Let’s pretend you’re buying a car. You research the best cars on the market for the return on investment and performance you need to go where you need to go. After careful research, you buy the perfect car. There’s only one hitch: The gas tank is empty.
In this metaphor, the car represents the human assets who do all the work to make an organization profitable. You can fill in the blank as to what the gas tank represents: training, development, vision, motivation … or even, more simply, energy.
The U.S. has the highest per capita health care cost of any country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD): over $10,000 per employee. In response, almost half of U.S. companies offer workplace wellness programs.
I’ve found that wellness is the No. 1 priority with most women in my coaching programs. They are high-performing women who want to perform even better, and my research corresponds directly with other research in the industry. Human capital research points to wellness as the No. 1 mitigating factor for optimal performance.
Imagine, now, that you are interviewing a new candidate for a high-profile job. You’ve just outlined the benefits and a generous salary package that includes stock options. The candidate shakes your hand and says, “Thank you for your offer. In return, I’m willing to give you at least 60% of my effort … on most days.”
Employee engagement surveys over the past five years have reported that most employees are, on average, 66% engaged. The reason even highly engaged people are not fully engaged is because they bring their intellect and their skills but don’t always tap their best mental performance.
Employee wellness is a bottom-line issue. One study found that the cost of presenteeism (coming to work but performing at a low level) due to poor employee health is at least two to three times higher than direct health care costs. Johnson & Johnson’s wellness program saved the company $250 million in health care costs from 2002 to 2008, with a return of $2.71 for every dollar spent.
Wellness programs lower health care costs and improve productivity, so the question is not whether wellness matters; it’s how to implement a meaningful plan with a 360-degree approach that takes into account body, mind and spirit. A good place to start for companies that want to support their mission and increase the wholehearted engagement of their human assets is to integrate these five basic building blocks of wholistic health:
How can a company encourage healthy sleep habits? It’s human nature to follow the culture, and company cultures that discourage electronic communication outside of business hours can improve employee retention and productivity. The old-school firms that work new recruits for 70 hours per week with all-night strategy sessions are going the way of the dinosaur. Encourage staff to develop the habit of working hard at the office and having a life on evenings and weekends.
There is too much research on the importance of nutrition to performance to justify having candy and soda machines in the workplace. Cutting-edge companies stock their pantries with brain foods (like walnuts and avocados) and fortified water. Once you understand the impact that food has on cognitive function, it’s easy to say, “No way!” to that donut in the morning staff meeting. The last time someone offered me an apple fritter in the morning, I replied, “Only if it comes with a nap in about an hour!” (Better yet, don’t bring donuts to the office. Bring a yogurt bar or a nice selection of fruit and vegan protein bars.)
Energy management starts with input and involves rhythms. Long meetings are a recipe for brain drain, multitasking and the famous “real meeting after the meeting” at the water cooler. Incorporate walking meetings or seven-minute standing meetings. Encourage people to take regular lunch breaks or to take frequent breaks from working on an intense project. One practice is to set your phone or smart watch to remind you to take a break every 50 to 60 minutes. Use that time to run the stairs, walk around the building or visit a colleague across the campus to ask a question that you would normally ask by email.
A colleague of mine, Dr. Debra Dean, focused her dissertation on spirituality in the workplace. In this case, spirituality doesn’t necessarily have to do with religion; rather, it touches on the sources of inspiration that motivate people to engage. Her research details three key motivators for people in the workplace: love, community and meaningful work.
Hopefully, your company culture already cultivates mutual respect and community engagement. The third aspect — meaningful work — is the activator that elevates engagement. I like to use guided learning projects as a way to give employees an outlet for creativity, so they have a safe place to expand their thinking and their skills.
It sounds cliché, but it’s true: A company that plays together stays together. Structured social engagement pulls people closer, but over-orchestrated events that force people together do the opposite. Make room for unstructured play, like foam dart wars between departments or ad hoc chess games in the break room. These tweetle beetle battles (as Dr. Seuss would say) create a rush of endorphins that elevate creativity and team cohesion. Offsite play works as long as the company acknowledges the value of taking time away from everyone’s personal life. Be sure to make room for your people to keep their commitments.
There are so many ways to integrate these five building blocks into your existing development programs; there’s no single prescribed route that can fit in a single article. Encourage expansive thinking about the “who” and the “why” that fuel your human assets.
Your greatest assets are sitting in your chairs. Ask how you can achieve the full value of those assets — and then multiply it.