Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations)
In recent decades, employee wellness is a concept and practice that has really caught hold in corporate America. While worker safety and physical health were the primary focus of organizations for decades, organizations have started to offer all sorts of different benefits, perks and programs to address various aspects of holistic worker wellness and health.
Years ago, I was working in one such organization. The HR benefits page on the company website offered a long list of different types of benefits to support workers in various aspects of their life. At the time, I thought this was so progressive and a great sign of the organization’s commitment to its people. And while I would rather have more options than fewer, over time I have realized that having a long list of benefits is not enough.
The problem with that organization’s approach is that while they provided a broad smorgasbord of options:
1. these options and opportunities were not communicated clearly and effectively to individuals within the organization,
2. they weren’t connected or integrated in any meaningful way to a broader wellness and health strategy, and
3. leaders in the organization didn’t seem to buy in or participate, so
4. participation and utilization of most of the programs and benefits (outside of traditional health benefits) was incredibly low.
Ultimately, upon greater reflection, it seems like this organization (and many others I have seen since) was more concerned about providing a long list of offerings they could point to rather than really addressing the needs of their people in a meaningful and sustainable way.
What is holistic worker well-being, and why should leaders provide support?
While there are many ways to define holistic care, simply put, holistic worker well-being is all about “cultivat[ing] wellness by addressing a patient’s body, mind, and spirit.”
As leaders recognize the need and work toward better supporting their people, not only are they doing right by their people, but they will also be helping their organization succeed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “workplace health programs can increase productivity” and provide a wide range of positive workplace benefits, even increased revenue and profit. For example, a study found that healthier workers are more motivated and engaged, absent less and tend to stay with their employer longer, resulting in lower absenteeism, presenteeism and turnover rates.
Furthermore, according to the recent Holistic Well-Being at Work report (registration required), “Stress and burnout can lead to decreased worker engagement, productivity, and job satisfaction. Fostering workers’ mental and physical health, on the other hand, promotes many positive outcomes for individuals, teams, and organizations. A more holistic view of worker well-being has become critical as employers prepare for a post-COVID-19 world while managing the current period of great uncertainty. Integrated efforts and communications around different aspects of well-being can help workers at all levels manage stress, engage, and adjust to change.”
The reality is, in the modern world of work, we can’t adequately focus on improving organizational systems, increasing operational efficiencies and enhancing overall firm productivity unless we directly connect those efforts to the very people who make the organization run and provide the creative innovations that provide a competitive advantage and help the firm bring value to the market.
How can leaders provide support for holistic worker well-being?
Physical Health And Safety
Leaders should encourage regular physical movement and organize the physical office space to promote health and safety. While creating an ergonomic workspace is essential, workers need to also have opportunities to recover from taxing meetings or physical activity associated with their work. Regardless of the type of work performed, try introducing regular stretch and breathing breaks, and if a worker is desk-bound, make sure they have movement breaks every hour.
Leaders should encourage and proactively build a sense of community and belonging among their team members. You can encourage and support both formal and informal face-to-face and virtual meet-ups during and after work hours, but regardless of what that looks like, the key is to strengthen authentic and meaningful relationships between team members and with managers and to help everyone develop appreciation for each other’s unique contributions. And always remember to include your remote colleagues.
Emotional And Mental Well-Being eaders need to focus on the emotional and mental well-being and health of their team. Strive to create an inclusive environment and culture with psychological safety, where everyone can be appropriately vulnerable and where they feel safe to talk openly about emotional and mental health challenges. Leaders should also regularly review work schedules, design manageable work (and even reduce workloads when appropriate) and encourage their people to take time off to recharge.
A Culture Of Holistic Wellness And Health
Ultimately, organizational leaders need to show by their personal example the importance of the holistic wellness of their people. If you see your leaders regularly practicing self-care and focusing on their own physical, social and emotional/mental well-being, it gives you and the rest of your team permission to do the same. It signals that holistic worker wellness is a core value and top priority of your organization, and your actions will speak much louder than words. As this emphasis is maintained consistently over time, a culture of wellness and health will permeate the organization.
While corporate attention to employee wellness and well-being is not necessarily new, the increased necessity and focus on the overall holistic well-being and health of workers has been receiving renewed emphasis in recent years, in large part due to organizational and people challenges that came about due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Leaders need to recognize both the business case and human case for this focus and provide better holistic support to their people to be positioned to address the complex combination of physical health and safety, social well-being and emotional and mental well-being. As leaders proactively foster a culture of holistic worker wellness and health, their people will have the best opportunity to fulfill their potential and help the organization achieve its goals.
Forbes Coaches Council is an invitation-only community for leading business and career coaches. Do I qualify?