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More and more organizations are paying attention to the health and happiness of employees. Vitality and wellness programs aim to make employees aware of the importance of their mental and physical fitness. Sleep pods, massage chairs, fitness subscriptions and healthy smoothies contribute to this and help employees to perform optimally at work. A nice development; because the success of an organization starts with the people. However, one thing is often overlooked at that does affect employee well-being; the manager.

Research published in Harvard Business Review shows that the role of the leader in employee well-being is greater than often thought. In fact; a manager can make or break a wellness program.

A manager has a lot of influence on how people work (together). When employees are pressured by a supervisor to meet targets and maintain high productivity, an employee may feel guilty and stressed out when they go for a walk or join a yoga class organized by the organization. Moreover, it appears that having a ‘strict boss’ leads to more stress-related heart problems among employees (Nyberg 2009). Well-being programs therefore have no chance of success in certain work cultures.

So what does work? Research from the University of Michigan shows that employees value a ‘happy workplace’ most. A work environment in which people are seen as the centre of the organization and which is characterized by friendliness, trust, respect and inspiration. This leads to higher loyalty, involvement, better performance and more creativity. The most powerful way in which leaders can increase the well-being of their employees is therefore by creating a positive, people-oriented culture in their team. Small daily actions that show support and empathy, such as offering help or asking how someone is doing, contribute to this. This increases mutual trust, strengthens the personal bond and ensures a pleasant working atmosphere.

This does not mean that a supervisor should only be ‘nice’ or ‘gentle’; direct communication and leading by results can be done in an understanding way. The most important conclusion that researchers draw is that positive social relationships and interactions determine the well-being of employees and the success of organizations. When employees can also make use of the possibilities of a well-being program, a real well-being culture is created.

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