Make employee wellbeing a way of life
Let’s explore the different levers that an organization can activate to integrate well-being into the practical realities of corporate life.
One of the biggest impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic has been that people have started to see work differently. More and more organizations are prioritizing employee mental health and wellbeing to improve employee engagement and retention.
While practices like resilience training and “zoom-free days” are well-intentioned, how much does that actually translate to employee well-being? One of the reasons many wellness practices falter is lack of integration with organizational routines and processes.
What is well-being?
Well-being is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “the state of being comfortable, healthy or happy”. It means having good mental health, high life satisfaction, meaning or purpose, and an ability to handle stress. It is made up of four main elements:
- a set of skills to build,
- a set of behaviors to practice,
- a goal to discover, and
- an environment to encourage it.
So when organizations try to improve well-being through practices that only address one of the essential elements (for example: building skills through a stress management training program), the impact, if any, is fleeting or non-existent.
For organizations to make wellness a way of life, they need to view it from a holistic perspective. They must harness the four elements to create a culture of well-being within the organization to ensure that employees look their best and perform at their best.
Consider wellness holistically
Ask key questions:
- What skills do employees need to better cope with the pressures of work and life?
- How can we encourage employees to develop positive mindsets/behaviors?
- How can we, as an organization, become more determined?
- How can we make our employees more motivated?
- How to create an environment conducive to well-being?
- How to integrate wellness practices into our daily rituals?
Use the four essential elements of well-being
Element 1: Develop a set of skills
The most important skills required to support employee well-being are:
- resilience skills
- positive thinking skills
- mindfulness skills
These can be built through virtual or in-person trainings over time. I recommend reducing the number of practice sessions and focusing on building the behaviors needed to practice wellness.
Element 2: Operational objective
A purposeful organization fosters purposeful employees. What are the core values that drive us as an organization? Are the employees aligned with the purpose of the organization? This can be done by:
Off-site management: The leadership team meets to define the values and mission of the organization and define a purpose for the organization. This can then be translated into the workplace using various communication modalities.
Embedding purpose in daily organizational practices: Zappos is a great example. Right after hiring, within the first two weeks, the HR manager says, “I know some of you are really excited about working at Zappos. I also know that some of you have doubts. If so, you have the option to leave now. If you leave now, we’ll give you a $2,000 departure bonus. Zappos had started this process by giving a bonus of $500 but it worked so well that they increased it to $2000. They wanted only employees aligned with organizational values to work with them.
Goal creation workshops: You can also boost the individual purpose of employees across the organization by hosting workshops where they are encouraged to dive into their individual life purpose and use it to look their best at work. A Fortune 500 company I consult for has successfully used this approach to motivate employees around the world.
Element 3: Leverage behaviors
Facilitate mindfulness behaviors and create triggers to remind employees of the importance of wellness practices. Include wellness rituals in the organization’s DNA. For example:
Mindfulness in meetings: Many companies have started playing “pile-up” in their in-person meetings. Just ask everyone to pile all their smartphones in the middle of the table, then ask them to keep them there until the meeting is over. This ensures that people are more attentive and less distracted during meetings.
Walk while you talk: California-based skincare brand Murad found a way to encourage walking meetings. They painted a walking track in their world headquarters. The track, which winds through and around their office floors, allows employees to stretch their legs and chat about work on the fly.
Element 4: Environment
The organizational environment is an often overlooked aspect of creating employee well-being. Studies show that the environment plays a crucial role in how people behave in various scenarios.
For example, when Google realized employees were eating unhealthy amounts of M&Ms available for free in various hallways around the office campus, they moved M&Ms from clear jars to opaque jars. They also put healthy snacks such as almonds and walnuts in clear jars next to M&Ms. Over the course of seven weeks at Google’s New York office, this simple environmental change resulted in their employees eating 3.1 million fewer calories from M&Ms.
How do you encourage employees to exercise more? Ceridian Human Capital Management Company installed treadmill workstations for employees to walk around during conference calls, web meetings, or when working on their laptops.
Although we are talking about the physical environment here, there can be immense benefit to also considering the psychological environment created in the workplace. The more elements you can trigger, the better your chances of creating a culture of well-being at work.