Why Employee Feedback is the Most Important Tool in Your Well-Being Toolbox

Think about your handy toolbox.

It might be well-used or it might be a little dusty, but think about everything you have in there: A screwdriver, a hammer, a wrench, pliers, a measuring tape, a level, maybe a utility knife. But then there might be different types of each tool too. Maybe you have a slotted screwdriver, a Phillips head screwdriver, and a Robertson head screwdriver. Every tool has its own purpose and every tool can contribute something valuable to the right problem.

Your employee well-being toolbox is no different. What does your organization have in there? It might have things like mental health supports, physical health supports, recognition programs, personal development programs, and leadership development programs. Then, just like your screwdrivers, you can break things down further: Mental health supports might include your Employee Assistance Program, mental health workshops, and resources on how employees can support their mental health in the workplace. Just like your toolbox, every tool has its own purpose and every tool can contribute something valuable to the right problem. 

That’s the critical point, isn’t it? Every tool has its own purpose and every tool can contribute something valuable to the right problem. 

Pairing the right tool with the right problem is Being Handy 101. Think of a problem you might have around your home: Let's say that you need to fix a light fixture that is starting to come off of the wall. Now imagine that the light fixture is held on the wall by four Phillips screws (for those who struggle with this stuff - like myself - those are the screws with the X... according to Google).

Every tool has its own level of utility in this situation. You have tools like your pliers and your wrench. You can try to use them - but there is a good chance that you'll need a new light fixture altogether if you start there. What about your screwdrivers? A Robertson screwdriver (the square one - again, thank you, Google) feels like it should work – it is a screwdriver after all. But it won't. What about a slotted screwdriver? The flat one. Now we're getting closer. It might work, but only if it is the right size. But a Phillips head screwdriver perfectly addresses the problem at hand – it’s a perfect fit. Four quick twists and that light will be back on the wall, good as new.

And that speaks to the second critical point: You need to pair the right tool with your own unique problem. Maybe you are re-hanging a light fixture with different screws where all you'll need is a different screwdriver. Maybe you are adding a new light fixture altogether - which might take a drill, a stud-finder, and new electrical. Every problem has its best solution in your toolbox and more challenging problems will often require multiple tools. Some problems will be so far out of your comfort zone that it is best to just call an expert that specializes in your problem.

Whatever the problem, there is one clear takeaway: If you approach every problem with the same tool, you might succeed from time to time, but you’ll find yourself falling short far more often than not. 

The Unique Challenges of Employee Well-Being

One of the major benefits of home renovations is that the problem is often well-defined. If you have a nail, you know that you need a hammer, and even more challenging problems have a clearly defined "best practice". Employee well-being on the other hand, is much more nuanced and it is much harder to identify the most pressing needs. 
 
There are two main reasons for this challenge. Firstemployees often do not disclose their challenges at work for several reasons – something that our team at YMCA WorkWell has researched extensivelyFor example, an article I published in Journal of Business Ethics discusses how employees often remain silent about these challenges due to fear of repercussions or feeling like their voice won’t be heard – something that can have a significant emotional toll on employees (Whiteside & Barclay, 2013). Kate Toth, our Director of Learning and Development, has also published an article in the Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation discussing how and why employees are often so hesitant to disclose their most significant well-being challenges at work (Toth & Dewa, 2014)It speaks to a common issue for leaders: You don’t know what you don’t know, and you can often find yourself with major blinders on when it comes to employee well-being, even if you strive for a transparent workplace culture.
 
Since our inception in July 2020, our team at YMCA WorkWell has partnered with over 40 organizations and collected data from more than 16,000 employees through our WorkWell Insights Assessment. An important piece of our survey is our Needs Assessment. Respondents are asked: "Of the following, what do you need more of to feel like you are able to be at your best at work? (Please select all that apply)"  and then provided with a detailed list of options to choose from. One of the clearest takeaways from COVID-19 has been that even in the midst of a global pandemic where every organization has faced similar external challenges, each organization has still faced their own unique challenges and their employees have had their own unique needs. I know that anyone reading this can likely list off one or two unique needs in a heartbeat.

This brings us to the second reason why employee well-being is so complicated: organizations' well-being needs come in many shapes and sizes. They can vary widely based on industry, organization size, team size, organizational culture, and where employees have worked during the pandemic.

We've seen these differences quite clearly in the data we collect. We examined the results of every WorkWell Insights Assessment that we have collected from every partner during COVID-19 and recorded their top need; that is, what is the one thing that most employees' reported they needed more of to feel healthier at work in each report. We then combined this data to see which needs were most prevalent as the top needs overall. There were six different needs that emerged as top needs across these results - Figure 1 illustrates the percentage of WorkWell Insights Assessments showing each need as their top need.


As you can see, even during COVID-19, the top needs across organizations were quite different. 22% of organizations had workload as their top need, 22% had personal appreciation as their top need, 22% with a need for clearer communication and 22% with a need for more team connection. Rounding out the rest were mental health supports at 8% and clearer role expectations at 4%.

This is where your toolbox becomes so important – catering your actions to your employees’ actual needs is so important, particularly when budgets are tight. If your employees’ most significant well-being need is a need for more effective leadership communication, providing them with more team connection opportunities might help improve well-being, but it isn’t addressing the actual underlying problem. Just like using the wrong screwdriver.

Without actually understanding the problem, it’s like trying to pick the right tool while blindfolded.

And that is why collecting employee feedback is so important.

The Importance of Collecting Employee Feedback

So how do you identify your employees' most pressing needs? In our opinion, the best way is to go straight to the source. Giving your employees a chance to provide feedback can help you identify the most pressing challenges that are affecting their well-being and what tools will work best to address them. In other words, collecting the right people data is like identifying what type of screw you have so you can pick the right screwdriver to fix the problem.

If you use this feedback in the right way, it can help prioritize your needs both in your organization, and also within teams and groups of employees. As an added bonus, if done properly, the anonymity of an effective feedback channel can also help alleviate employees' concerns around speaking up.

Our quick 20-question WorkWell Insights Assessment has been designed to shine a light on your employees’ needs so that you can invest your energy and resources in the right place. So that you can use the right tool for the right problem. In addition to an analysis of your scores in Engagement, Culture, Well-Being, and Performance, every YMCA WorkWell Insights Report also includes your organization’s Needs Assessment, showing you the well-being needs that were selected most often by your employees. We then work with you, using the voices of your own employees, to create the best strategy for your own unique needs – so when you open up your toolbox, you’re not only using the right screwdriver, but you’re using the best screwdriver.

Sample Report

Oh, and did we mention that it only takes employees 3-5 minutes to complete? Getting you the best data in the least painful and time-consuming process is our goal. 

Interested in learning more about our Insights Process and how we can help you get a quick but valuable pulse on your employees’ well-being needs? Click here.

Want to learn more about what we are learning about well-being needs in workplaces and in our community? Check out our YMCA WorkWell Workplace Well-being Reports:

Insights to Impact: Fostering Employee Well-Being in the Age of COVID-19


The Loneliness Epidemic: How the Silent Loss of Social Connection has Impacted Our Communities During COVID-19

Posted by

Dave Whiteside


As the Director of Insights at YMCA WorkWell and with a Ph.D in Organizational Behaviour, Dave is all about the data and how it can be used to drive action and impact. Through the Employee Insights Survey and our annual WorkWell Community Surveys, his focus is on helping organizations gain a deeper understanding of where organizations, teams, and individuals are and what actions need to be taken to create healthier cultures.

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