READ the November 2021 issue of our magazine: Well-Being By Design
The new reality of the world of work has brought forth an acute awareness of health and well-being, calling on corporations to devise innovative ways to integrate employee well-being into the flow of work to help their staff perform optimally. There is a clear opportunity for companies to leverage workplace design to nurture holistic well-being for people at work. So what can organizations do to incorporate well-being by design to reimagine work holistically?
We spoke to Laura Putnam, CEO, Motion Infusion & Author of Workplace Wellness That Works on the focus areas when it comes to the well-being of employees. Motion Infusion is on a mission to promote employee health, happiness and well-being. Laura Putnam is a leading catalyst for well-being at work, an international public speaker and author of “Workplace Wellness That Works.” As CEO of Motion Infusion and creator of the leadership training program Managers on the Move, she infuses well-being into the workplace to help employees, teams and organizations thrive.
Here are a few excerpts from the conversation.
Today, organisations are reimagining almost all aspects of work and are looking at employee health holistically to better support their workforce. So, how can they incorporate design features and amenities to prompt well-being at the workplace?
First, I’d like to start with emphasizing just how much the pandemic and its wake have elevated the need for well-being at work. This is the moment for wellness. For so long, wellness professionals like myself have struggled to get decision makers on board with the case for a healthy, happy workforce. The pandemic certainly provided the business case for well-being, in a way that nobody could ignore. What became crystal clear was just how much businesses really do depend on healthy workforces; not only physically, but also mentally, emotionally, and socially. As we all witnessed, the pandemic not only impacted the physical health but also the mental health of the workforce. For instance, in the US, a Boston University study came out in June of 2020 showing that rates of depression had tripled since the onset of the pandemic.
This unprecedented time has also triggered a sense of YOLO and finding work that is meaningful, which in turn has led to a massive wave of what’s been dubbed the ‘Great Resignation’. According to a recent Microsoft survey, over 40% of the American workforce is thinking about quitting. In August alone, a record number of 4.3 million Americans left their job, according to data released by the US Labor Department. That’s the highest number of employees to leave their work since the Labor Department first began collecting this data!
Employee expectations have changed. They want more meaning, more flexibility, more inclusivity and more well-being. Now the employee is in the driver seat and the employers are having to respond to that. Above all, employees want to know that the company they work for actually cares about them. Employees want to feel like that they matter.
So, for any organization that is serious about improving the health and well-being of their workforce, the key is taking a more holistic, “outside-in” approach that “designs” for health, as you speak of above. Here are three steps you can take to move in this direction, which are all derived from my book.
1. Uncover the hidden factors. That is, take an honest look at your company culture. Conduct quantitative and qualitative assessments. Does your company’s culture and way of doing business support well-being – or is it undermining it? What I see over and over again in organizations I’ve worked with is a mismatch between the messaging of company wellness programs - “Prioritize your well-being. Step away from your desk! Take a yoga class!” - and the larger company culture that often dictates exactly the opposite.
2. Activate your managers to become Multipliers of Well-Being. While wellness may not be part of the job description, every manager plays a critical role in the well-being of their team members. The manager alone likely accounts for up to 70% of their team members’ engagement with both their work and their well-being – according to Gallup and according to ADP Research Institute. Our own published data shows that in organizations where managers are taking a lead in modeling and actively supporting well-being for their team members, both managers and their team members report higher levels of engagement with their work, overall well-being, and productivity. A manager-driven movement of well-being can make a huge difference for the well-being of the workforce, especially during this time of uncertainty.
Case in point: I led all of the company leaders and managers at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota through Motion Infusion’s ‘Managers on the Move’ training program, a unique “leadership meets wellness” leadership development series that empowers managers to become “Multipliers of Well-Being,” or explicit advocates for well-being. As a result of this program (measured by pre and post-assessments), employees and managers across the organization reported higher levels of well-being, despite the pandemic!
