All aboard for well-being

Creating a well-being culture in the workplace can’t be relegated to one person, one team or one technology platform. Every manager, leader and HR professional plays a role in supporting or harming the health and well-being of the people they lead, contends Richard Safeer

Employees are prioritising their mental health more than ever before, but business leaders aren’t keeping up with the trend.  The Workforce Institute at UKG reports that 64 per cent of employees would rather take a lower-paying job that better supports their mental health. It’s clear companies are continuing to fall short when it comes to employee well-being, but why are so many missing the mark?

Even companies with a budget for personnel and programmes tend to fall short of reaching their desired well-being culture state.  Indeed, 69 per cent of employees state their manager has a great impact on their mental health; the same percentage who report their spouse greatly impacts it.

It should come as no surprise that managers and leaders are failing in this arena.  After all, for the most part, it’s not part of their education. If you go to the websites of several leading business schools and look at the core curriculum, you’ll find classes in accounting, finance, customer value and macroeconomics.  What you won’t find is a class about employee health and well-being. When we consider that MBA curricula don’t include employee wellness, the popular saying, “a company’s greatest assets are its people” , seems almost hypocritical.

The cure for the illness is not another overpriced prescription, but rather fundamental changes to the way we approach employee well-being.  There are six building blocks needed to create a well-being culture in your work team.

  • Shared values Unlike ‘core values’, shared values are determined as a collaborative process between leadership and employees. Shared values are more likely to represent principles that convey caring for the health and well-being of the workforce, which is not only good for the individual, but also for the organisation. As Richard Barrett points out in his book, The Value Driven Organisation, a company whose values convey caring is more likely to be successful, in part because of the sense of community a caring workplace provides.

  • Social climate Everyone wants to feel like they belong and are part of a winning team. Employees want to feel respected, included, and trusted.  Employees also prefer to work in a positive, upbeat environment and where everyone on the team feels like they are contributing towards the same goal.

  • Norms Workplace norms can be supportive of our health and well-being, like taking breaks, or they can be unsupportive, like sitting throughout the day. Teams and companies can be intentional on shaping healthy norms and extinguishing unhealthy ones.

  • Culture connection points There are many ways we can nudge or make it easier for our employees to make healthy choices throughout the day and experience more positive emotions. Although benefits and programmes are often leaned on heavily for this approach, they are far from being the most effective ways of supporting employee health and well-being.  Some other examples include workplace design, behavioral economics, and policies.

  • Peer support Our co-workers greatly influence our behaviours and emotions.  We can leverage peer support to help shape healthy habits and get rid of unhealthy one.  Unfortunately, most people are unaware of the power of peer support and most organisations don’t institutionalize peer support strategies for the benefit of their workforce.

  • Leadership engagement – It’s not enough for leaders to say that employee health is important. They must play an active role in supporting well-being in the workplace. The minimum requirement is to practice good management skills, which most leaders don’t realise impacts others’ well-being. In addition, serving as a well-being role model, removing barriers to a healthy day and leading from a steady emotional state are important ways that leaders can shape and support a culture of well-being for employees. Every leader plays a role in bringing the other five building blocks to life.

Just as leaders are responsible for customer service and quality control, employee health and well-being needs to be a core competency if we expect to have an engaged and thriving workforce, where people want to stay and it’s easy to attract top talent.  The high cost of recruitment and low engagement makes adding employee health and well-being to the priority list an essential step for any organisation looking to succeed.

Dr Richard Safeer is the author of A cure for the common company: a well-being prescription for a happier, healthier, and more resilient workforce, published by Wiley. He is chief medical director of employee health and well-being at Johns Hopkins Medicine. He works to help leaders understand how to build cultures of health in their own organisation. He holds faculty appointments at both the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Bloomberg School of Public Health

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