You care about your staff, but do they really know that?

Every year, we collect so much data through our Community Surveys that it is impossible to touch on everything in one report. This Short Report is the first in a series of quick dives into our 2021 Workplace Well-Being Report data to discuss interesting findings that caught our eye and deserve some of the spotlight, but didn't quite find their way into the final report.

We Have An Abundance of Caring Leaders

Let me start with a personal opinion: I firmly believe that leaders who do not care about their employees are rare. I also know that the title of this article likely weeds out those few leaders that somehow don’t care. I don’t think they seek out many articles about why caring for their employees' matters. So, I think it is safe to assume that if you are a leader reading this, then you are almost certainly a leader that cares about the well-being of your team. 
 
That brings me to my second point: Thank you for everything you are doing. In the past two years, our team at YMCA WorkWell has partnered with many leaders who have worked tirelessly to support their employees through COVID-19. I’m going to assume that at many points during the pandemic, you have felt exhausted, you have felt helpless, and you have felt burnt out trying to provide for your team. There’s a good chance you feel that way right now. I also know that you likely don’t hear these words enough -  so, thank you. It has made a difference, even if it hasn’t always felt like it.

Here is the good news: Your efforts are probably not going unnoticed. When we asked respondents if they believe that their leaders have cared about their personal well-being during COVID-19, 74% agreed with that statement and only 13% disagreed (see Figure 1). That is something to be proud of! Even in the face of so many challenges, most employees still feel as though their well-being matters to their leaders. 

COVID-19 Has Required a Higher Level of Care

When we dig deeper into the data, however, the story isn’t quite as rosy. 

Perhaps the clearest illustration of this point can be seen when we examine employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS). If you haven’t heard of eNPS before, it is a standardized measure of how employees feel about their company and how likely they are to recommend their organization to others as a great place to work. We include eNPS as part of our YMCA WorkWell Insights Survey and we also include eNPS in our community surveys, asking respondents “How likely are you to recommend your workplace to others as a great place to work?”, with answers recorded on a scale of 0 (not at all likely) to 10 (extremely likely). 

Based on their scores, respondents are then categorized as:

  • Promoters: A score of 9 or 10; these respondents are highly engaged and likely to recommend their organization to others as a great place to work
  • Passives: A score of 7 or 8; these respondents are generally content, but unlikely to actively recommend their organization to others
  • Detractors: A score between 0-6; these respondents are typically disengaged and may even talk negatively about their organization to others
Employee Net Promoter Score is then calculated by subtracting the percentage of detractors from the percentage of promoters, providing a benchmarkable score between -100 (an organization of all detractors) to 100 (an organization of all promoters). 

In general, a Net Promoter Score below zero is considered a concerning score, as this indicates that an organization has more detractors than it has promoters, whereas a Net Promoter Score above zero is considered an acceptable score, as this indicates an organization has more promoters than it has detractors. And that is what makes Figure 2 so telling.

Seventy-four percent of respondents agreed that their organization has cared about their personal well-being during COVID-19 - a significant majority. However, only respondents that strongly agreed with this statement had a positive eNPS – only 29% of respondents. 
 
The 45% of respondents who simply “agree” that their organization has cared about their personal well-being during COVID-19, on the other hand, while scoring significantly higher than respondents who are neutral or disagree, still had a negative eNPS – suggesting that they were more likely to talk negatively about their organization than positively. In other words, even though they do feel cared for by their organization, their average eNPS scores suggest that this group is still struggling to feel engaged and valued in their role.

So Where Should We Start?

At YMCA WorkWell, we believe that data is only meaningful if it leads to meaningful action. So where should we start?

Well, let’s get one thing out of the way first and foremost: “Strongly agree” is a high bar for leaders to achieve –
especially during a global pandemic when so many leaders are feeling burnt out and under-resourced themselves. This clearly speaks to the challenges that organizations have faced in the last two years. 

But here is the silver lining: I know that far more than 29% of leaders in our community strongly care for their employees. I know this because our team at YMCA WorkWell has seen it firsthand working alongside many of you during the pandemic. So, when I look at the eNPS graph in Figure 2, I don’t see a problem of leaders not caring about their employees, I see an opportunity for leaders to communicate more clearly about the steps they continue to take to support their teams. I don’t see a need to increase the number of leaders who care, I see a need to empathically signal to our community just how strongly our leaders already care.

Here are some places that leaders can start to close that gap:  

  1. Be Clear in the Steps You’re Taking. You know how much work you are putting in to support your employees’ well-being… but do they? These awareness gaps have been particularly common throughout the pandemic as many leaders continue to work remotely with less frequent touch points with their staff. For example, the Great Resignation has affected many teams directly and one theme we often see in the comments in our data is that many employees feel like their leaders do not see and appreciate how understaffed their teams are. Behind the scenes, however, those same leaders are often working tirelessly trying to staff their teams in an incredibly challenging job market. This is why communicating the steps that you are taking to support employees and communicating them often is so important. This is where our psychology can work against us; when we don’t know the answer to something, we tend to expect the worst, and the things we dream up are often worse than reality. So, be clear and transparent. Even when the answer isn’t ideal – simply knowing that you are doing everything you can goes a long way in demonstrating how much you care.

  2. Focus on Appreciation. One of the clearest trends in our 2021 YMCA WorkWell Workplace Well-Being Report is that many employees want to feel more appreciated in their work – a trend that has only increased during COVID-19 given the many challenges that employees continue to face in their roles. It is also one of the easiest ways to make employees feel valued and cared for. One simple place to start is “explaining the why”. Saying “thank you” is an important component of employee recognition, but it is through explaining the why – for example, why their contributions are so important to you, why the team is lucky to have them – that employees feel not just recognized, but also appreciated. It is what helps employees feel like they stand out. And that is what so many respondents to our Community Survey were calling out for: To feel like they matter, not just their output.

  3. Collect Feedback to Identify Priorities. Nearly two years into COVID-19, most leaders are trying to do more with less. With limited budget, energy, and resources, it’s important to ask: if you can only do one thing to support employee well-being, what would have the largest impact? This is where data becomes the most important tool in your toolkit. Good data can highlight what employees’ most pressing needs are so you can be sure that you are directing your energy towards the clearest priorities. But you need to ask them first.

That brings us back to the opening question: We know you care about your employees, but do they know? The most valuable takeaway here is that we don’t have a caring problem in our community, we have an awareness problem. And the one silver lining in all of this is that an awareness problem is an easier problem to solve. 

Thank you again for your efforts. They are making a difference. We’re going to get through this and our team at YMCA WorkWell is here to help in this work any way we can – any time you need us. 

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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