4 Proven Ways to Engage Managers in Wellbeing

Workplace wellness has been around for decades, but most organizations, with few exceptions, struggle with low rates of engagement. Studies such as ones conducted by SHRM and the Rand Corp. show that while 85% of U.S. organizations offer wellness, over 80% of eligible employees are opting out.

Simply put, the current model of health promotion, one that overly relies on incentives to increase rates of engagement, is inadequate. While incentives may be useful in driving one-time, simple tasks, they have been shown to have little impact on long-term behavior change and sustainable engagement with wellbeing. Clearly, we need to evolve the current methods used to engage.

A largely untapped potential for increasing rates of engagement may well lie in activating managers. They are the ones who are best positioned to act as “multipliers,” or catalysts, to move a population toward enhanced health and wellbeing, according to a growing body of research. Gallup research shows that the manager alone likely accounts for up to 70% of the variance of their team members engagement with wellbeing. Our own research, published in the 2017 HERO Forum Proceedings, indicates that managers, when engaged in their own wellbeing, can create a positive multiplier effect for their team members.

To take advantage of this growing trend, here are the top four ways you can activate managers in your organization to become these multipliers—so that you can finally begin to tackle the looming engagement crisis. (If you’d like to learn about on strategies and practices, be sure to join me for a webinar I’ll be presenting titled “The Multiplier Effect: How to Jumpstart Your Wellness Efforts by Activating Managers” on Tuesday, May 14 at 3:00 p.m.)

First, you’ll need to make the case for wellbeing in language that resonates for managers. Most won’t be moved by risk reduction or health improvement, but they just might be inspired by a case for better performance, more energy or building a winning team.

Second, help managers to see wellbeing in a broader sense. Wellbeing is not just about exercising more, eating better, or hydrating more (although, all of these are important!). It’s also about things like connecting with one’s community, feeling a sense of psychological safety at work, having a strong sense of purpose or feeling appreciated for who one is, not just for what one does.

Third, you’ll need to help managers understand why they are the ones who are uniquely positioned to either persuade or dissuade better wellbeing at work. Senior leaders are important for setting the tone with policies that support wellbeing like flextime. But these policies are only useful to an employee when they are supported by their direct supervisor. In other words, every manager—whether he or she realizes it or not—is the one who effectively gives permission to their team members to engage with wellbeing.

Finally, give managers doable and actionable ways that they can make a difference. The reality is that every manager has a lot on their plate, so the last thing they’ll want is to feel like they’ve got another complex project to tackle. Therefore, you need to make the ask simple. Here are three ones you can try:

  • Do (lead by example);
  • Speak (talk about wellbeing to your team members); and
  • Create (devise simple team-based rituals that help to enhance quality of life for your team members).

While frustrating, the engagement crisis is a reminder that we need to continue to iterate how we are delivering wellbeing in the workplace. Activating managers and giving them the tools to bring wellbeing to their team members in small, but consistent ways just might be what will make the difference.

Laura Putnam
Laura Putnam is founder and CEO of Motion Infusion and author of Workplace Wellness That Works.