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Watch our Webinar: Building Thriving Workplaces that Are Ready for 2018 and Beyond

There is a revolution already in progress in the business world – one where enlightened leaders recognize what it means to thrive in today’s Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world, and create the conditions for success. As the authors of the book Firms of Endearment say, cutting-edge organizations

Are fueled by passion and purpose, not cash. They earn large profits by helping all their stakeholders thrive: customers, investors, employees, partners, communities and society.

The implications for all professionals who want to positively impact change and the entire employee experience are vast. Whether your focus is human resources, learning & development, leadership or employee wellbeing, tremendous opportunities exist to better align with this revolution. In this webinar, Dr. Rosie Ward and Dr. Jon Robison review the science on this changing business landscape. Incorporating story, professional experience and research, they provide a practical, science-based framework for understanding and addressing the needs of organizations and employees in this VUCA world.

10 Revelations on the Present & Future of Workplace Wellbeing

Huge changes are underfoot in the workplace in recent years, and the organizational and employee wellbeing spaces are no exception. From an organizational standpoint, leaders and HR executives are increasingly realizing that while the traditional focus on leadership, culture and engagement is still important there may actually be something even more fundamental that is keeping businesses from fully thriving. As explained inDeloitte’s recent survey of more than 7,000 leaders and HR executives worldwide:

“After three years of struggling to drive employee engagement and retention, improve leadership, and build a meaningful culture, executives see a need to redesign the organization…The days of the top-down hierarchical organization are slowly coming to an end, but changing the organization chart is only a small part of the transition to a network of teams. The larger, more important part is to change how an organization actually works.”

From the employee standpoint, the wellness industry has a history of making problematic claims about the impact of their programming – as non-partisan expert and Rand senior scientist Soeren Mattke explained in a recent interview:

“The industry went in with promises of 3 to 1 and 6 to 1 based on health care savings alone – then research came out that said that’s not true – then they said ok we are cost neutral – and now as research says maybe not even cost neutral they say but is really about productivity which we can’t really measure but it’s an enormous return.”

And the obsessive focus on outdated behavior change approaches mostly relating to the physical health aspects of the employee experience has been largely ineffective and often iatrogenic. As workplace wellness guru Dr. Dee Edington commented:

“The field has been riding the behavioral change horse for 40 years                 with little to show for it.”

If we add to these realizations the movement by enlightened leaders to embrace the realities of organizations as complex living systems; like the weather, ecosystems and human beings rather than monolithic machines, the pressing need for change looms large indeed!

With this foundation, we suggest (not in any particular order) 10 revelations on organizational and employee wellbeing, each consisting of a short statement about the current state of affairs and a prediction and/or hope for the future. As always we invite you to suggest you own revelations to help us move our industry into the 21st century.

1. Organizational Design

Currently: Hierarchical, top-down, command and control pyramidal power structures are today’s dominant template for organizational design. In fact, the hierarchical, boss-subordinate relationship cannot stack any other way. The problem is that these complex, rigid structures are outdated, painfully slow to adapt monoliths in this time of unprecedented, rapidly changing business landscapes.

Future: Dramatic demographic upheavals in the working population, the huge impact of digital technology and social media, the rapid rate of change in every aspect of business and the onslaught of non-traditional work situations (contingent, contract, and part time workers make up 1/3 of the workforce) are driving an urgent need to redesign and reorganize our organizations. Some wildly successful companies have even done away with these hierarchies of power altogether.

2. “Medicalizing” The Workplace

Currently: Bio-metric screens and health risk assessments are still a mainstay of employee corporate wellness programs in spite of the fact that the literature is clear that they do not save money or make a significant impact on health behaviors and they hold a high potential for creating iatrogenic consequences.

Future: More and more employers will realize the limitations and pitfalls of these approaches and begin to consider health care consumerism as a more efficacious and cost effective path for helping employees navigate our complex health system.

3. “Culture of Health”

Currently: The corporate wellness industry typically describes a “culture of health” by referencing the existence of programs like biometric screens, health risk assessments, exercise and weight loss initiatives and stress management programs.

Future: More corporate wellness industry professionals will embrace organizational experts’ definitions of a “culture of health.”  An organization is considered to be “healthy” when it is whole, consistent and complete and when its management, operations and culture are unified. Such companies are characterized by minimal politics and confusion, high morale and productivity, and low turnover.

