APA’s 2022 Work and Well-Being Survey confirmed that employee expectations related to mental health support are shifting, with 71% of workers reporting that they believe their employers are more concerned about employees’ mental health than in the past. More than 80% agreed that how employers support mental health will be an important consideration for them when they look for future work.
Chosewood is part of a team that developed a questionnaire to assess people’s quality of working life, circumstances outside of work, and physical and mental health status. While many well-being questionnaires ask about sleep, anxiety, and depression, the NIOSH Worker Well-Being Questionnaire (WellBQ) combines this with questions about the workplace climate, supervision experience, benefits policies, and other aspects related to the work context.
“We used psychological metrics that have been proven to be predictive of well-being,” said Chosewood. The survey, which was released in April 2021, includes questions about whether employees feel they can rely on supervisors for support, find their work meaningful, and want to go to work. NIOSH also offers resources to address issues identified by the survey, such as tool kits to help organizations minimize injuries, reduce sitting time at work, and build communication skills.
Hammer’s research has shown that well-being improves when supervisors value aspects of life outside of work, such as employees’ family and sleep needs. She has developed and studied 1-hour computer-based training interventions aimed at teaching supervisors how to ask open-ended questions, actively listen to employee responses, and pay attention to potential family or sleep-related problems. In the training, leaders also learn how to model the importance of life outside work by taking time off. In one of the interventions, the training led to increased job satisfaction, reduced turnover intentions, and improved personal well-being among employees (Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, Vol. 26, No. 6, 2021).
Although these strategies may conflict with a manager’s instinct to project confidence and competence, researchers are discovering that leaders who are willing to be open and vulnerable can increase the level of psychological safety on their teams without jeopardizing their reputations as competent. Constantinos Coutifaris, MBA, PhD, an assistant professor of management at the University of Texas at Austin, was intrigued by an article about a tech executive who shared areas of improvement from her own performance review with the employees who directly reported to her. Coutifaris and Adam Grant, PhD, an organizational psychology professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, decided to study the effects of that type of sharing at a health care company and a financial company. In a field experiment, some managers sought feedback from team members about their own performance, while others shared their development areas from their most recent reviews with team members. The data revealed that a year later, the psychological safety in teams at both companies improved when leaders openly shared their own development areas, but this did not happen when leaders had simply sought feedback from team members (Organization Science, Vol. 33, No. 4, 2021).
Follow-up interviews showed that the leaders who shared their own development areas with employees helped team members feel safe to share their own challenges. “This enhanced the level of psychological safety because vulnerability was normalized into the team culture,” said Coutifaris. “Considerable research has found that when employees feel like they can take more risks without being penalized, they are more likely to voice their own opinions, generate more creative and innovative solutions, and engage more in quality improvement work.”