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Why Leaders Should be Creating a Culture of Genuine Employee Well-Being 

Human sustainability and employee well-being are consistently innovating board-level agenda items. However, despite leaders feeling positive about their efforts and initiatives, statistics indicate that workers are not so convinced. 

According to Deloitte’s latest Well-being at Work survey, 74% of employees say improving their well-being is more important than career advancement. Human sustainability, therefore, is still a critical priority for leaders to win the war on talent and drive productivity and revenue growth. Yet, the study finds that 89% of executives believe they are advancing human sustainability, while only 41% of employees agree. 

It appears that employers’ good intentions have yet to become significant tangible results for employees. As president of an organizational development and performance consultancy group, I’ve seen this “action gap” first-hand. The disparity between the actions taken by leaders and the expectations of employees is a great divide. Fortunately, with a solid understanding of why this gap exists, you can begin the work necessary to close it and build better-performing teams

Why Does an “Action Gap” Exist? 

Many employers approach well-being like checking a box and going through a process. It’s an understandable approach. They perceive that the expectation is to provide wellness plans, smoking cessation, a financial advisor, and perhaps a mental health program, so they do just that. However, by doing so, employers often miss the real connection. Was the benefit meaningful? Was it used? What was the impact? 

Additionally, many of us have returned to a pre-pandemic “business as usual” approach. During the pandemic, companies were more intentional about well-being and connecting with people to keep them safe and keep businesses open. Employers aren’t mindful of that reverse. People saw companies adapt and try during the pandemic, and then they’ve seen it shift back. That disconnect only exacerbates the discrepancy. 

Make Employee Well-Being ROI Add Up 

When people feel valued and supported and that the work they do is contributing to something, their well-being goes up. They’re healthier, connected, and committed, and their performance is better. 

This direct impact on business metrics warrants the dedication of resources, support, and programs to gain an exponential return. For example, employers are still afraid of big moves like four-day work weeks (or other flexible work arrangements). Resume Builder found adoption levels to be around 20% so far. Yet, in my own business, flexibility is key. I wouldn’t go back to a traditional 9 to 5, five-day week. The cause and effect is evident: We seem to be holding on to the past way too tightly. The world is changing; the workforce is changing, so why wouldn’t the way we approach leadership change? 

When companies prioritize well-being, there are many positive effects. Yet, in business, priorities are always changing, making it hard to consistently prioritize well-being. That’s why, instead of approaching well-being from a priority standpoint, it should emanate from a value standpoint that permeates the long-term business culture. 

Focus on Dual Bottom Line Results 

A dual-bottom-line philosophy prioritizes people and bottom-line profits with equal value because of their interdependency. People are equally as important as the financial results of our organizations. The things that leaders do, demonstrate, and invest in reinforce that. This approach is based on human possibility. It’s important that decisions are not made at the expense of people because they have a greater impact on the bottom line in the short-term, and it’s about taking a longer-term approach. 

For the sake of human development, you may have to give up some highly productive employees because they aren’t a perfect fit with the culture or team. You may decide to not open new very profitable markets. And you may have to discuss all this with your board. 

Making well-being work is also about taking the visions of leaders and ensuring that they work their way through an organization and that leaders focus on living the vision themselves. There needs to be a filter and funnel through leaders to live well-being and believe in and empower human sustainability at all levels. A well-being culture is specific, deliberate, and intentional, and its values are reinforced at every opportunity. 

How to Create Programs that Resonate with Values and Needs 

So, how do leaders go about closing a human sustainability “action gap” effectively, especially when they are already taking action and making substantial effort? The five following action steps are a great place to start. 

1. Let go of the past. 

Letting go of old conventions, traditions, and assumptions, like the five-day work week, and embracing what’s important to people and revenue today is critical. For people, it’s well-being, their health, being valued and contributing., It’s time to understand and then provide what people crave. So many aspects of well-being, equality, and inclusion create “eye-rolls” because experiences have focused on box-ticking rather than actual progress. Take a curious approach and incorporate leadership training, if necessary, to ultimately show real care, empathy, and commitment to end results. 

2. Shift the focus to curiosity.   

Rather than working to a checklist, get curious about what employees really want and what impact current initiatives really have. Use this new focus to rediscover intention and connection with employees so they believe in wellness programs as much as leaders do. 

3. Foster real relationships. 

As a leader, it’s vital to get to know people right down to their personal values, expectations, and needs. Then, like in an initial hire, exchange mutual expectations and provide clarity. What’s expected? What can I deliver? What will you deliver? How will we contribute? What aspects of development are really important? It’s also important to support growth and learning that is not directly related to work because that demonstrates real connection and commitment to employees outside of the financial bottom line. 

4. Change the questions. 

As a leader focusing on managing well-being through an organization, it’s essential to change the questions, to ask open questions about teams and team relationships, and to focus on metrics that measure human outcomes. Too often, metrics are focused on numeric outputs or box-checking. For example, nearly a quarter (23%) of companies measure progress on diversity commitments based on adherence to compliance standards. 

5. Always follow through. 

When a well-being plan is in place, it should be top of mind and reviewed on a regular basis because if we don’t track initiatives, we don’t tend to do anything further about them, whether they work or not. Following-up with teams and employees is critical, as well as asking the right questions and mapping out what’s really working or what’s really needed. Lastly, take the intention and the willingness to improve well-being, and put a plan in place around that. 

Transforming Intentions into Impact 

Closing the action gap in workplace well-being requires a bold reimagining of leadership roles and organizational cultures. It demands a steadfast commitment to creating a workplace that places equal value on employee well-being and organizational outcomes. Leaders who are ready to take this stand will not only enhance the lives of their employees but also set a new standard for what it means to be a truly sustainable and successful organization in the modern era. The time for action is now; let us move forward with purpose, empathy, and a relentless focus on making real, lasting change. 

Gloria St. Martin-Lowry is the president of HPWP Group, a company that promotes leadership and organizational development through positivity, coaching, and problem-solving. HPWP is driven to create high-performing workplaces by partnering with courageous leaders who value team members’ contributions. 

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