Photo Credit: Compliments of Kelly Goodwin, CWWA – numberten.com
The workplace is not too different from our personal lives. We’re caught up in the present and we have a hard time looking to the future. We want the quick, no-pain fix to our problems rather than a longer, slower road that potentially provides lasting results. We have an ache, there’s a pill for that. We want to lose weight, there’s a pill for that. We want to cleanse our bodies there’s a pill for that. We want to be rich, there’s a lottery for that. We also wait until it’s almost too late before we look for solutions. We need to take a step back and consider the consequence of our quick fixes. How will that affect us long term?
In city life it’s all about expanding the size of the community. Let’s build more roads and more lanes. However, we know we can’t afford to sustain the increased infrastructure. If you look at health care, it’s the same logic. We need more doctors, more nurses. The waiting list for certain surgeries is mind- boggling. Perhaps we need a major shift that looks at reducing the requirements for doctors and nurses. The population is continually expanding and there is a point where the supply can’t match the demand. Why not create a strategy to reduce the demand on the health care system?
Corporate wellness has been around for many years. Japan has long been a fitness-conscious nation: morning calisthenics, courtesy of NHK rajio taiso broadcasts, have been a mainstay at schools and factories since the early 1950s, and the government instituted a national Health and Sports Day in 1966. All of this led companies to begin to incorporate wellness activities into their organizations.
U.S. companies focus on getting their employees healthier because the cost driver in the U.S. is paid health costs. If companies can provide opportunities for employees to remain healthy they can keep their health costs stable. These costs are significant so it makes sense to focus on either reducing or keeping them in check. Much of the rest of the world, including Canada, tends to widen their focus when it comes to workplace wellness. It can include the physical and psychological safety of the workers as well as the more well-known wellness activities. This has been a step forward because of the realization that there is more to wellness than just working out in a gym. Nothing stays constant, and at many wellness events and conferences we have seen the pendulum swing away from talking about exercise to talking about the Human Resources areas of psychological health and health and safety.
The research shows that wellness returns approximately three dollars to each dollar spent. Yet when an organization starts down that path it is a difficult road, filled with many barriers. There still is the perception that wellness in the workplace is not valuable and it is more important to be at your desk doing your work. We hear the comments, “Oh I’m so busy I can’t take time to participate in the event”. While some companies have moved forward, many have not. So when things start to go bad for the company it is likely that wellness and training suffers. Or if the supervisor/manager of the area is not completely sold on wellness that feeling will permeate to their employees who will follow their boss’s lead.
When people hear of some new technique that management is ‘gung ho’ about following, the same comments are heard in organizations around the world. This is not going to work because we’ve tried this before and it didn’t work or it is another fad that those in charge are adopting. It’s the new buzzword so someone’s read it in a magazine or read it online or been at a conference and its trending. Well why is everything a fad? Why can’t organizations get it right? While there are several reasons, my belief is that the techniques are considered fads because running a successful sustainable company requires great leadership and management is generally unaware of what is required,or doesn’t have the skill to run a viable long- term organization. In fairness, running a successful company is not easy, nor is it simple. Just because you’re a great baker doesn’t mean that if you open a bakery will it be successful for the long term. Your company has to be financially viable, provide good to great customer service, engage your employees, provide a safe work environment, run an ethical company, be a healthy workplace, be inclusive and the list goes on. So when something new comes up they try it because they have to do something.
Proponents of corporate wellness also talk about how energized employees become and how that positively impacts the organization. They work better, faster, etc. There is no doubt of these findings but there are two caveats that need to be considered. The first and perhaps less profound is that it is hard to sustain this frenzy unless the company’s wellness culture is all-encompassing. The second and more important is just because you are able to get people to work faster; it doesn’t mean that what they are doing is the right things or that the process they are following is the most efficient. That is similar to an organization having a potential Olympic silver medalist in the 100 meter dash working in their warehouse and through their workplace wellness programs the person becomes a potential gold medalist. The company now believes this person will produce more because they’re more engaged. They may or may not see a more engaged worker, but in reality the organization needs a discus thrower to become more efficient in the warehouse, not a sprinter. Something is missing, and thus my lead into the future of corporate wellness.
