us at wellbeing@gallup.com for a comprehensive paper on the economics of wellbeing in organizations.

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