Well-Being & The Bottom Line

Remember the time when that boy in your fourth-period class made fun of your glasses and it totally ruined your day? Fifth and sixth periods offered up tons of new knowledge but you were too busy swimming in a sea of four-eyed misery to notice?

Maybe it wasn’t your nerdy specs, but we’ve all suffered similar affronts to our self-image. It’s amazing how negative experiences and the emotions they elicit can hijack our brains. And what might have once been fodder for teenage drama actually continues into our professional adult lives. Research on emotions and cognition suggests personal wellness has real implications for your company’s bottom line. In a fast-paced knowledge economy where we must innovate more quickly and more often to get ahead, leaders can’t afford, literally, to ignore the well-being of their employees.

A recent meta-analysis examining research into the relationship between employee well-being and business outcomes showed that business performance improves as employee engagement goes up (Harter, Schmidt, & Keyes, 2002). This is not news but rarely does this idea get linked to the bottom line. Consider perhaps the most obvious outcome of employee engagement: retention and turnover. If your company replaces its employees to the tune of $30,000 per person, it makes good sense to fight to retain your talent. This is not to mention less immediately quantifiable outcomes of engagement such as productivity, creativity and collaboration – just the stuff your company needs to reach optimal performance.

To avoid perpetuating those brain-hijacking negative emotions in the workplace, leaders need to make employee wellness a priority. But before you gather everyone in the conference room for a soothing kumbaya or attempt to win hearts and minds by starting up a Taco Tuesday tradition, here are a few quick questions to gauge if you are building the right environment for employee actualization:

  • Do your employees know what’s expected of them? While autonomy is important, at the end of the day employees need to know what they’re expected to achieve. More importantly, however, is making sure they understand the value of their contributions to the organization’s work.
  • Is your rewards system oriented toward the long-term? It’s imperative that employee’s basic needs like fair compensation and appropriate resources are readily available. But the best leaders look to the long term by considering how rewards and opportunities can benefit all aspects of employee health. Giving someone a raise might make her happy in the short term, but employees need emotional and intellectual fulfillment to commit for the longer haul.
  • Are you all in this together? The well-known cliché that we spend more time with our coworkers than our loved ones shouldn’t necessarily be a sad commentary on our lives. Work provides us with a casual social outlet, but research shows that when an employee feels a strong sense of belonging at work, well-being goes up. Feeling that someone in the organization cares about him can not only increase the chances he’ll stay there but has also shown to increase productivity and even the quality of service that he then passes on to customers.
  • Do you know what your employees love to do? Perhaps the best things leaders can do is understand not just their employees’ strengths but also what they love to do. You might ask, “If you could focus on just one part of your job all day long, what would it be?” Studies show that business outcomes and long-term retention rates improve when employers give employees space to indulge and grow their most beloved talents.

gothamCulture recently worked with a client who closely considered these questions. To explore how they could invest in the not just the physical but also emotional, intellectual and social health of its employees, they asked us to design a program for some of its senior team focused on employee well-being both in and outside of work. What was clear to them, and to us, is that organizations that want to move beyond surviving to thriving in the marketplace need to pay more attention to employees’ “higher level” needs.