by Jeannie Jones, MA, CWP, PQ Coach
When I eagerly started my career in employee health and wellbeing at Michelin Tire Manufacturing in Sandy Springs, SC (1989), the industry put a great deal of effort into demonstrating ROI… for years. It always confounded me that so much time, money, and effort went into proving the obvious. So, it’s utterly refreshing, albeit thirty-four years later, to see that the obvious is well established even expanding to recognize VOI. At least I lived to see the day!
In his American Journal of Health Promotion (AJHP) editorial, Dr. Paul Terry summarized twenty-five of the most important studies in workplace health promotion. As Editor in Chief, American Journal of Health Promotion and Senior Fellow, The Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) his opinion is well-informed. Based on trends, he posits “researchers are waning in their interest in how health affects work productivity and healthcare costs and waxing in their considerations of how work affects well-being” [AJHP 2022, Vol. 0(0) 1-8]. We’re already seeing that play out.
For example, in the Oct. 2022 press release from the Surgeon General, a new framework for Mental Health & Wellbeing in the Workplace was announced and it emphasizes “the foundational role that workplaces should play in promoting the health and well-being of workers and our communities.” The Surgeon General cites five key employer responsibilities (https://www.hhs.gov/news):
- Protection from Harm
- Connection and Community
- Work-Life Harmony
- Mattering at Work
- Opportunities for Growth
When it comes to cultivating a culture that embodies these tenants, leadership is at the helm. Period. You’d expect to see that underscored in an industry-related journal but it’s especially refreshing to see it also recently emphasized in business leaning Forbes. In his Dec. 17, 2022 article, “5 Ways Leadership Development Delivers U. S. Surgeon General’s Mental Health Essentials,” Bryan Robinson, Ph.D., notes the dilemma. That is, employers are trying to figure out new ways of working just as employees are prioritizing their mental health.
Emphasizing the important role of leaders in embodying the Surgeon General’s five responsibilities, the CEO of The National Society of Leadership and Success, Neil Khaund, states, “Leaders need to treat workplace well-being not just as a way to boost performance or enhance retention but also as a critical part of their social responsibility,”
While we’re making progress and shifting mindsets, we also face a lot of challenges.
The Covid-19 pandemic blurred the lines between work and home and the relationship between work and well-being was cross examined. The pandemic had a profound impact on our resilience, mental health, and well-being and triggered a tsunami of transformation in how we worked and communed. As employers and employees pivoted overnight to working from home, some now question the need to return to “the workplace” at all. The “workplace” and ways of working are still catching up. Some businesses and people thrived while, regrettably, others languished.
The October 22, Surgeon General’s Press Release cited stark statistics related to mental ill health:
- 17% increase in employees reporting symptoms of mental ill health
- 81% of employees sought employers with mental health benefits
- 84% of employees cited at least one workplace factor negatively impacting their mental health
While we’ll never go “back to normal,” we can be more intentional about how we move forward and create a next normal that aligns with NWI’s vision for more multicultural, multidimensional, and high-level wellness programs.
Further demonstrating the need to prioritize health and well-being, Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trends Report noted, “employees have a new ‘worth it’ equation.” Trends include:
- Employees are increasingly prioritizing their family, health, and well-being over work, yet there is:
- a 252% increase in meetings (of which 43% of employees don’t feel included),
- a 28% increase in after-hours working, and
- 43% of managers felt relationship building was their biggest challenge
As the world was pivoting, NWI did too. In April 2020, it cross-examined its Five Domain Wellness Promotion Competency Model to confirm its validity. As relevant as ever, the model incorporates all five employer responsibilities as the Surgeon General’s Framework for Mental Health & Well-being in the Workplace.
As health and well-being practitioners, we have a duty to help educate decision-makers. Too often, but not as often as in the past, wellness is relegated to someone that may have great intentions and passion but no background in health and well-being. As such, they may opt for high visibility/low impact programs. We can be the difference in consulting with them, helping them be more effective in their role and we have a wealth of data and support to bolster us.
If a wellness program is lacking in one of the competencies, we can speak up and advocate for it. We can leverage HERO’s research, AJHP wisdom, NWI’s Wellness Promotion Competency Model and Six Dimensions of Wellness, as well as the Surgeon General’s framework for Mental Health and Well-Being. If you need help, reach out to NWI for support!
As a practitioner, it’s great to have the credibility of these organizations to lean on and it emboldens me to follow the courage of my convictions as I strive to influence decision makers to plan more strategically, address root causes and move away from “flavor of the month” wellness initiatives. Want to change your culture? Make sure your leadership development training incorporates the importance of health and well-being versus making it an optional bolted-on module or, worse, a footnote. Leaders must act as role models.
In closing, I remain hopeful and optimistic that a silver lining in the pandemic fallout is what Dr. Terry anticipated comes true, “Rather than interrogate wellness as a tool for cost savings, researchers will ask how work can be better organized to complement personal and societal well-being.”
That’s a future I’m excited to be a part of!