Over the past decade, we’ve seen a surge of interest in how people can work more healthily and happily—one that seriously accelerated when the pandemic hit. Abruptly shifting work styles and a massive increase in all-around stress put well-being on everyone’s radar. Now, workplace wellness is more prioritized, more researched, and more actionable than ever.
One central takeaway from this wave of research and thought leadership is that there’s no single solution to cultivating a healthy approach to work—you’ve got to integrate different angles.
So, here are nine fantastic books to check out if you’re learning how to work (or support a team) in a healthier way.
Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace: A Practical Guide for Employers and Employees by Gill Hasson and Donna Butler
Having received a coveted “Highly Commended” status in the 2021 Business Book Awards, Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace is built off the combined wealth of experience both authors have working in the field of mental health. Central to the book are tips on how readers can support their own well-being, as well as insights on how organizations can create an environment and culture that genuinely supports mental well-being. You’ll also find concrete strategies on how to support others when they’re struggling.
“Workplaces that genuinely promote and value wellbeing and good mental health, and support people with mental health problems are more likely to reduce absenteeism, improve engagement and retention of employees, increase productivity, and benefit from associated economic gains.”
No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work by Liz Fosslien and Molly West Duffy
Work can often seem tailor-made to incite powerful emotions. Power structures, deadlines, high-stakes tasks and close relationships—it can all add up to unwieldy, uncomfortable emotional responses that often feel like they have no place in the workplace that helped generate them. In No Hard Feelings, authors Fosslein and Duffy offer concrete strategies for guiding, expressing, and harnessing emotions at work, along with an exploration of how emotions can help increase well-being, focus, and job performance.
“Work provides us with a sense of purpose and can offer instant gratification in the form of praise, raises, and promotions. But the more we tie who we are to what we do, the more we emotionally attach to our jobs.”
Wellbeing at Work: How to Design, Implement and Evaluate an Effective Strategy by Ian Hesketh and Cary Cooper
Not all well-being strategies are created equal. Wellbeing at Work provides a thoughtful, evidence-based guide on how HR professionals can craft an effective well-being strategy from the first conceptual stages all the way to the ongoing process of measuring and refining that strategy. Hesketh and Cooper illustrate their methodology with a heap of statistics and insights from real-world cases. Great for those looking to build a well-being strategy or revisit an existing one.
“Every company has a mission statement, but it’s the manager who makes work meaningful.”
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
Focus is an essential element of enjoyable, productive work. But achieving (and keeping) focus throughout the workday is tough—and according to Cal Newport, it’s only getting harder. This book delves into the far-reaching impacts of distraction, explores the science of focus, and offers actionable tips on how you can cultivate deep focus in your own life. Newport’s approach emphasizes how the key to deeply-focused work is weaning the brain off its addiction to constant stimulation and, effectively, learning to be bored before we can be productive.
“Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction.”
Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen
In the emotionally charged environment of the workplace, some conversations can be exceptionally tough to have. Moments of confrontation, criticism, and other charged dialogues can throw us for a loop, leaving us and others feeling unheard and unsatisfied. In Difficult Conversations, the authors leverage their decades of research at the Harvard Negotiation Project to lay out a framework for staying balanced in those talks we dread.
“Explain how having a conversation is in your boss’s interest: “I want to make this initiative a great success. To do that I need a little more help in making sure I understand the logic well enough to execute effectively.” Of course for this approach to work, you have to be open to learning.”
The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth by Amy Edmondson
The concept of “psychological safety” is at the core of author and professor Amy Edmondson’s exploration of what makes for an innovative and open workplace culture. Big ideas often have fragile beginnings. Is the culture at your workplace encouraging people to voice, explore, and develop their creative ideas? Or is the fear of ridicule or unwanted attention keeping them silent? The Fearless Organization dives into how a workplace culture of open expression can accelerate employee well-being, innovative thought, and effective leadership.
“For jobs where learning or collaboration is required for success, fear is not an effective motivator.”
You may recognize Simon Sinek’s name from his ultra-famous TED Talk, titled How Great Leaders Inspire Action. This book builds on the concept introduced in that lecture—namely, that the world’s greatest leaders all think, act, and communicate the same way—and it all starts with the same question: “Why?” Meaning in the workplace is a crucial element of well-being. Leaders in the workplace can use the insights within this book to successfully capture and articulate the meaning of their organization’s work, and ultimately help their people connect with that meaning to enrich their work and their lives.
“We are drawn to leaders and organizations that are good at communicating what they believe. Their ability to make us feel like we belong, to make us feel special, safe and not alone is part of what gives them the ability to inspire us.”
Alive at Work: The Neuroscience of Helping Your People Love What They Do by Daniel M. Cable
For any company, worker engagement is a tough nut to crack. According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace Report, 85% of U.S. employees are disengaged from their work. But how can organizations solve for the motivation of each of their workers? Daniel M. Cable posits that disengagement isn’t, in fact, a motivational problem—it’s a biological one. Using modern neuroscience research, Alive at Work explores how through small nudges, people can harness their own biological mechanisms to help them love what they do.
“Great organizations balance a strong sense of employee freedom and experimentation within an operational frame. Some leaders refer to this as working on the airplane while you’re flying it. Of course, this is only possible when employees understand the big picture—the organizational frame—and the shared purpose of the work.”
Burnout has become a widespread, deeply affecting issue in modern organizations. For leaders in the workplace who want to support their people—tackling such a big issue can sometimes feel insurmountable. In Beating Burnout at Work, Paula Davis takes a novel, empowering stance—outlining exactly how team leaders are uniquely positioned to prevent and reduce burnout within their teams. Using a mix of real-world cases, research and systemic strategies, Davis offers actionable solutions for recognizing burnout, responding to signs effectively, and creating sustainable changes on the team level that reverberate throughout your organization.
“Even though burnout is complex, the tools and frameworks individuals, teams, and leaders need to prevent it are not. Most of them are tiny noticeable things (TNTs). Although easy, they still must be practiced. They may even require tweaks to the way you lead, think, or what you prioritize. But the payoff in terms of burnout prevention is significant.”
Looking for something you can do anytime—even right now—to improve your well-being? Check out 3 Mid-Work Mindfulness Exercises You Can Do in 30 Seconds or Less.
If you’re an HR professional, it’s important you don’t forget to take care of your own mental well-being as you support others. We’ve put together a simple, free self-care toolkit specifically for you. Check out the toolkit here: HR Self-Care Toolkit