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Essential Elements of Employee Health & Well-Being

In the September 2018 edition of the McKinsey Quarterly, Jeffrey Pfeffer says that, if you really want to increase employees’ health and well-being, focus on job control and social support. These two critical contributors to employee engagement also improve employee health, potentially reducing healthcare costs as well.

Highlights from the Article

Giving people more control over their work life and providing them with social support fosters higher levels of physical and mental health. A culture of social support also reinforces for employees that they are valued, and thus helps in a company’s efforts to attract and retain people. Job control, meanwhile, has a positive impact on individual performance and is one of the most important predictors of job satisfaction and work motivation, frequently ranking as more important even than pay. Management practices that strengthen job control and social support are often overlooked but relatively straightforward - and they provide a payoff to employees and employers alike.

Studies going back decades have shown that job control - the amount of discretion employees have to determine what they do and how they do it - has a major impact on their physical health. Recent research also indicates that limited job control has ill effects that extend beyond the physical, imposing a burden on employees’ mental health, too. Organizations can guard against these dangers by creating roles with more fluidity and autonomy, and by erecting barriers to micromanagement.

A chaotic workplace environment of frequent, uncontrollable events adversely affects people’s motivation, their cognition and learning, and their emotional state. When people have little or no control over what happens to them at work it decreases motivation and effort. It significantly hampers learning on the job too. In a condition of low job control, people have less responsibility and discretion, which undermines their feelings of competence and accomplishment and ultimately contributes to stress, anxiety, and depression.

Micromanaging is all too common at work, simply because many managers are poor at coaching and facilitating others to do their jobs better. When managers micromanage their subordinates, those individuals lose their autonomy and sense of control to the bosses who won’t delegate.

Research going back to the 1970s consistently demonstrates a connection between social support and health. The evidence shows that social support - family and friends you can count on, as well as close relationships - can have a positive effect on health and buffers the effects of various psychosocial stresses, including workplace stress.

Unfortunately, workplaces sometimes have characteristics that make it harder to build relationships and provide support. Consider, for example, practices that foster internal competition such as forced curve ranking, which reduces collaboration and teamwork. In fact, anything that pits people against one another weakens social ties among employees and reduces the social support that produces healthier workplaces. Equally destructive are transactional workplace approaches in which people are seen as factors of production and where the emphasis is on trading money for work, without much emotional connection between people and their place of work.

The Gifted Perspective

It wouldn't be the Christmas season without enjoying one of the various stage or screen adaptations of Dicken's classic, "A Christmas Carol!" In it, we see the main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, transformed from a heartless tyrant into an empathic and supportive business leader and friend.

Prior to visits by the spirits of Christmas past, present, and future, Scrooge was a master of inflicting workplace stress through his aggressive micromanaging behavior and by withholding virtually any form of social support.

After his spiritual reawakening, he made a complete pivot (in ways that Jeffrey Pfeffer would have certainly approved of) by giving Bob Cratchit more control over his job and providing all kinds of social support to Cratchit and his family. In the process, at least one life was saved, underscoring the connection between workplace stress and personal health and well-being.

This story always warms our hearts, perhaps because in some way, shape or form, we’ve experienced both ends of the workplace spectrum and appreciate the goodness, love, and joy that come from a healthy workplace.

What better time than during the holiday season to take stock of your current workplace environment and consider ways to increase your own and your fellow employee’s health and well-being! In what ways can you give people more control over their work life and provide them with the social support they need to flourish?!

We will partner with you and your team to coach, consult, support, and encourage you through the process of creating the healthiest possible workplace. Contact us today about individual leadership coaching or our Teams That Talk™ coaching approach!


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