Cultivating Well-Being Intelligence: Strategies for Leaders, Employees, and Organizations

Jun 6, 2024 | Employee Engagement, Performance Management

Employee well-being directly affects organizational wellness. When employees have a high level of wellness, retention rates increase. In fact, thriving employees are 32% less likely to look for a new job.  They feel engaged in their work and inspired to reach toward higher goals, so productivity rises in turn. And when considering whether to accept a new job, 62% of employees say they look at whether it will offer greater work-life balance and well-being, says Gallup.

However, just 21% of employees believe their workplace cares about their well-being, Gallup adds. To address this issue and promote holistic wellness, organizations should work to cultivate well-being intelligence among leaders, managers, and employees. When individuals improve their holistic health, everyone benefits. 

With the rise in mental health issues among employees, organizations must take steps to more fully address well-being. Increased mental health issues are contributing to a higher use of sick days and can also impact engagement and productivity, research has found. 

“As workplace challenges increase, well-being intelligence is becoming an essential leadership skill,” write Thomas Roulet and Kiran Bhatti in MIT Sloan Management Review. “Effective managers must be able to detect when others are struggling with well-being and know when and how to offer support.”

Table of Contents

1. Prioritizing Individual Well-Being

2. Improving Team Well-being

3. Fostering Systemic Change

4. Case Studies

Prioritizing Individual Well-Being

Employees focusing on their individual well-being
Credit: CoWomen /Pexels

Gallup recognizes five core dimensions of well-being: career, social relationships, finances, physical wellness, and community (one’s home and surrounding area). Because we spend so much time at work, and it affects our finances and identity, it can strongly influence every dimension of life. 

Personal well-being at work (and in the other four dimensions) leads to a higher quality of life. Employees who achieve greater wellness experience lower stress and burnout, and they enjoy their work more. As a result, they’re more likely to fulfill their potential and stay with their company for a long time.

Enhancing workplace wellness begins at the individual level. Share these tips and strategies with all employees and leaders to promote well-being intelligence.


Self-awareness is the cornerstone of employee well-being intelligence. It allows people to name the emotions they’re experiencing, acknowledging stress, anxiety, and other challenges to their holistic health, then determine their root causes.

Share these techniques for reflection on mental health and well-being with all employees:

  • Engage in self-observation, taking note of your reactions and emotions in different situations. Keep a journal focused on your emotional experience, jotting down notes about what you notice. Look for patterns in how particular situations or activities make you feel, and the types of self-talk you engage in.
  • Work to create more constructive thought patterns, as Eva M. Bracht and coauthors say in an article in Frontiers in Psychology. In other words, reevaluate your existing thought patterns and come up with more positive self-talk.
  • Seek feedback from others to further boost self-awareness. For instance, you could ask, “What types of situations and interactions do I thrive in, and why? Where do I seem to struggle, and why? Do you have any advice on how to overcome these issues?” Peers might share insights that you haven’t been aware of. Feedback can also improve self-confidence by helping you tap into your strengths and address shortcomings, enhancing wellness.

Encourage all employees to engage in regular self-reflection, even if they’re not experiencing severe challenges. “Remember that well-being intelligence requires self-reflection to be an ongoing process, rather than dismissing one’s needs until they grow too severe to ignore,” Roulet and Bhatti emphasize.

Self-Analysis: Finding Solutions

In addition to the internal changes described above, employees may need to work toward external solutions to problems. They can begin by performing self-analysis, exploring potential ways to address their individual needs. For example, this might involve one of these objectives:

  • Transforming their time-management
  • Handling interpersonal challenges more effectively
  • Growing professionally to prepare for a more fulfilling career path
  • Contributing more in team meetings
  • Feeling more confident about their abilities

During the self-analysis process, employees can determine concrete changes to make in their work habits and lifestyle. Then, they can define how to implement them. 

Now, let’s examine how managers can support their direct reports in enhancing their well-being

Improving Team Well-being

HR hosting a workshop about improving team well-being
Credit: fauxels /Pexels

Team dynamics have a pivotal influence on well-being. On a team with a healthy, supportive culture, people will tend to be more motivated, confident, and energized. If team dynamics are poor, people will feel more demoralized, pessimistic, and insecure. 

According to Gallup, the same elements that promote engagement also promote well-being. Hence, engagement serves as a strong predictor of wellness. If you notice an employee’s engagement, motivation, and productivity dropping, their wellness has likely decreased as well. Goal-tracking tools can help assess these factors for both individuals and teams. Assess well-being regularly, and work to enhance it in the following ways.

