Why Having a Thriving Organizational Wellbeing Trumps Everything Else!

Meet Dan Woods. Dan worked at an organization for 10 years. During that time, he became increasingly frustrated with the lack of growth and development opportunities, the other employees’ immature behaviors and apathy, and company leadership’s unresponsiveness. During that time, Dan gained 30 pounds and saw his cholesterol and triglyceride levels progressively increase. He also had bouts of depression.

Dan did care about his health and wellbeing. He had great intentions and made plans to exercise, eat better, etc. But after 8-10 hours a day at work, the best plans went out the window. His company had a wellness program, which Dan found totally annoying. “Why would I participate in some stupid program and give the company my personal information? If management wants to help employees, it should practically demolish the company and start over!”

Dan finally escaped and found a new job where he received regular accolades from leadership, was being stretched and able to leverage his strengths, worked with smart and engaged people, and appreciated the company’s focus on intentionally harnessing a better culture. This new company also had a wellness program — an outcomes-based program. Dan opted to not participate because he knew his health would disqualify him from the reward and didn’t want to spend the time jumping through hoops while still acclimating to his new job. Yet, in spite of the company’s wellness program (which he resented), he improved his physical, emotional and social wellbeing now that he worked in a company with thriving organizational wellbeing. It had nothing to do with a wellness program. Dan said, “I know it sounds strange, but I just couldn’t focus on my health when I was so miserable at work. But now because that area is better, I finally feel like me again and that I can tackle my health.”

A Lot Determines Whether an Organization and Its Workplace Culture are Thriving

In “The Advantage,” Patrick Lencioni describes successful organizations as having two basic qualities:

  • Smart – excels in classic fundamentals of business (i.e., strategy, operations, finance, marketing and technology)
  • Healthy – minimal politics, minimal confusion, high morale, high productivity and low turnover

While being smart is only half of the equation, in most organizations, it occupies almost all of the time, energy and attention of leaders. Yet, according to Lencioni:

“Once organizational health is properly understood and placed into the right context it will surpass all other disciplines in business as the greatest opportunity for improvement and competitive advantage. Really.”

We also know from the Towers Watson 2012 Global Workforce Study that whether people feel energized by work (i.e., supported in their physical, emotional and social wellbeing) and are enabled to be effective in their role significantly affect their level of engagement. Notice that organizational health is not the same as the “Healthy Culture” that worksite wellness professionals talk about. In most organizations, “Healthy Culture” usually refers to having healthy food in the cafeteria, an onsite fitness center or exercise classes, walking routes or relaxation rooms. Who cares if the climate supports healthy choices like these if the underlying culture is dysfunctional?

Consider one organization we’ll refer to as Smith Corp. The company follows all of the “best practices” for creating a culture of health/wellness.

  • It offers flexible work arrangements, has fresh fruit delivered weekly in the lunch room, provides an onsite fitness center and onsite yoga classes, and has healthy eating policies, a wellness committee, tobacco-cessation reimbursement, lunch-and-learn seminars, community-service opportunities and more.
  • Smith Corp. prides itself in the culture of wellness it has created and clearly communicates that healthy living is part of what the company is all about. There’s just one small problem: The participation in most programs is low.

A culture survey and workplace assessment revealed that employees are burned out and don’t have time to participate in activities. Several employees have left, and workloads have increased. Employees also report not being clear about what they should be working on and frustrated with managers talking out of both sides of their mouth – in one breath saying safety and wellness matters, but in the next breath pushing to get more done. In addition, employees are frustrated with inconsistent management. Some departments seem to be flexible and support wellness efforts while others don’t. In those that don’t, employees start to resent the unevenly distributed workload. Much like Dan, it is likely these employees’ overall wellbeing has been negatively impacted.

Thriving Organizational Wellbeing Defined

Organizational Wellbeing encompasses everything that makes up the employee experience at a company. With that, we view a thriving workplace culture as one where:

  • the executive leadership team is truly a cohesive one;
  • mission, vision and values are clearly articulated, and every employee knows how he/she fits within the vision and values;
  • employees are empowered and enabled to leverage their strengths;
  • leaders and the work climate provide employees with autonomous support (versus using incentives to drive behaviors);
  • clear, timely and meaningful communication is provided for employees, and employees share ideas and feedback that is actually utilized;
  • clear, timely and meaningful feedback is provided for employees in the spirit of ongoing growth and development (versus simply measuring performance);
  • the climate fosters innovation, creativity and meaningful work;
  • leaders truly value employees – and employees feel valued;
  • employees are encouraged and supported to be authentic and be themselves;
  • people within the organization respect, support and care about one another as people, not just as employees there to complete certain job tasks;
  • accountability is embraced; the rules are clear and apply to everyone;
  • employees are provided the tools and resources to work safely and productively;
  • resources, programs, policies and the environment support employees to thrive in all areas of wellbeing; and
  • employees are happy and proud to work there!

Or it can be easily boiled down to one company’s mission with regards to the employee experience: “We make it so Monday mornings don’t SUCK!”

If Smith Corp. had thriving organizational wellbeing, the perception of the resources available to support employee wellbeing would be very different. It doesn’t matter if you have a lot of “stuff” to support wellbeing if the organization isn’t healthy and employees don’t first and foremost feel valued.

A friend recently posted this on Facebook (which I thought was very telling):

“I had to fill out a mandatory health assessment today as part of open enrollment. It told me I need to reduce my stress – duh! I’m now supposed to do some stress management program that I don’t even have time to complete. Irony!”

If you want to have thriving employee wellbeing, it needs to start with creating a thriving workplace culture – period.

Rosie Ward, PhD, MPH, MCHES, BCC, CIC®, CVS-FR Rosie is an accomplished speaker, writer and consultant. She has spent more than 20 years in worksite health promotion and organizational development. In addition to her bachelor’s degrees in Kinesiology and Public Health, and a doctorate in Organization and Management, Rosie is also a Certified Intrinsic Coach® Mentor, Certified Judgment Index Consultant, a Certified Valuations Specialist, and a Board Certified Coach. Rosie uses this unique combination to work with executive and leadership teams to create comprehensive development strategies centered on shifting thinking patterns. She is a contributing author to the book, “Organization Development in Healthcare — High Impact Practices for a Complex and Changing Environment.” She leverages these principles to help organizations develop and implement strategies to create a thriving workplace culture that values and supports wellbeing and the unique, intrinsic needs of employees. Contact Rosie at rosie@salveopartners.com or drrosieward.com.

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