Balancing Performance Expectations with Employee Wellbeing Needs.
In our experience of running workplace wellbeing programs, one of the most expressed concerns that tickles the nerves of people managers, is whether employees will blame wellbeing concerns, as an excuse for poor performance or to request additional time off work.
According to a survey by Aetna, 67% of managers worry that offering wellbeing programs to employees will be taken advantage of by employees who want to work less or take more time off. . The net impact is that many managers simply avoid the wellness conversation altogether and as a result, sadly employees do not engage in workplace wellbeing initiatives and programmes that would otherwise benefit the individual, their team, and the business.
It’s understandable that managers fear the impact of employees taking advantage. Even with the right level of HR support and training, dealing with an employee's non-performance can be a challenging issue for managers to address, as it can have a negative impact on team morale, productivity, and overall business success.
However, there is well documented evidence that supports the benefits and positive impact that embedding workplace wellbeing has on business performance. According to Forbes, the potential health benefits of workplace wellbeing programmes have been demonstrated in large cohorts for the past four decades.  Gallup also reports that when employee wellbeing is thriving, organisations directly benefit from fewer sick days, higher performance, and lower rates of burnout and turnover. 
So how do we help and support managers to overcome these concerns and promote the benefits of employee wellbeing that can contribute to a healthy and productive workplace culture, whilst balancing employee and business performance expectations?
Supporting Managers in Embracing Employee Wellbeing
Enabling employees to take care of their personal wellbeing should not translate to accepting poor performance. Here are some steps to helping managers overcome the fear of employee non-performance, when it comes to workplace wellbeing participation:
1. Master the Art of Sensitive Conversations
It is common for managers to feel apprehensive about having wellness conversations with their employees, especially if they are not trained in handling such conversations.
McKinsey suggests that businesses should treat wellbeing as a tangible skill. Employers should provide managers with the necessary training and resources to successfully handle wellness conversations with their employees, which will help them feel more confident and better prepared.
Having wellness conversations with employees enables the manager to promote wellbeing in the workplace and help employees feel supported and valued. More importantly, through the process, managers can identify any issues or concerns that employees may have, before reaching a point of crisis.
Instead of avoiding problems and defaulting to simply giving employees time off, managers should focus on guiding and signposting employees towards alternative solutions that tangibly help employees improve their health and wellbeing, without taking responsibility for solving wellbeing problems that the employee is accountable for.
Managers can then work with their employee to create realistic goals and develop a plan to achieve them, which can accelerate the process of overcoming challenges for the individual, increase trust and loyalty, leading to greater productivity. Harvard Business Review found that employees who had opportunities to problem solve together, were less likely to want to leave their jobs.
2. Set Clear Policies and Guidelines
Providing leaders and managers with clear guidelines and expectations for how to handle employee wellness-related issues, can help steer managers in the right direction. Such guidelines should ideally include use case examples and planning templates to assist managers in building a mutually agreed wellness plan with employees.
For the employee, when it comes to workplace wellbeing programmes, it can be unclear to what extent employees are permitted to participate in wellness activities during the working day. Without guidelines or the express permission of the manager, employees disengage for fear of discrimination or confrontation.
Guidelines for how much working time should be allocated to self-development, wellbeing activities and volunteering, as well as policies on mental health, carer's leave and bereavement support, can be helpful and supportive for both managers and employees. Some organisations allow employees to take sabbaticals or a number of days with paid time off annually to participate in volunteering, wellbeing activities or self-development initiatives.
For employees who have taken time out of the business, ensuring there is a clear 'back to work' framework and guidance plan in place, is helpful for managers and employees to set and mutually agree expectations.
3. Power Success with Performance Goals and Expectations
When managers are worried about non-performance, it's important to understand why the employee is underperforming. Often, non-performance can be attributed to a lack of clear expectations, inadequate training, or personal issues.
When it comes to getting the best out of your employees, it's as simple as setting the stage for success. By establishing crystal-clear performance goals and expectations, you help your team to understand what is expected of them in their roles as well as providing a roadmap for success. With these benchmarks in place, you'll be able to spot any performance hiccups quickly and easily.
Having a wellness conversation can provide a great vehicle for identifying the root cause, so that the manager can take steps to address the issue.
It’s important for managers and leaders to recognise that it is normal for individuals to experience fluctuations in their performance levels over time, due to age or changes in personal circumstances. It’s not realistic or sustainable to maintain peak performance levels all the time. Instead, managers should strive for consistent and sustainable levels of performance from their team, that allows them to meet their performance goals, without sacrificing their health or well-being.
4. Manage Overload
According to Harvard Business Review, when managers are overworked, they are more likely to prioritise tasks that support the functioning of the organisation's technical core, rather than tasks focused on supporting their employees, which can lead to managers treating employees less fairly . Employees can find themselves overburdened in the process, where they feel unable to take care of their own wellbeing needs or unable to participate in workplace wellbeing initiatives for fear of judgement or the knock-on impact to an already heavy workload.
Key to tackling this challenge is to provide managers with the right training and support to effectively manage their own workload, to achieve success, without overcommitment and burnout for the team. Boundary setting skills with senior leaders and co-workers, confidence building, and task and time prioritisation are all critical skills managers need to acquire.
5. Fuel Success
Rewarding great performance with wellbeing and team-building activities can be a great way to reinforce the value of participating in wellness activities and building a healthy positive workplace culture.
Team wellbeing activities provide an opportunity for the manager to role model healthy behaviour and participate in wellness activities themselves. In the process, employees not only benefit from greater connections and relationships with others, they also have the opportunity to enhance the quality of their lives in and out of the workplace.
It's a win-win all round.