How to track employee well-being as a KPI

Healthy organizations start with healthy employees. The good news is that there is a way to measure well-being like any other key performance indicator.

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The health and well-being of any organization starts with its employees. Companies that understand this and devote time, energy and money toward programs and initiatives that support employee well-being will have a competitive advantage over those that don't, says Karen Williams, chief product officer at workforce management software company Halogen Software.

However, you can't gauge what you can't measure -- so how can you measure something as nebulous as well-being? And do you even have to?

"The key reason you want to be focused on your employees' wellness and well-being is engagement. A 'well' organization has 'well' employees. Focusing on well-being has a significant impact on your employees, and that leads to better business outcomes for your company," Williams says.

And. yes, well-being and wellness absolutely are metrics that should be measured, if for no other reason than to show C-level executives the correlation between well-being and better outcomes, says Henry Albrecht, CEO at health and wellness technology company Limeade.

"Do you even need to measure this? Well, I'd say if you're meeting with the Dalai Lama, then no. But if you're meeting with a business leader, or a CIO, those folks don't get paid just to do things that feel good. You have to come armed with data and measurable results that they can see," Albrecht says.

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Defining 'happy'

Before you can measure these intangibles, though, you have to be able to define them, says Williams. Happiness in the workplace is something everyone strives for, but how do you go about defining happiness, or well-being, or wellness?

"We think of it as how positive someone feels that they'll be able to accomplish a goal and feel good about it. It breaks down to their contributions plus their satisfaction in making that contribution. So, managing to capture how happy your employees are can help you identify what's impacting them positively and negatively and how to address that," Wiliams says.

The most straightforward way to do this is to simply ask your employees for their feedback; ask them how they are feeling both overall and with regard to specific aspects of their work life, Williams says. Surveys, town hall meetings, requests for honest feedback can all be helpful in measuring and managing well-being, but that requires a transparent, honest and open culture where people feel free to share these kinds of things, she adds.

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Sentiment analysis

But if you're not quite there yet, there are other ways to monitor and measure employee sentiment and extrapolate from that to determine the success or failure of well-being programs and wellness initiatives, Williams says.

"One of the newest, hottest technologies to do this is sentiment analysis. And you can perform sentiment analysis on anything that is written; whether you're monitoring blogs, tweets, Facebook pages, collaboration apps, the whole idea is to gauge the sentiment behind what's written to, from and by your employees and to measure their engagement with these written forms of communication," Williams says.

You can drill down within these findings to determine how individuals are responding to certain changes, initiatives, programs and the like, and you can 'zoom out' to see how sentiment is faring by department, she says.

It may seem a bit too intrusive; Big Brother watching over your Slack channels and your venting to co-workers about the latest policy change, so there's a fine line to walk, Williams says.

"The idea isn't to pick on one person for sending a disgruntled email, either, it's much broader. It's well within most organizations' rights to monitor email and other written communication mediums, but this kind of monitoring has to be done with a light hand and with an eye toward transparency, openness and honesty. You want to focus on high-level sentiment, broad and general information gathering with the express purpose of assuring your employees' continued happiness and well-being," she says, not to weed out and punish dissent.

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Hard data

Another way to measure sentiment is by tracking usage and participation data, Williams says. In the same way wearables can track activity and gauge overall health and fitness, gathering this kind of data can give you a good sense of the well-being of your workforce.

Basic wellness metrics like the number of participants, how many employees currently have primary care physicians and access preventative care as well as how many participate in specific programs are all valuable data points, Albrecht says.

"The amount of activity your employees engage in can be indicative of larger well-being trends, and can point to correlations with happiness and well-being. People who are happier and healthier tend to be more engaged, and the reverse is also true: a higher level of activity could lead to better feelings and better happiness," she says.

And tracking habits -- how many people repeatedly take part in wellness and well-being activities -- can bolster these metrics, Albrecht says. Organizations can also include self-reported well-being metrics such as whether or not their employees feel they are living and working with purpose, how stable they are emotionally and financially, as well as offer the potential to include biometric data like blood glucose, stress levels and the like, he says.

"We would also consider workplace metrics like sick time used, turnover rates, the amount of overtime used, insurance data - this is important not only in terms of financial cost, but in the costs to the business of sick or otherwise unwell employees in the workforce," Albrecht says.

These can all be tied back to business metrics and outcomes, which can prove the point to leadership about the benefits of a well workforce, he says.

"Business metrics like customer experience, or same-store sales year-over-year, or in IT, things like software releases -- tracking these in correlation with wellness can help satisfy human resources as well as reach the CFO and CEO with metrics that are tied to business results. Well-being means an engaged workforce, and an engaged workforce means better business outcomes," he says.

In the future, Albrecht says employee engagement as it relates to well-being will be the only metric CEOs will worry about. As organizational support for well-being increases, workforce management will evolve to focus on that as the number-one gauge of an organization's health.

"Engagement will give way to employee well-being; that's a higher-order concept on the hierarchy of needs. If you do a great job at well-being, you won't have to put so much effort into engagement and other workforce management initiatives -- it'll take care of itself," he says.

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