It’s the time of year when our thoughts turn to goodwill, friends, family – to what matters most. As business owners and leaders, it’s also a great time to reflect on the overall well-being of your organization’s people. Do you know how they’re feeling about their circumstances and how well are they managing things outside of work? Traditionally, as an employer, you’ve likely been conditioned to believe that work and home are mutually exclusive domains. Work is work, home is home and the two shall never meet. Here’s why you need to rethink that approach…and perhaps more fully embrace the spirit of the holidays.
Well-being is about the big picture
First the basics. Chances are if your organization has talked about anything ‘squishy’ it’s been about wellness and has focused on health. And this is good. Health is important. But the bigger conversation should be around well-being. Well-being includes health but so much more. Well-being is that state of feeling that you’re grounded and managing well all aspects of your life, home and work.
Well-being is that feeling like you’re able to do the things you want to do, whether that means being happy & effective at work, exercising, taking care of the kids, managing your budget, or maybe volunteering in the community – whatever your priorities. Well-being encompasses your whole life and in simple terms having high levels of it helps you to function better everywhere.
Why you should care about your employee’s head space outside of work
As mentioned, many people have this belief that work and life are two very separate things. The idea is that when your employees arrive at work, everything else in their universe somehow melts away (or should!) the moment they step inside the office. Is this what happens to you? Hmmm. Thought so. The fact is that people just aren’t built that way.
Think for a moment about the expression we’ve all used: “I’m so run down, I can’t think straight.” It doesn’t matter whether the things driving you to the edge are work or personal. The result is the same. You’re spent. And for an employer, this is bad news. When an employee gets to that edge, this person really can’t fully engage, focus or do their best work. On an organizational level, this is not good.
So my line of thinking is: What if you could make sure your people weren’t stretched to that point? What if you could assist people so that their lives felt in control instead of out of it? They’d work better, right? Indeed, numerous studies have shown this to be true.
For example, say that you have a star employee who’s really smart, driven, a great team player, is married and has a couple of kids. On top of that he’s juggling having to look after aging parents and deal with a marriage that needs urgent attention. Along with all this and his job, he and his wife are drowning in debt and he just discovered a leak in the roof of their house. Technically none of this has to do with work and he knows his boss wants to keep it that way. He knows that if he takes time off to deal with these issues that there will be a professional price to pay. So here we have a guy who’s treading water and struggling to stay afloat. How do you think he’s performing at the office? Likely, he’s not executing anywhere near his ‘star’ level.
Let’s now take this same guy and give him some support. Let’s say that the culture of the company says, “When your family needs you, go be with them. You will not be penalized”. So this same guy takes a few days to get things straightened out. He and his wife have some time together to work out what they need to and are able to take some next steps. He and his wife are also able to speak with an accountant and get moving forward on a much needed budget. He’s also able to either fix the leak in the roof or find someone who can. He comes in to work a few days later, he’s got a handle on things, he’s focused and ready to work.
What you get in this second scenario is a guy who’s no longer at the breaking point. He’s shown that he’s someone, who even amid setbacks can keep going, sustainably over the long haul. But to get this, you’ve got to pay notice to your employees’ whole lives, not just the part that you see at the office.
Well-Being is Not Soft
Still, some of you reading this may be thinking that all of this is simply too soft for a bona fide business concept. I find this ironic because well-being is precisely a business concept. One example, and there are many, is the service-profit chain. People work better when they’re feeling satisfied and satisfied employees build satisfied customers. That’s the chain. The very concrete, huge added benefit of building a culture that supports well-being – one that realizes people have lives outside of work – is that you end up with people who not only show up to work feeling more committed but are able to give their all.
So technically, work and life are separate. But for employees to be effective, the two need to be integrated. So if you, as the employer, pay attention to one you get great benefits in the other.
How an Employer Can Improve Employee Well-Being
As we’ve seen, to really affect the well-being of your people, you have to target what’s actually affecting them. Like many employers and seniour leaders, taking the time to personally deal with this is impossible. However, hurling all of your support dollars at very general things like health benefits, or a few random perks – maybe a subsidized gym membership or a trendy perk like onsite massage and yoga – simply doesn’t go deep enough. You need a program that addresses what’s really affecting your people. You need a program that uncovers where their life is hurting their ability to produce solid results, like this one.
The Skinny on Employee Well-Being
From both a research and hands-on perspective, companies that institute programs aimed at helping employees integrate work and life end up with employees with much higher levels of well-being and as a result, are happier, healthier and more productive. These supported employees take fewer sick days and report higher engagement than employees of companies that do not offer well-being support. All this adds up to more robust bottom lines in terms of things like sustained innovation, productivity and reduced healthcare costs. And these are all things that sound so very sweet – right boss?