The Weekly Wellness Score: Quantify Your Team’s Health Over Time

The Weekly Wellness Score: Quantify Your Team’s Health Over Time

“What’s your wellness score?”

I begin all my weekly 1:1s with this question. The score is a simple 1-5 scale:

  • 1 tells me that you are understimulated, uninspired, bored at work
  • 3 tells me that you are chugging along and everything is fine
  • 5 tells me that you are completely burned out, close to quitting, physically affected by stress

If people are reporting “3” across the board, it is usually correlated with a healthy flow of work and nothing is on fire. When I start to see 4s and 5s pop up, especially over multiple weeks, our team might be on fire. If someone is starting to report 1s, it usually means they need a new challenge or a new team. (I consider a 2 ok, like a relaxed 3.)

I have been using this score for over a four years now on four teams. I enjoyed having a nice longitudinal metric for each person that gives me a rough sense of the teams’ health over time, and this has several benefits.

It shows care, but succinctly

When I shared this wellness question routine with another engineer from a different team, their reaction was: “I feel so burned out right now. I wish my manager asked me this.”

It’s not easy for some people to proactively raise that they are bored or burned out, or something is wrong. Especially if something is happening with them week after week– some people think that old news means it’s not worth mentioning again and again. Still others may be held back because they are not inherently confrontational, and bringing up problems can be perceived as rocking the boat. This simple question removes the onus on the person experiencing difficulty to raise their hand, and opens the door for that kind of feedback.

Proactively manage potential burnout or boredom

If the score is 1 or 4/5, I follow this question with:

“Cool, what’s going on?”

There is almost always a reason associated with why a score is not a 2 or a 3, especially if you’ve been doing this for awhile. The follow-up question helps to ascertain whether the underlying cause is something that will pass, or needs intervention.

If there was a particularly tough oncall, there might be a 4 or 5 score which may lead to the suggestion that the engineer take a day off to rest.

Multiple 4s or 5s for weeks in a row can lead to a discussion around what the engineer is working on, and whether the balance of work on the team is distributed well or if goals need to pushed back. It could also be a process or prioritization problem: perhaps this engineer is taking on extra work from customers which is not visible to anyone else.

Having this pulse conducted every week in a very lightweight way establishes a nice shorthand to communicate stressors and risks to your team’s health in a very efficient way.

On the other side of the scale, a 1 can predict someone who might be looking for a change. I haven’t had many 1s which have led to a team switch or exit, but I have had this conversation lead to engineers quietly mentioning that they are looking into getting expertise in other domains. There can be an association with the wellness score and “how much enjoyment does the work provide” which can open the door to these kinds of conversations. Knowing how engineers are feeling about their work, whether via a wellness vector or any other, is valuable knowledge that can help guide their future direction on this team or another.

Ask about life, without prying

I learned after using this score for awhile that it doesn’t always fully capture what might be affecting the motivation and energy of my reports. For example, work can be going well, but a persistent back problem could be causing someone to feel like they can’t type another letter.

I have since expanded this to “what is your work wellness and your life wellness?” The answers have surprised me, since sometimes someone who repeatedly reports 2s and 3s will then share that they are in the midst of some relationship issues, or that they have just found out someone in their family has health problems. There was one case where one person’s work burnout was 3, but their life burnout was 10, but they didn’t want to share why.

Again, some people don’t want to appear to complain, or feel great friction with proactively raising issues, or simply have very strict separation between work and the rest of their life, even though life can very much affect how they experience their work.

The “life wellness” extension of this question can help you get insight into whether there is that elusive “something else” which might be affecting your team member’s performance without requiring that person to divulge any personal details.

Use it to create team health goals, or push back on other goals

In our manager share recently, a fellow manager adopted this practice and made it his goal for next half to maintain a 3.5 wellness score because he found that almost all his engineers were reporting >4 when he began asking the question in 1:1s. Another manager used the wellness score along with the string of incidents that had been afflicting the teams’ services to escalate a team “code yellow” in order to pause on business goals and get the team’s health and service stability back to a good state.

Having this metric and methodology helps give visibility into something that is generally considered difficult to quantify.

It’s only been a little over a year since I started to use this, but I will be curious to know whether it helps to predict or even avoid unexpected and unplanned attrition on teams in the long run.