During the pandemic, the focus on the wellbeing of employees has been significant. In fact, leading commentators are now saying that having an employee health and wellbeing strategy should be one of the highest priorities of management. Yet, a wellbeing strategy that doesn’t incorporate the benefits of a good company culture is likely to fail. In this article, as a Corporate Wellbeing Advocate, I shall attempt to describe what I see as the foundation for the success of a corporate wellbeing strategy, and why culture, incorporating values of compassion and kindness, is the key to driving employee wellbeing.
The interest in corporate wellbeing by senior management of institutions has certainly increased over the last few years. This has been driven by the significant increase in the costs to employers, not just as a result of sickness absence, but also by presenteeism. In a study by Deloittes, in the financial sector alone, it is estimated to cost £2017 – £2564 per employee a year.
In addition, as the priorities of ‘millennials’ and other generations start to shift – away from ‘compensation and title’, to ‘lifestyle and benefits’, the ability to hire and retain the best talent may come down to the most attractive benefits that the organisation offers – whether it be work-life balance, flexible working, or the delivery of a well-rounded wellbeing programme.
Moreover, employee wellbeing is more than just about protecting the occupational health of employees, it’s about fostering a culture that serves to look after its employees and cultivating an environment in which they can thrive.
Over the long term, it has been estimated that for every $1 that senior management spends on wellbeing at work, this will return $4 to the bottom line of that institution. This is due to reduced absenteeism and increased productivity. The business case for investing in workplace wellbeing is compelling. With these types of numbers, it is not surprising that health and wellbeing isn’t THE number one focus of organisations as they seek to increase shareholder profits but also to serve all their stakeholders.
Yet, whilst all this sounds convincing, there is a vital missing ingredient. It is all about creating a corporate culture that fosters or allows an employee health and wellbeing strategy to be successful.
Specifically, within the organizational culture, it’s all about leaders embracing a style that brings compassion, empathy and kindness. After all, we saw recently the hasty exit of the former KPMG chairman, Bill Michael who complained that staff should stop ‘moaning about the pandemic’. Michael was forced to resign given the inappropriate nature of such comments. In today’s age, this attitude is not tolerable.
But it goes further – it’s about understanding the stresses and pressures that staff are under, and offering or taking action to remedy that. One recent study in the Academy of Management revealed that those styles of leaderships which displayed compassion meant that staff were able to generate greater self-regulating responses such as self-control, self-esteem and belonging. This was directly seen to reduce the risk of burnout.
What was even more interesting was that merely providing external resources alone, through employee assistance programmes, mental health first aid programmes, or other corporate wellbeing programmes or activities, was seen not to be sufficient.
Rather, ‘self-compassion’ was seen to be the key to mitigating the risk of burnout. Self-compassion though was often only generated if the person felt supported by those who manage and are around them.
Whilst the funding of such resources is of course a good thing, a radical approach is really needed if such programmes are to be effective. I know for example, that the amount of money spent per head in organisations is significant, yet the utilisation of such resources is quite low.
It is also no good having such resources if the management style of leaders are not equally supportive of employees attending or using such resources. As a corporate yoga teacher, too often I see students not coming to class because they are ‘stressed’ or too ‘busy’ at work. The irony is that students are likely to be much more productive after a yoga class, rather than being fuelled by stress hormones, cortisol and adrenalin and rushing to complete work by a certain deadline.
Sure, there will always be circumstances where work will be the priority, but too often wellbeing is seen as a luxury for staff to enjoy when they have the time rather than embracing wellbeing as part of the corporate culture. Sometimes, not being mindful of the needs of employees can have tragic consequences, as has been seen in the past at some of the leading investment banks, who have pushed their analysts very hard in order to complete deals.
Moreever, unless leaders demonstrate qualities of compassion, empathy or kindness on a regular basis, the risk is that employees are more likely to leave the institution all together. My own experience of feeling highly motivated and committed to feeling disinterested and apathetic has been largely due how I feed off the energy of my direct line managers.
If I do not feel that the manager understands the challenges I face, I am more likely to be less focused and perhaps even think about leaving the institution. If on the other hand, I feel that my manager is fully supportive and is compassionate towards my needs, I am likely to feel more motivated.
Overall, I believe that we all have needs as employees, and recognition (or ‘thymos’) as the philosopher, Francis Fukuyama describes, is a universal feature of humanity. Turnover costs businesses, both in terms of the cost of re-hiring, but also with the time it takes for a new employee to fully integrate into a team.
In addition, organisations experience the loss of internal knowledge so carefully cultivated by the employee who leaves. Some of this knowledge is literally ‘priceless’. We all know of the ‘person’ within an organisation to call in times of crisis. Experience really does count for something.
A positive workplace culture creates the conditions for employees to commit to an organisation and are less likely to leave. It is often quoted that ‘bad management’ results in an employee leaving an organisation. Interestingly enough though, a study of employees at Facebook found that job design and the creation of a working environment that caters for the personal needs of employees was a key factor in deciding whether employers would demonstrate loyalty to their employers.
This mirrors my experience of working in a high performing team, where the notion of a ‘wellbeing strategy’ is completely separate from the day to day work of members of the group. That’s not to say that having a wellbeing strategy could help. but I have to ask myself the question: how much higher would the productivity and performance of the team be if a wellbeing programme is introduced? Rather, what I see is excellent management & camaraderie, amongst a team of highly skilled professionals driving performance. That’s the bottom line.
Overall, the benefits of a good company culture can really support an employee health and wellbeing strategy. It can help to bring the best out of people as well as providing them with the resources needed to self-regulate and manage challenging times. Without though paying due attention to corporate culture and the style of leadership within the organisation, the benefits of a wellbeing strategy are likely to be limited.
If I can help you during this crisis through yoga, please feel free to get in touch, or join me for one of my weekly online yoga classes. You can find out more about my classes here.