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If you haven’t already seen it, the U.S. Surgeon General recently talked about the relationship between work and wellbeing. The result isn’t surprising. We do our best work when we’re someplace that supports our wellbeing. Conversely, we don’t do our best work when we’re someplace that doesn’t support wellbeing.
I realize that addressing workplace wellbeing is easier said than done. It’s also where the conversation about wellbeing gets difficult.
Personally, I make a distinction between wellbeing and wellness. I tend to think of wellness as physical wellness where wellbeing includes aspects like financial, career, social/relationships, and community. All of it is important.
The good news is that 81% of organizations offer some type of workplace wellness program according to a health benefit survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Honestly, that’s great. It’s good to see that organizations realize physical wellness is important and we should continue to encourage more support for wellness.
On the other hand, in a brief from the Employee Benefit Research Institute, just under half (46%) of employers interested in implementing a financial wellbeing program were actually doing it. Granted, this is only one aspect of wellbeing, but financial wellbeing is probably one of the most talked about right now. So, if only half of employers are actually doing it, then what does that say about the other aspects of wellbeing? This is where it gets difficult for me. We say wellbeing is important but it’s not being addressed holistically.
Speaking of holistically, I believe as organizations are discussing wellbeing initiatives, they need to not only discuss the aspects I’ve mentioned – physical, financial, career, social, and community – but also look at their internal systems. Organizations should have internal structures that will support wellbeing programs.
McKinsey recently released a report on addressing employee burnout where they suggest that all the wellness and wellbeing benefits in the world – like yoga, meditation apps, training, etc. – won’t mean a thing if internal practices like unreasonable workloads, unfair treatment, lack of manager support, and toxic behavior still exist. While the McKinsey report is focused on employee burnout, and that’s certainly a big issue, what they’re saying about internal practices applies to all organizational programs.
Bottom line: Organizations can design and implement workplace wellness and wellbeing programs that look great on a slide deck, but they will only have impact if the organizational culture and structures support it. Employees will figure this out.
Organizations can promote wellness and wellbeing programs all day long, but if the company’s practices don’t support them, then employees will understand that the programs are simply for show. And the whole reason the program is being implemented (i.e., to help employees do their best work) will not materialize. Because employees will look for organizations that not only create programs but support them.
This “talk versus action” conversation is coming up on a regular basis. Organizations say that INSERT TOPIC HERE is important – like diversity, equity, wellbeing, etc. – but it’s only talk. Employees are looking for authenticity and action in their employer. They spend way too much time at work to deal with bullpucky. This isn’t to say that organizations have to give up profits. I believe employees are okay with the company making money. Organizations can do both. This is about making the decision to do it.
Images captured by Sharlyn Lauby while exploring the streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles, CA
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