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Well-Being Belongs at the Heart of Organizational Culture and Leadership

Importance of well-being

Well-being in its broadest sense is impacted by several elements including mental and physical health, a positive work environment, the opportunity for personal growth, good lifestyle choices and financial well-being. A holistic well-being program will address all of these elements. Investment in the well-being of employees can lead to increased resilience, reduced absences and improved productivity. The concept of well-being at work has been rapidly growing in importance over the past few years, with a recognition that workplace stress is impacting the workforce and contributing to many forms of both physical and mental illness.

The impact of the last 12 months has encouraged organizations to accelerate their well-being strategies. In the area of benefits, this has meant a shift away from some of the usual on-site offerings such as gyms, massage programs, yoga and meditation sessions, and healthy snacks, to create more of a focus on the pressing need of employee mental health and resilience during these challenging times. While this is certainly adding to the cost of employee benefit programs, a proactive approach to uncovering new and effective strategies and solutions will inevitably enhance the employee experience, improve engagement, and ultimately drive better performance―all of which are good outcomes and worth the investment. To be effective, well-being initiatives need to be a core part of organizational culture and leadership.

Who is Responsible for Creating a Culture that Embraces Well-Being?

It is all very well having a robust well-being program that is adaptable to meet the needs of a broad range of issues but unless there is a culture that truly values and embraces the concepts then the real benefits will not be realized.

Who is responsible for creating a culture of well-being? The answer is everyone:

  • HR leaders have a lead role to play in steering the health and well-being agenda in organizations. They need to ensure that senior managers regard it as a priority and need to communicate the benefits of a healthy workplace to line managers, who are ultimately responsible for day-to day people management.
  • Senior functional and operations leaders are critical role models for the success (or not) of well-being programs. They need to lead by example to demonstrate that well-being is a strategic priority and a core part of organizational culture.
  • Line managers are responsible for the day-to-day managing of employees and well-being is a core part of their leadership responsibility. This includes spotting early warning signs of stress, making reasonable adjustments at work, and creating an environment where people feel comfortable speaking up about well-being issues.
  • Employees have a responsibility for looking after their own health and well-being and will only benefit from well-being initiatives if they participate in what is on offer. Clear communication of programs available and easy access to resources are key to encourage employee uptake.

Well-Being as the Workforce Adapts to the New Way of Working

Employees are facing many challenges as they adapt to the new ways of working. There is the potential mental stress of isolation plus the physical challenges of adapting to new workspaces that were not originally designed to serve as an office. Added to this are further stresses of increased childcare responsibilities and worries about at-risk family members. Leaders need to pay particular attention to mental health to make sure it is at the core of well-being and engagement programs.

While innovation and flexibility are important to ensure that programs continue to evolve to meet the changing needs of the workforce, there are some simple ground rules that leadership at all levels can adopt to help their teams:

  • Set boundaries to create and maintain a healthy work life balance. Understand the challenges of each team member and agree on a schedule that allows the individual to meet goals but also encourages them to step away from their desk and take a break. Help your team to set boundaries so that they can step away and switch off at the end of the day. Empathy and flexibility are critical even more so at the moment.
  • Lead by example. Bring your best self to work every day. Leaders need to take care of themselves in order to perform at optimum levels. You want your team to set boundaries to be able to reset and start the next day refreshed. To make that happen, you have to set the example. 
  • Be willing to adapt. Leaders used to managing office-based teams need to be able to adapt their leadership style to new conditions. Open communication, empathy and support are key to keeping employees engaged and maintain a sense that they are valued. It is important to set goals and objectives to keep people accountable and to meet overarching business goals, but make sure those goals are achievable and be willing to adapt plans as needed.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Make sure employees know where to find information and support and consider establishing a hotline for employees. But do not rely on employees to proactively self-report―provide regular opportunities for individuals to check in with managers and colleagues. Also make sure that leaders are taught to listen well and be able to identify changes in personality that may indicate an individual is struggling.
  • Create connections. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are a common resource to create connections as a mechanism for promoting diversity and inclusion. For employees working remotely, transitioning back to work, and continuing essential on-site work, employers should consider forming peer groups and ERGs to connect employees around key issues.

At ChapmanCG, we are certainly seeing more demand for wellness experts to join businesses. This has been particularly noticeable in the professional and financial services sectors where there is potential for higher levels of presenteeism in the workplace. While the primary reason for bringing in wellness expertise is cultural and to help employee engagement, there is also a risk mitigation and commercial aspect to the decision. Some forward-thinking organizations going through substantial organizational transformation are hiring wellness expertise to develop programs to support employees during times of severe disruption. Total rewards expertise is also in high demand, with a strong focus on innovation to create additional frameworks to address benefits and well-being priorities. From our conversations with HR leaders, we are also discovering that learning specialists and HR business partners are playing an equally important role as everyone adapts to the “new normal”. Through partnership and coaching they are helping leaders and employees develop new skills to adapt to the new way of working.

Our Future Workplace

Work plays a crucial part in most people’s lives―it is not just about providing a source of income. Doing our best work can give us a sense of purpose and achievement, and boost our self-esteem, as well as the opportunity to socialize and build friendships with our colleagues. A supportive and inclusive workplace that provides opportunities for fulfillment and development is key to maintaining employee engagement.

While the employers and employees are clearly focused on the challenges of the pandemic, there is also a recognition that this has been a pivotal moment that will impact how we work in the future. We have moved rapidly towards a new normal and even that continues to evolve. Whilst we do not know exactly what that will look like it is becoming clear that well-being in all its forms will be critical to building a high-performing business that is able to attract and retain top talent. Within this framework there will likely be the following elements:

  • Well-being is a core part of company culture that provides a holistic program for all employee groups.
  • Employees are given space for growth and development, so they feel able to make a meaningful contribution.
  • Employees are clear on what resources are available to them and are encouraged to use them without fear of stigma or judgment.
  • Flexible working is offered where possible and having work-life balance/integration is actively encouraged.
  • Employees know what is expected of them and are clear on their job roles, areas of responsibility, and how their role contributes to the overall organization goals.
  • The culture is inclusive, diverse and welcoming, where employees feel able to be themselves.

HR has played a critical role helping organizations and leaders adapt at rapid pace during a time of crisis, and the function will continue to play a critical part in the process as organizations work to rebalance and adapt to the new normal. Over the last few months there has rightly been a strong focus on adapting to a new way of working and implementing programs to help employees deal with the unique challenges everyone has faced. As we all settle into new routines, employers and employees need to make sure that they continue to focus on programs and initiatives that promote physical and mental well-being, making this a core part organizational culture. However, let us not get lost in the buzz of new initiatives and lose sight of the root causes of stress factors that impact well-being. HR will play a critical role in building and reinforcing a culture that promotes open communication and a culture of trust, where employees will feel comfortable talking to their leaders openly about issues that are causing them stress.

While recent events have been challenging on many levels, there will certainly be some good that comes out of this. This includes a healthier and more flexible workplace for all.


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