The relationship that companies have to their employees’ well-being, as with many areas of business, has evolved at an accelerating rate over the past 50 years.
Until the 1950’s and the advent of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), workplace wellness was generally an afterthought. Increasingly in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s governments in the United States and Europe passed legislation that obliged corporations to begin to consider employees’ health and well-being.
Companies started by removing everything in the environment that was harmful to employees’ health; compliance and safety was the name of the game. This has evolved with the growing awareness of the positive impact that promoting employees’ well-being has on productivity. Over the past 15 years, workplace wellness programs, that go well beyond legislation, have flourished and continue to grow; in the United States alone, these programs are expected to generate revenues exceeding $13 billion by 2023.
However, we have all seen programs come and go with only an incremental effect on people’s well-being. It is rare to see employees’ well-being impacted in a sustainable and profound way. We only have to look at our own lives to see that our efforts to elevate our own well-being soon get displaced by urgent matters, deadlines and work loads. Well-being soon gets relegated to the bottom of the pile, something we will get to when the rush is over!
When companies are successful in elevating their employees’ well-being, what you will see is that it has become imbedded as an element of their culture. It is not a nice program to have or something they should strive towards completing on their to-do list. It has become “What is valued in everyday operations;” it is no longer results or well-being but rather results and well-being.
You will also see it in other elements of culture – the network of conversations – that people engage in. You will see the absence of complaints about the circumstances that get in the way of well-being. Instead you will hear people ensuring that their fellow colleagues have energy and focus. There will be attention paid to creating an environment in which well-being is as valued as much as results. This kind of culture has to be designed and embedded. It takes an authentic commitment from the executives and leaders of the organization, that goes beyond complying to policies or giving lip service to the latest trend, to get the full benefits in productivity that well-being can offer.