Article: Well-being initiatives that come from the CEO’s office work best


Well-being initiatives that come from the CEO’s office work best

Building a culture of ‘thriving well-being’ involves much more than a wellness program, says bestselling author Dr Jim Harter. In this exclusive interview, he walks us through the current corporate benefits landscape and why some initiatives fail.
Well-being initiatives that come from the CEO’s office work best

Jim Harter, PhD, is Chief Scientist for Gallup's workplace management and well-being practices. He is co-author of the Wall Street Journal bestseller, Wellbeing at Work, released in 2021, a book that explores how to build resilient and thriving teams in organisations. He is also co-author of the No. 1 Wall Street Journal and Washington Post bestseller, It’s the Manager, released in 2019, as well as the New York Times bestseller 12: The Elements of Great Managing, an exploration of the 12 crucial elements for creating and harnessing employee engagement. 

Dr Harter's book, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller, Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, is based on a global study of what differentiates people who are thriving, from those who are not. His research is featured in First, Break All the Rules, and he contributed the foreword to Gallup's updated edition of this groundbreaking bestseller.

How do you see the current corporate benefits landscape? How is it transforming?

Globally, workers report higher rates of stress, worry, and anger and these numbers have been climbing for a decade. In the US, burnout has been on the rise. 

Prior to COVID-19, the most requested perk or benefit was “flex-time.” Now, for those with remote-ready jobs, after experiencing new ways of working, three in 10 employees prefer a fully remote job and five in 10 prefer a hybrid job that includes some remote work. When employee work preferences don’t match employer expectations, employee burnout and intentions to quit are substantially higher.  

Where people work has become such an important consideration that geographic relocation is now – for the first time – listed as one of the top reasons for changing jobs, right behind career advancement and pay.

What do you think are the top reasons well-being initiatives fail despite sizable investments that organisations make? How can they revert it?

Well-being initiatives have often been contained in “wellness programs” that most large employers like to promote as offerings, even though few employees participate. Those employers basically treat it as a box to check. However, building a culture of thriving well-being involves much more than a program. A culture must be initiated by an organisation’s leaders and lived through its managers. Here are some criteria for creating a culture that is resilient and thriving:

  1. Provide employees with a science-based organising structure for your benefits and well-being programs. Gallup research has found five elements of well-being that matter most: career, social, financial, physical, and community.
  2. Equip managers to include well-being as part of performance management. Much of what impacts changes in well-being is individual and situational. 
  3. Managers are in the best position to know each person’s work and life situation. They can direct employees to the right resources to help them achieve their personal well-being goals in the five elements.
  4. Develop a network of well-being coaches who collect and share best practices. Organisations need experts who can pull together and share the most accurate and useful advice.
  5. Audit your practices and policies. Which practices and policies predict the highest rates of thriving, retention, and performance?

How can organisations envision and incorporate design features and amenities into their workspaces to prompt well-being in a way that is embedded by design?

The office features for which employees are most likely to change jobs include more flexible work time, more privacy when needed, more personal workspace, and comfortable temperature. Gallup has also found that office features related to employee engagement include the ability to see the outdoors, noise reduction, and ease of collaboration and movement. Flexible time and location are clearly the most sought-after work design elements.

What should the role of CEOs and top leaders be when it comes to envisioning and implementing well-being initiatives? How should leaders devise strategies and plan for long-term holistic employee well-being and empathetic leadership?

Well-being initiatives that come from the CEO’s office work best. Cultural change is an outcome of the expectations and messages that leaders convey, both through their words and actions. CEOs need to demonstrate that they are, themselves, committed to improving their own well-being. Too often, well-being, employee engagement, performance management, and learning/development exist in separate areas of an organisation and seem disconnected from the chief executive’s office.  

To change a culture, an organisation needs a strategy for how each of these practices reinforce and build on one another. Managers are reporting higher burnout and stress than the people they manage. So, culture change starts when leaders have a plan for how they improve the experience of managing. This includes upskilling managers so that they have the right ongoing coaching conversations with their team members so that both well-being and performance are maximised.

What’s your take on metrics that organisations should factor in to measure the ROI of wellness schemes?

Organisations should hold themselves accountable for the value of well-being initiatives and offerings. This means studying usage and its relationship to actual employee well-being, retention rates, and performance outcomes.


This interview was first published in October 2021.

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Topics: C-Suite, Corporate Wellness Programs, Leadership, #PMTRWC, #WellbeingByDesign

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