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Five Tips to Improve Employee Well-Being

Thriving employees perform better and are better teammates

Scott D. Hanton, PhD

Scott Hanton is the editorial director of Lab Manager. He spent 30 years as a research chemist, lab manager, and business leader at Air Products and Intertek. He earned...

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Happy employees are productive employees. According to George Mason University, well-being is defined as “building a life of vitality, purpose, resilience, and engagement.”  Investing time and energy in improving staff well-being can pay off in a variety of ways.

According to a presentation by Esther Kyte, then the managing director at the Center for Positive Organizations, staff who are thriving deliver better job performance, are more proactive, miss fewer days of work, are more innovative, and are more committed and satisfied in their positions. These benefits can be generated through the investment of a little time, effort, and caring.

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Here are five tips to help you improve your staff’s ability to thrive in the workplace:

Care about them

One of the key differences between thriving employees and other staff is that they feel known, appreciated, heard, and cared about. A key learning from Melanie Klinghoffer, an experienced senior business leader and speaker, is, “If you care, they’ll care.” People are largely reciprocal. Caring about them is likely to result in your staff caring more about the science, the lab’s mission, and you. Showing that you care doesn’t add costs to the budget. It means listening to them and treating them like capable people.

Do no harm

Fundamentally, staff are responsible for their own health and well-being. However, labs should, at a minimum, do no harm to our people. We need to be cognizant of our workplace norms and expectations. How much work extra is expected? How much responsiveness is required, especially when staff are out of the office? As lab managers we need to be aware of the behaviors we are modeling, expecting, and demanding. We can take a positive role in helping staff establish the right work-life integration for them.

Provide purpose

Being connected to an important or valuable purpose contributes strongly to staff well-being. When staff have an emotional bond with the work they contribute, they are more likely to deliver better outcomes, deliver discretionary effort and ideas, and are more likely to stay with the organization. It is the responsibility of the lab manager to identify, communicate, and reinforce the purpose of the lab. This can be done in meetings, presentations, and individual conversations with staff.

Generate organizational well-being

Lab managers can take active steps to improve the culture of the lab to contribute to well-being. O’Neill suggests five elements that build organizational well-being:

  • Have a best work friend to confide in.
  • Share mutual vulnerability.
  • Express gratitude to cultivate relationships.
  • Expose staff to awe. Develop a purpose to do important things.
  • Make room for fun, good times, and humor.

None of these suggestions require spending big money. They do require intentional effort to drive belonging, sharing, trust, and safety to deliver a purpose.

Build a positive work culture

A key foundation for developing thriving staff is a positive work culture. One of the leaders of understanding positive organizations, psychologist Professor Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania, developed a model for flourishing:

  • Provide positive emotions like gratitude, satisfaction, hope, and inspiration.
  • Enable staff to concentrate intensely on the work.
  • Promote meaningful relationships to help deliver happiness.
  • Drive meaning by developing a purpose serving an important cause.
  • Focus on development so that staff achieve accomplishment.

Modern science is complex, challenging, and always changing. Lab managers can develop a positive culture that builds staff well-being and provides an environment to make the challenges more fun, more supportive, and more compelling.