Asking this question could be a key to employee engagement

January 28, 2022

For business owners, plan administrators, and sponsors

“How are you?” This simple question has the power to connect us: to make us feel cared for and valued. And when asked at work, it may help increase employee engagement.

When a leader or coworker asks this question and genuinely cares about the answer, it can begin to form a bond or help solidify an existing one. It isn’t a question about the employee’s current project; it is solely about them as a person. In three words, it signals that someone they work with cares about them, not just the work they do.

Granted, the micro-moment of asking “How are you?” isn’t necessarily life changing. But in a time when 51% of employees report that they feel lonely1, it’s one example of how a social interaction can help us feel connected to our coworkers and the organization.

Feeling connected in the physically distanced workplace

“We need to understand that the feeling of connection happens differently for different people,” said Dr. Georgia Pomaki, who has a PhD in workplace mental health and is Manulife’s Director of Mental Health Best Practices. “For one employee, chatting with their leader could be a very meaningful interaction. For another, they feel most connected when working closely with colleagues. It’s about social engagement—what each of us needs in order to feel connected to the people around us.”

So how can an organization find and foster these meaningful interactions? It comes down to empowerment and culture.

Empowering leaders with the time they need

“Ask yourself if your leaders are empowered to spend time with their people and get to know them,” said Dr. Pomaki. “For many, the answer is no; leaders focus on the work and have little to no time to understand their employees as people, their goals, or what they need to feel connected at work. We need to be clear that an essential part of leadership is talking with employees to understand their needs and helping them meet those needs.”

Remember that leaders themselves also need to feel supported and cared for. Regardless of their position on an org chart, they too need someone to ask, “How are you?” and care about the answer. 

Encouraging a culture of connection

Regardless of where your employees are—physically in the office or working from home—your corporate culture drives employees’ behaviour. Consider whether your culture is one where people are comfortable reaching out for help or asking someone about their day.

“If an employee spends a few minutes talking with their co-worker about something that’s not job-related, do they get criticized for doing so?” asked Dr. Pomaki. “And if they feel they do, they will stop doing that. They will stop having those informal social interactions. We have to leave room for these conversations, for it to be okay to be social, because that’s the space where social connections at work take place.”

The great news is that it isn’t hard to start: it can be as easy as asking, “How are you?” and listening.

Manulife’s Wellness Report has the latest data on employee mental and physical health. Reach out to Manulife if you’d like your organization to participate in the survey. Your results are confidential and can be a powerful tool to help you understand how employees are feeling and where you can help address any issues.  

1 Data from Manulife’s The Wellness Report 2021 survey results of 6,149 respondents.