Why does poor employee wellbeing affect multiple workplaces?

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As discussed in the first article in our four-part series, poor employee wellbeing can cause a ripple effect in the workplace because it can reduce not only the productivity of one employee but many employees. This second article illustrates how poor employee wellbeing can affect multiple workplaces – via family members and close friends of the impacted worker, as well as family and close friends of their colleagues and managers.

To illustrate, not only did 86 per cent of 2,000 surveyed workers in our October 2022 Annual Workforce Survey say they had felt burnt out in the previous 12 months, with one in three taking time off due to concerns about their mental wellbeing, but 14 per cent took time off due to concerns about the mental wellbeing of their friends and family, and 60 per cent juggled extra work duties when a colleague was absent.

These figures show that many employees are not well and it’s affecting those around them – including organisations, who are footing the bill for more than just the direct costs of the impacted worker at the primary workplace.

These figures show that many employees are not well – and this is affecting those around them.

Primary workplace

When an employee is absent, not working at full capacity, or bringing negative energy to work due to poor wellbeing, it can cause a ripple effect in their primary workplace. 

Some examples of how the ripple effect can spread and impact their workplace include:

Direct colleagues

  • May need to miss lunch or stay late to complete the extra workload 
  • May become irritable, resentful, and exhausted from the additional work
  • May have projects that suffer delays and/or miss important deadlines
  • May feel overwhelmed or helpless about how to help a colleague appropriately

Indirect colleagues

  • May have meetings cancelled and deliverables forgone from affected colleagues
  • May feel unhappy about disharmony between their colleagues
  • May get distracted and find their work begins to lose focus
  • May start to feel annoyed, irritable, and unsatisfied with achievements


  • May need to ask others to increase their work output, or shoulder it themselves
  • May spend additional time on performance management, employee counselling, or searching for employee support resources
  • May feel overwhelmed with the magnitude of the physical and psychological challenges of their team members
  • May become frustrated and anxious, lose their motivation to work, and feel helpless if they lack the knowledge to help or respond

The organisation

  • May lose revenue from reduced output or business opportunities 
  • May incur additional costs from higher-paid substitute workers, increased workers’ compensation premiums and/or higher outlays for employee support programs 
  • May see increased safety risks (both physical and psychological)
  • May have their positive team culture impacted
  • May experience increased employee attrition

Secondary workplaces

In addition, poor employee wellbeing can affect secondary workplaces because it can have a multiplier effect across the workplaces of family members and close friends. 

This is because:

  • It’s difficult for anyone to perform at their full potential when they are worried about, caring for, or taking on extra duties for someone else; and 
  • Our work lives and personal lives are inextricably linked, wrote Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter from Harvard Business School, who detailed “the myth of separate worlds”.

Examples of how the ripple effect can impact other workplaces include:

Family and close friends of the employee

  • May be stressed and distracted at work because they are worried about their loved one’s health and job security
  • May be tired or irritated at work (or need to skip work) because they are juggling extra physical, emotional, and financial responsibilities at home
  • Their organisations may incur additional costs, safety risks, customer complaints, attrition, lost revenue from reduced output or missed business opportunities, and more

Family and close friends of the employee’s colleagues and managers

  • May arrive late at their workplaces if they could not leave home before their loved ones returned from their extra work duties
  • May then arrive at work stressed and angry, which could affect both productivity and team harmony
  • Their organisations may incur additional costs, safety risks, customer complaints, attrition, lost revenue from reduced output or missed business opportunities, and more

Case study: Luke

Luke is an employee with poor wellbeing.

He is often absent from work.

Luke works with Zara, Tom, Miguel, Ana, Ben and Joanna.

He lives with his friends Yi-jun and Hugo.

His mother Evelyn lives across town.

Luke’s poor wellbeing affects everyone in his immediate ecosystem.

It also affects Zara’s partner Kazuko and their children, plus Sally, the company’s People and Culture consultant.

To see how this ripple effect impacts Luke’s work and personal ecosystem, we invite you to download our report to see the below visual more clearly.

What is the ripple effect costing organisations?

The next article in our four-part series will be an in-depth dive into what the ripple effect is costing organisations. That article will cover:

  • Direct costs
  • Indirect costs
  • Wage multipliers
  • Case study: Nadira

How can organisations minimise the ripple effect of poor employee wellbeing?

The final article in our series will suggest some next steps for organisational leaders. That article will cover:

  • Improving the wellbeing of employees
    • Cultivating a culture of wellbeing
    • Creating a safe and healthy workplace
    • Implementing meaningful support systems
  • Improving the wellbeing of family and close friends
    • Broadening social initiatives
    • Extending meaningful support

Download our new report

If you’d like access to all of this content faster, we invite you to download our new evidence-backed report which aims to help you:

  • Understand the ripple effect of poor employee wellbeing
  • See the ripple effect in action
  • Calculate the hidden cost of lost productivity
  • Minimise the impact on your organisation

Want to learn more?

For more information about how Sonder can help you rethink your employee and/or student support, we invite you to contact us here.

About Sonder

Sonder is an Active Care technology company that helps organisations improve the wellbeing of their people so they perform at their best. Our mobile app provides immediate, 24/7 support from a team of safety, medical, and mental health professionals - plus onsite help for time-sensitive scenarios. Accredited by the Australian Council on Healthcare Standards (ACHS), our platform gives leaders the insights they need to act on tomorrow's wellbeing challenges today.

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Sonder is reimagining health, safety and wellbeing support. Sonder proves human centric care leads to earlier intervention. Sonder impacts one person at a time to drive meaningful change across an organisation. Sonder understands people and how to support them.

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