Why Is Wellbeing In The Workplace So Misunderstood By CEOs?

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit a client’s revamped headquarters. As I walked through the newly minted hallways with displays of aspirational corporate values, leadership qualities, and writable walls, I felt excitement rise within me. I turned the corner and, almost as expected, there was a recreation room to go with the new cafeteria, and a stack of portable technology hubs available in case employees need to present at a moment’s notice. All of these new amenities were yet another way the organization was hoping to energize the workforce, encourage collaboration and promote wellbeing.

However, I couldn’t help but notice that the recreation room was completely empty. Despite a new billiards table, lounge chairs, and a World Cup soccer match playing on the 60” flat screen, no one was utilizing the new space. After a brief billiards game with my counterpart, we immediately began to wonder what this upgrade to the company’s headquarters would mean for the employees who had to adjust to the new technology, revised work spaces, brainstorm rooms, glass windows, and varidesks.

As someone interested and engaged in performance and wellbeing, one thing has become very clear to me – attempts at wellbeing in the workforce are often mismanaged or misguided, and only used as a tool for recruiting and retaining talent. And research is clear that wellness programs are not working. According to data from Gallup’s State of the American Workplace research, 66% of employees around the world feel disengaged every day.

While I applaud organizations attempting to take better care of their people, efforts to promote a wellbeing culture will fail if leaders continue to misdirect their attention to enhancing amenities rather than practicing their own wellbeing.

An organization with a successful wellbeing culture is one that recognizes and understands the pervasive stress that is prominent in the workplace today. The modern workplace is characterized by long hours, lack of appreciation and genuine care, work and initiative overload, and for many companies, a lack of a clear purpose. Organizations with a wellbeing culture proactively and systematically address each of these challenges at the individual, leadership, and organizational level, unleashing energy across the enterprise.

In order to be truly effective, companies must address people as whole human beings, not just at the physical level, but also emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. In our work, we refer to these as the dimensions of energy required to bring skills, talent, and passion to life—and to sustain it over the long-term. While the payoff is clear for both employees and their employers’ bottom lines, the vast majority of companies have yet to take the leap into understanding and addressing the multi-dimensional needs of their employees.

Rather than focusing purely on external factors, leaders can take simple (not easy), actionable steps to cultivate a culture where individuals can sustainably perform at their best. Here are a few examples using data from The Energy Project and the Harvard Business Review’s research:

• Encourage your employees to take renewal breaks as close to every 90 minutes as possible. A 15-minute walk can reset your physiology, improving your focus and your patience along with your health. Employees who do this show a 40% greater ability to think creatively, 30% higher level of health and wellbeing, and 28% better focus.

•  Genuinely and specifically appreciate your people for who they are. Take five minutes twice a day to write a thank you or appreciation card to someone who uniquely adds value in your life and work. Employees who feel recognized, appreciated, and respected are more than twice as likely to stay in an organization.

•  Help build in time for long-term thinking. Communicate your priorities to team-members so it’s clear what you can focus on and what you can’t. Research shows us that giving employees the time and space for absorbed focus, as well as the permission to set boundaries increases retention by 83% and engagement by 93%.

•  Promote a connection to the company’s mission. Be clear about what you stand for, and how that connects to the work of the organization. Have the discussion with your team – what do they stand for and how does that connect to the organization’s aims? No other performance variable increased engagement, retention, and overall job satisfaction as much as employees feeling a connection to the company’s mission.

The performance variables are clear. But, a key question remains: can we create wellbeing cultures? Can leaders and organizations overcome their myopia, slow down to speed up, and show a genuine interest in the welfare of their people? Isn’t that where the greatest treasure lies anyway?

The research shows that a wellbeing culture will pay off for an organization’s bottom line. But even more importantly, a wellbeing culture will pay off by helping organizations access untapped potential in their employees and achieve larger organizational goals. Until leaders and organizations can fully recognize and address people’s multi-dimensional needs, any measures designed to tackle employee wellbeing will remain incomplete and ineffective.

Read more: Former Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini on the CVS Deal, Yoga and Employee Wellness