4. “FUSION” of Organizational and Employee Wellbeing

Currently: As we can readily see from the previous example, for the most part these two spaces have largely conducted out of separate silos. In fact, it has not been unusual for the wellness, medical, safety, and EAP providers to operate largely in isolation from each other.

Future: All parties involved will realize that the “health” of an organization and the “health” of its employees are inextricably interconnected. All aspects of the employee experience must be connected with the mission, vision and purpose of the organization. This necessitates breaking down silos and having a coordinated effort through the Fusion of organizational and employee wellbeing.

5. Motivation for Change

Currently: In spite of a complete lack of evidence of efficacy and growing evidence of iatrogenicity, most change initiatives at the workplace are still mired in 20th century behaviorist approaches. Standard procedure is for rewards to be doled out for participation and behavior change, and punishments to be levied for non participation and non compliance.

Future: Especially thanks to the work of Alfie Kohn, Daniel Pink and Edward Deci, business and health professionals alike are beginning to see the critical need for intrinsic motivation to support sustainable change. Soon we will see “creating the conditions for change” replacing “getting people to change” as the modus operandi for all change initiatives at the workplace.

6. Weight Loss

Currently: In spite of more than 3 decades of consistent, conclusive research demonstrating the failure of weight loss programs, contests and competitions to result in sustainable weight loss for any but a small minority of participants, and growing evidence of iatrogenicity, they remain some of the most common employee wellness programs.

Future: We have begun to see more questioning of the validity and safety of these interventions. Our hope is that there will soon be a total move away from weight-centered initiatives towards offering employees programs that help them to find peace with their bodies and their food.

7. Mindfulness, Stress Management, Meditation and Resilience Programs

Currently: With stress now formally recognized as a major source of pain, anxiety and health care costs at the workplace, there is a growing interest on the part of organizations in programs to help employees cope with workplace stress.

Future: Organizations will realize that without a focus on changing the actual sources of workplace stress, programs for individuals are unlikely to have a significant sustained impact. Highly respected Stanford University professor of organizational behaviorJeffrey Pfeffer, summed up the problem this way:

“Many of the individual behaviors you are focusing on in your health and wellness programs (such as) stop smoking, eat better, exercise more,  are in fact the consequences of the environments in which they (employees)are working. If you work people to death, of course they are going to smoke more, drink more and eat worse.”

8. ROI vs. VOI vs. ??

Currently: Because research does not support that employee wellness programs deliver a positive ROI, it has been suggested that VOI might be a better way to evaluate their worth. Unfortunately, at present there is little evidence to support this claim. Dr. Soeren Mattke, summed up the research on the impact of these programs in an article in the prestigious Health Affairs blog:

“Those changes are not large enough, and the relationship between health risks and spending too weak, to result in reduction of health care cost, let alone in return of investment.”

Future: Organizations will move away from both ROI and VOI and instead embrace a broader, more holistic and highly customizable approach.  By incorporating metrics that evaluate all of the elements of wellbeing, organizations will be able to see clearly whether changes are moving in the desired direction.

9. Coaching

Currently: Most coaching today is still focused on changing behaviors, withMotivational Interviewing and Stages of Change the dominant approaches. The focus on individual behaviors and extrinsic motivation are throwbacks to the 17th century desire for control and the 20th century’s Skinnerian “get people to change” behavior modification. However, since behaviors are the outward manifestations of thoughts and feelings, trying to DO differently without thinking differently is doomed to fail as most people inevitably fall back on deeply rooted habits.

Future: Organizations will embrace coaching techniques that focus on helping people to be better thinkers. Rather than the coach being in the driver’s seat asking questions in to “get” a client to change some health-related behavior, with Intrinsic Coaching the client is doing most of the work. The coach helps to create the conditions for people to be the authors of their own journey. The client walks away with something personally meaningful rather than some polite agreement for ideas guided by the coach.

10. Wellness/Wellbeing Programming

Currently: Traditional wellness initiatives have typically begun with biometric screens and health risk assessments, and then some combination of behavior change programs, the most common of which usually relate to exercise and nutrition. Some companies are also adding programs to address other areas of wellbeing; financial, social, mental, community, etc.