A company must be operationally and financially sound to last for any significant amount of time. If a company wants to succeed, employee engagement is critical. But also critical is the ability of the organization to function effectively and efficiently. A healthy organization has healthy people and healthy operational processes. This assists the company in remaining viable longer term. The company where I work is a distribution warehouse and so safety is a concern in that area. A safety officer provided general training to management. The one point that stuck with me from his presentation was if there is a safety incident the organization must immediately take steps to ensure this type of incident does not re-occur. That makes sense but why do we not apply this thinking to our business processes? If there is an inefficient business process it should be addressed immediately to become more efficient. Yet, and not understating the importance of safety, if we don’t get better at what we do, the company won’t be in business long term to worry about employee safety.
Organizations need to have effective processes to obtain the results they are expecting and then improve their processes so that they are as efficient as they can be. Once you know what you should be doing and how best to do it, then you can hire people. After hiring people, the next step is to encourage and grow the culture through the three other elements of a healthy workplace: wellness, psychological safety and physical safety. This doesn’t preclude the company from always trying to improve its processes. This kaizen thinking helps healthy organizations succeed and flourish.
Without all four elements in place, the organization will simply be another average organization. Average shouldn’t be good enough but unfortunately it’s easy to be average. The bell curve explains so many things and, as it relates to organizations, it is no different. There are approximately 2.5 percent exceptional organizations: there are 95 percent average and 2.5 percent that are really bad. In some things it may be good to be like everyone else but not in business and not on a long term basis.
The trend these days is to hire for compatibility and train later. Absolutely a person who can get along with others is very important and, absolutely, in many functions training can make them a good worker. But let’s not ignore the skill to look at things and try to make them better. When people are asked what traits make a good leader, the same ones are mentioned: trustworthy, good communicator, honest, walks the walk, etc. What is rarely, if ever, mentioned is having good business sense and being a decision-maker. Without these skills the organization relies on everyone else to have good business sense and make the right business decisions. You need someone to steer the ship in the right direction.
If you have seen the show Undercover Boss you know that when the boss goes and sees how things are done, there are always processes that should be improved. Why is that? These are huge companies with significant talent throughout the organization. My belief is that when things go well, processes are overlooked. When the downturn happens, the focus is on reducing staff to cut losses.
I liken the soft skills that are required to the wellness portion of a healthy workplace: critical, but not a complete picture. These skills, like workplace wellness, improve the culture of parts or all of the organization. You may have a good culture but to sustain and grow, good business decisions must be made and the organization must strive to be more effective and efficient. In Canada, the safety component is now easier to achieve because it is legislated. A portion of the psychological component is now also legislated, so the final two components are left to the discretion of the organization to implement.
My vision of a healthy organization is that all four components are present and the company has analyzed and streamlined their processes so the 7 to 8 hour standard day becomes the productive 6 to 7 hour day. What happens with the extra hour? It is given back to the staff to do as they please. For example, that could include going home one hour early each day, having wellness activities in that last hour or an organized approach to daily volunteer work at non-profit organizations. The options are limitless and the rewards are immense.
A true healthy organization can allow its staff to register for training or wellness workshops because the company and the staff know that due to their processes, the company is flexible enough to recover from time away. This allows great things to happen. Staff won’t feel as though they are chained to their desks and if they leave their desk the work falls behind because they have so much work to do. The great processes have weeded out irrelevant activities and streamlined those that are left. Have I mentioned stress yet? If not, then this is the time. Ask anyone working who feels stress and they will tell you that their workload and lack of decision-making are two major contributors to their stress. Reducing their stress significantly changes their outlook. Once their stress is reduced they want to learn and they want to have fun at work. Don’t you want to work at an organization such as this? I know I do. Don’t you want to be passionate not only about your job but your performance and your organizationâ’s performance? I know I would.
Fun at work. Is this possible? Check out the FUNTHEORYPIANO . The premise is that if you make something fun more people will do it or people will enjoy doing it.
That is part of the future of wellness. Let’s do things right the first time, have fun doing it and great things will happen.
Joel is the Manager of Finance, IT and Wellness Co-ordinator at a Provincial Government agency in Winnipeg, Canada. Under his leadership, MDA has become the provincial leader in workplace wellness. Joel has given presentations on healthy workplaces to other departments, the City of Winnipeg, and has spoken at a national health and wellness conference.