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In a recent Thrive Guide, I wrote about a report from Deloitte and the research firm Workplace Intelligence showing a gap between leaders and employees on well-being. While 91% of C-suite leaders think their employees believe they care about employee well-being, only 56 percent of employees agree. The good news was that 95% of the C-suite agrees that executives should be responsible for employee well-being, and 83% of them say they plan to do more on well-being in the next few years.

So what does that look like in practice? How can leaders help create the world we all want to work in? It starts with how we communicate. Even when we’re not specifically talking about well-being, how we say or ask certain things can help support the well-being of those we’re working with. So here are 9 things we can say to build a culture of workplace well-being.

“What barriers can I remove?”

We often talk about well-being as a leadership skill set. If that’s true – and I think it is – one of the top responsibilities of a leader is to remove barriers that are preventing people from performing at their best. So instead of asking, “how’s the project going,” we can ask, “what barriers can I remove for you?”

“How are you sleeping?”

Instead of asking “how are you today,” I like to substitute, “how are you sleeping?” Yes, at first, sometimes people are taken aback, and wonder, why do you want to know how I’m sleeping? And the answer is, because if you tell me you’re not sleeping well, that tells me a lot about how you’re doing and that I need to do more to support you. If you tell me you’re sleeping great, it might not mean everything is fantastic, but it means you’ve at least got the foundation of well-being right.

Just listen

Sometimes the right thing to say is…nothing. Having a conversation where you mostly just listen can be hard, especially for leaders. Our natural tendency as humans is to want to jump and to fix things. And sometimes, we can’t fix it, nor are we even being asked to. Often what others want from us is just to listen, validate their feelings, and be supportive. 

“What lights you up?”

We hear a lot these days about “bringing our whole selves to work.” And while of course that means supporting employees with challenges they have outside of work, it also means supporting them in the passions they have outside of work. As Derek Thompson wrote in The Atlantic, “your work is one-sixth of your waking existence. Your career is not your life.”  So asking, “what lights you up,” or “what is your passion outside of work” can help create connection and a sense of life-workintegration. 

“How do you think things are going?”

For me, I find feedback in the moment to be more useful than post-mortems after a project is over, or reviews at the end of the year. Asking “how do you think things are going” allows for course-correction and support if someone is feeling overwhelmed or stressed.

“That’s a good question – what do you think?”

Leaders are asked questions all the time. Turning the question around and asking what the other person thinks acknowledges that you don’t necessarily have all the answers, shows that you value their opinion, and opens up a conversation to solve the problem. 

“What can we stop doing?”

Instead of asking what’s on someone’s calendar, we can ask them, “are there any meetings that could just be emails?” or “are there any things on your calendar that don’t need to be there?” By helping people remove the barrier of too many meetings (a growing problem during the pandemic), leaders can give the gift of more time to focus on what truly needs to be done. 

“Thank you for _______.”

Gratitude can be a powerful tool for well-being. So instead of just saying thanks, we can deepen that power by being very specific about what we’re thanking the other person for and letting them know how it made us feel and the impact it had on us. Everybody likes being thanked, and the more specific we are, the more likely others are to learn from it and pay it forward by expressing more gratitude themselves.

“I’m sorry”

This is one (which I wrote an entire Thrive Guide about) that we should actually stop saying – except when we mean it. So many of us, myself included, use “I’m sorry” as a reflex. And that diminishes the expression of regret when we need it – and we all need it, myself included!


  • Jen Fisher

    Human Sustainability Leader at Deloitte and Editor-at-Large, Human Sustainability at Thrive Global

    Jen Fisher is a leading voice on the intersection of work, well-being, and purpose. Her mission is to help leaders move from the legacy mindset that well-being is solely the responsibility of the individual to the forward-thinking idea of human sustainability, which supports the long-term, collective well-being of individuals, organizations, climate, and society.  

    She’s the co-author of the bestselling, award-winning book, Work Better Together: How to Cultivate Strong Relationships to Maximize Well-Being and Boost Bottom Lines, the Human Sustainability Editor-at-Large for Thrive Global, and the host of the WorkWell podcast series.

    As the first chief well-being officer of a professional services organization, Jen built and led the creation and execution of a pioneering holistic and inclusive well-being strategy that has received recognition from leading business media brands and associations.

    Jen is a frequent writer on issues impacting the workplace today, including the importance of mental health and social connection to workforce resilience, happiness, and productivity. Her work has been featured in CNBC, CNN, Fast Company, Fortune, Inc, Stanford Social Innovation Review, and Harvard Business Review, among others.

    She’s a sought-after speaker and has been featured at events including TEDx, World Happiness Summit, Out & Equal Workplace Summit, Acumen Global Gathering, WorkHuman, The Atlantic Pursuit of Happiness event, and more. She’s also lectured at top universities across the country, including Harvard, Wake Forest, Duke, and George Mason.

    Jen is passionate about sharing her breast cancer and burnout recovery journeys to help others. She’s also a healthy lifestyle enthusiast, self-care champion, exercise fanatic, sleep advocate, and book nerd! Jen lives in Miami with her husband, Albert, and dog, Fiona.

    You can find her on LinkedIn or on Twitter and Instagram @JenFish23. You can also receive her personal insights and reflections by subscribing to her newsletter, "Thoughts on Being Well" @jenfisher.substack.com.