Future: Business leaders and health professionals will realize that without addressing the underlying culture of an organization, the likelihood of change initiatives of any kind having much of an impact is slim. In our 7 Points of Transformation for creating thriving workplace cultures, wellbeing programming does not even enter the picture until step six;  after we have worked with the organization to assess the culture, create the blueprint for change, develop quality leaders, create a supportive climate, and rethink and update strategies for promoting change.

Take Home: We look forward to hearing your thoughts on these revelations. If you find the approaches discussed here exciting please feel free to visit our website atwww.salveopartners.com for lots of free resources. Also, our next online Certificate Training is now open for registration. If being a “Paradigm Pioneer” is appealing to you, please check it out and feel free to contact us with any questions.

The Power of Words: 8 Suggestions for Building a 21st Century Vocabulary for Organizational and Employee Wellbeing

The business world of the 21st century bears little resemblance to that of the 17-20th centuries. The conceptualization of the world as an elaborate machine and the quest for more and better ways to command, control and predict is giving way to a new understanding sometimes referred to as the VUCA world.

In a VUCA World, enlightened leaders are beginning to grasp the futility of the quest for control and predictability for organizations and the people who work within them in the rapidly changing, uncertain, ambiguous, complex and often volatile new business reality. This understanding is supported by the latest scientific advances in chaos and complexity, quantum physics, neuroscience, etc., and necessitates an updated vocabulary that better represents the emerging realities; human beings and the organizations in which they work as complex living systems – not machines.

The Power of Words

Words have an amazing power to impact the way we think and feel. As the great English writer/storyteller Rudyard Kipling put it:

“Words are the most powerful drugs used by mankind.
Not only do words infect, egotize, narcotize and paralyze,
but they enter into and colour the minutest cells of the brain.”

Unfortunately, the vocabulary commonly used today in organizational and employee wellbeing is still often stuck in those 17th-20th century conceptualizations of organizations and human beings. With that in mind, we have put together some suggestions to help business and wellbeing professionals alike begin to update our vocabulary to better represent 21st century realities. We hope you will find these instructive and we invite you to send in your own additional suggestions.

  • From Pyramidal Hierarchy to Network of Teams

The traditional pyramidal organizational chart consists of boxes of roles stacked neatly on top of one and other, with the CEO at the top. This makes perfect sense for a mechanistic world based on command and control. But in a VUCA world hierarchies are just too inflexible and too slow to react effectively to change. Enlightened leaders are rapidly becoming aware of this. In the most recent Deloitte Research, spanning more than 130 companies and 7,000 responses, senior executives and HR leaders rated organizational design as their number 1 priority. Pyramidal hierarchies, along with organizational charts and time punch cards are all remnants of the mechanistic worldview of the 17th century and the Scientific Management (Taylorism) of the 20th century. The overwhelming trend in a VUCA world is for companies to be flattening out their structures, pushing responsibility down and relying on networks of teams. In fact, some highly successful companies have done away with their hierarchies altogether; transferring virtually all decisions to the employees on the front line (nurses, machine operators, teachers, etc.) – from budgets, to hiring and firing, to establishing decision making guidelines to calling meetings.

  • From Maximizing Profits to Maximizing Purpose 

The Firms of Endearment (FoEs) are 28 widely loved companies including among others; Whole Foods, FedEx, Starbucks, Google, Panera, Southwest Airlines, Patagonia, Costco, Toms, and Zappos. As the authors describe, unlike traditional companies, FoEs –

“Are fueled by passion and purpose, not cash. They earn large profits by helping all their stakeholders thrive: customers, investors, employees, partners, communities and society.”

It turns out that when you create a culture based on love, take care of all your stakeholders as if they were family, and focus on maximizing purpose, the profits – and impressive profits at that – will follow. The authors (all distinguished, world-renowned experts in the business world) call out to business leaders:

“As leaders of FoEs do, companies of every type and size should consciously shape their cultures around the idea that we are here to help others live their lives with greater satisfaction, to spread joy and well being, to elevate and educate, and to help employees and customers fulfill their natural potential.”

Why should we consider the focus on purpose as the future of business? Well, aside from the fact that we are likely beginning a transition from the information economy to a new economy based on purpose, the FoEs have outperformed the S&P 500 by a factor of 14 times over a period of 15 years. Without exception, these companies are, in more scientific terms, seriously kicking the butt of the competition in almost every imaginable way.