Learning about Employees’ Needs

Ask questions about employee well-being frequently, and in different formats. “For a big picture or large groups, using pulse surveys (short surveys assessing mental health in a few questions) is a good way to get anonymized data and enable employees to report issues discreetly,” note Roulet and Bhatti. Pulse surveys can also allow you to track changes over time.

In one-on-ones, managers should also encourage employees to discuss challenges and stress they’re experiencing. These private meetings give employees a chance to reflect, share, and collaboratively address issues without judgment.

Sharing Guidance

For managers, self-awareness will enhance understanding of how to respond to employees’ emotions and challenges. Practicing individual solutions for stress and anxiety will help them provide guidance rooted in experience, as Roulet and Bhatti explain. They should practice noticing what employees seem to be feeling, talking with them about it, and sharing relevant advice.

Showing Vulnerability

In some cases, employees might mask the problems they’re experiencing due to fear of being viewed as less capable. Managers can encourage them to open up about these issues by showing vulnerability themselves. 

For example, a manager might say, “I sometimes feel nervous before a big meeting … does this ever happen to you?” or “I felt a sense of overload when meeting that tight deadline last quarter. Do you ever feel that way?” Expanding on the specific feelings they experience, and their triggers, will also help employees feel more comfortable discussing their own feelings.

By showing vulnerability, managers will normalize the idea of talking about personal challenges and instill a culture of speaking openly about wellness.

Supporting Employees’ Needs

Next, managers can work with employees to analyze their needs and brainstorm solutions. For instance, they might redistribute tasks or provide additional support to those who feel overwhelmed. Mental well-being will improve as task loads become more manageable. 

Leaders should help employees find a sense of meaning in their daily work, too. This will dramatically improve work experience and engagement. During morning check-ins, for example, managers could emphasize how the team’s work is furthering the organizational vision. They can also highlight specific contributions from individuals. 

Share meaningful feedback that affirms employees’ strengths and provides guidance on areas for growth. With a strong sense of direction and appreciation for their work, employees will feel more inspired, engaged, and fulfilled.

Through clear communication and strong relationships, managers will promote workplace wellness. Now, let’s explore some organizational-level strategies for promoting well-being.

Fostering Systemic Change

Let’s discuss how to shift organizational norms to prioritize employee wellness, while constructing the right supports.

Promoting Well-Being Initiatives

Build organizational support for well-being initiatives. Make sure leaders voice enthusiasm about mental well-being programs, encouraging people to participate in them. 

Here are a few examples of well-being initiatives for the workplace:

  • Discussion groups that focus on a different aspect of resilience in every session. Here, employees can share strategies and ideas.
  • Financial management and time-management seminars that help employees find balance in these aspects of life.
  • Mindfulness workshops that share tools for calming anxiety.
  • Employee resource groups, where people with common identities can share experiences.
  • Providing ample paid leave for parental and caregiver support.

HR and leaders should partner to enthusiastically launch a mental health initiative. Further, HR should educate all managers on how it works, urging them to talk with their whole team about it.

Changing Cultural Norms

Work to create a culture that values and promotes holistic health, shifting away from unhealthy cultural norms. For instance, if employees feel the need to work overtime to prove their dedication, encourage leaders to help their teams set clear work/life boundaries. 

Create a culture of sharing appreciation as well. Through a mix of tangible incentives and frequent praise, you’ll make employees feel valued. Managers should strive to take note of contributions both large and small, highlighting the ways in which each employee’s work has made a difference. 

Consider new ways to structure work, too. Setting up meeting-free days or maintaining clear working hours can promote employee wellness, as Roulet and Bhatti say. Or, you might establish specific days for collaborative work (in-person, if feasible), to promote camaraderie.

Case Studies

Let’s look at a couple of real-life examples of companies using strong well-being intelligence practices.

The company Monster has put thoughtful employee wellness initiatives into practice. According to Forbes, the company has launched employee resource groups to bolster well-being, including one for parents and caregivers. In this group, employees can share empathy, feel heard, and voice ideas that benefit others, boosting mental well-being.

The company Wiley fosters financial wellness through education and coaching. Moreover, Wiley integrates wellness into performance management conversations, weaving it into one-on-one check-ins between managers and employees. As they discuss goal achievement, they talk about the support employees need, from a wellness standpoint, to meet their objectives.

Through these strategies for improving overall employee wellness, you’ll strengthen your team’s capabilities. As leaders demonstrate well-being intelligence, trust will increase, along with personal growth. Building their own self-awareness is the first step. Their enhanced self-knowledge will allow them to guide employees in becoming self-aware and responding appropriately to challenges. Through a proactive approach to well-being, leaders will foster a culture of wellness and resilience in the workplace.

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