3. Design nudges and cues. Consider tangible ways in which you can optimize the environment and the culture to infuse well-being and vitality into your organization. Use the findings from your “uncover the hidden factors” assessments to design and deploy environmental “nudges” and cultural “cues” that reinforce the desired well-being practices to employees on a daily basis. Nudges are environmental prompts that make it easy to stick to healthy habits, such as offering healthy snacks at meetings or establishing a safe walking path around the office, while cues are cultural prompts that make healthy behaviors the norm, such as conducting walking meetings or starting meetings with well-being enhancers such as expressing gratitude.
What are some of the focus areas when it comes to the well-being of employees?
Certainly, all of these events and trends have highlighted the need to take mental health more seriously. We need to find meaningful ways to destigmatize conversations around mental health. Research suggests that we still have a long way to go on that front. A Gallup study released in July of 2020 shows that half of employees are afraid to talk about their mental health with their boss.
Unfortunately, what I continue to see is a lot of lip service being made around mental health as opposed to really digging into address the root causes. This disconnect is a huge issue that needs to be addressed. Take the issue of employee burnout, which has skyrocketed in the wake of the pandemic. Too often, burnout is treated as a problem with the individual. However, as it turns out, the root causes are tied to the workplace itself. According to a Gallup study, it’s things like perceptions of unfairness, work overload, unclear communication from one’s manager that are driving these rising rates of burnout. Therefore, as we already discussed, companies have to take a hard look at assessing the larger culture and environment to better address these mental health issues.
How should HR leaders partner with tech leaders to ensure that technologies, workflows and processes are designed in a way that enshrines worker well-being?
The biggest thing about workplace wellness is that for too long, it has been positioned as something that’s outside the normal workflow. HR leaders have been told to conceptualize and deliver stand-alone wellness programs, that don’t necessarily connect with day to day activities or top company initiatives.
The only way wellness will be taken seriously by tech leaders is if it is integrated into the fabric of business as usual.
Instead of stand-alone wellness programs, I advocate for infusing well-being into every aspect of the organization. That’s the philosophy behind our ‘Managers on the Move’ program. Managers and leaders who go through this program gain a deeper understanding of how well-being is part and parcel in becoming a more effective leader and in building a higher performing team.
Well-being is the foundation to any metric that matters to the organization. Therefore, it should be integrated, in some form, into every single initiative - particularly leadership initiatives.
What are some of the technologies/platforms that can be invested in to ensure employee well-being?
There are so many wellness platforms and apps out there. It’s become a really saturated market. In my view, there’s not necessarily one platform that stands above the rest. In fact, what I see is that there are more commonalities across the different platforms than there are differences. I would say that lot of these provide good content; but the real key is the extent to which they are actually used. This is where an engaged leadership can make a difference. It requires people to make technology come to life.
With few exceptions, most of these platforms fall short in that they are directed toward the individual and do little to address the larger culture. Again, this can create that mismatch between programs and culture, which I spoke of earlier. For example, it’s fine to have an app that reminds you to turn off your devices at night, but what if you have a boss who sends you late-night emails? Or, it’s fine that your company offers online fitness programs, but what if the organizational ethos is one in which people are chained to their desk all day?
The one thing I want to emphasize is that what people are looking for more than any platform is to be seen and to be cared for.
No app, for example, can replace the power of a manager noticing that one of their team members is not doing well. It’s this kind of human-to-human connection that matters most – especially now.
Wellness can be developed as a skill. How do you practice it to advocate it?
Just as EQ (emotional intelligence) can be honed as a skill, so can wellness. Certainly, EQ comes more naturally for some than others, it still is a skill that can be developed. That’s also the case with any aspect of wellness.
But, as we spoke about at the outset, we need to move away from this individual-first approach. Better health and well-being, especially on a broad scale, is much more than skill building. Rather, it is more about being surrounded by a supportive environment and culture.
The more that well-being can simply be a way of life within the context of the workplace, the less incumbent it is upon each individual to expend energy toward building skills, motivation and discipline. Having worked with over 200 organizations now, I have seen first-hand that workplace wellness works best when it is conceived of and delivered as a holistic, collective, culture-first approach that promotes better health and well-being for all.
One thing that organizations need to stop doing is delivering wellness programs in isolation that have no connection to the larger way of doing business. They should replace those stand-alone isolated wellness initiatives that feel totally disconnected from day to day work and really start to look for ways to infuse well-being into the fabric of business as usual.