  • From Human Resources/Capital to Human Beings

The terms resources and capital both hearken back to the 17th century conceptualization of humans as inanimate objects like coal, oil, money or cogs in a machine; to be used, manipulated and replaced as with any other expendable resource. Unlike resources that have fixed and diminishing value however, human beings, with the proper support and recognition actually increase in value. And unlike inanimate resources, human beings have an innate need for autonomy, the ability to direct their own lives. Given that, we might consider shifting our language to reflect viewing employees as whole, self-directing human beings. Progressive companies such as Whole Foods, Target, and others refer to their employees as “team members” or “partners.” As one young CEO put it:

“My dad’s generation views human beings as human resources.
They’re the two-by-fours you need to build your house.
For me, it’s a partnership between me and my employees.
They’re not resources. They’re partners.”

  • Distinguishing Between Wellness Participation and Employee Engagement

Participation simply refers to taking part in or completing some program or task.Employee engagement on the other hand, is a well-known construct in the business world. It refers to how employees feel about their work, as Ringleb and Rock write in a fascinating article titled “NeuroLeadership in 2009”:

“When a person is engaged, they are attracted to, inspired by, committed to and even fascinated by their work or their input to the work relationship.”

Business and health professionals often use these terms interchangeably, referring toemployee engagement when they are actually describing wellness program participation. Some use the word engagement instead of participationwhen they are referring to employees doing something of their own accord rather than as a result of being pressured to do so. Unfortunately the term employee engagementis still problematic here, as even voluntary participation may or may not have anything to do with how employees feel about their workplace.

To make matters worse, wellness program participation is often driven by threats of punishment, resulting in what is more accurately described as compliance as opposed to participation. In these cases, even if participation is increased, engagement is likely to suffer as employees overwhelmingly dislike being threatened with punishment for not participating.

  • Distinguishing Between Organizational Climate and Organizational Culture

A culture of health or a healthy workplace culture is often described in terms of subsidized gym memberships, fresh produce in the cafeteria and other policies, programs, and practices that promote healthy lifestyle behaviors. In fact, this is not really describing organizational culture at all, but rather organizational climate. As with employee engagement, the business world has clearly defined parameters for what determines a healthy organizational culture. Renowned management consultant Dr. Patrick Lencioni describes a healthy workplace culture as one in which there is minimal politics and confusion, low turnover, and high morale and productivity. While a healthy workplace climate and healthy lifestyle programs can offer some benefits for employees, if the underlying organizational culture is unhealthy, these programs won’t actually improve the health of employees or the organization in the long term.

  • From How Do We Get People to Change?(exercise, lose weight, participate, increase their productivity, etc.) To How Do We Create the Conditions for Change?

Of course, the former term reflects the legacy of the 17th century control paradigm and 20th century Skinnerian behavior modification and is unfortunately one of the most common phrases uttered by business and wellness professionals alike. We now have more than 30 years of consistent and definitive research that demonstrates that it is intrinsic motivation that is the key to sustainable change for challenges that involve even a modicum of thinking and creativity – the overwhelming majority of changes we are asking of organizations and employees. And, as the research clearly demonstrates,  intrinsic motivation involves more than just changes in behavior, changes that are not facilitated and in fact are likely inhibited by a reliance on extrinsic motivation. Instead of trying to get people to change, consider refocusing your efforts to creating the conditions for change and supporting desired outcomes.

  • From Driving(participation, engagement, performance, etc.) to Fostering Engagement and Eliciting Better Thinking

When the early American settlers needed to get cattle to the market for slaughter, they did so with a “cattle drive.” Although we may be OK driving cattle and perhaps our cars, driving people (what we affectionately refer to as “The Bonanza Effect) is actually counterproductive as autonomy is one of the key determinants of employee engagement. Human autonomy flows from the desire and ability to direct our own lives. At the most basic level it is about having freedom from external control or influence. The concept of a cattle drive is clearly the antithesis of this. Instead, focus on eliciting better thinking, fostering engagementand supporting people to grow and thrive by acknowledging their humanity and their complexity.

  • From Successful Long-Term Weight Loss to Helping People Make Peace With Their Bodies and Their Food

Thirty plus years of conclusive and consistent evidence demonstrates that weight loss programs, contests and competitions; mainstays of traditional workplace wellness offerings, have little chance of actually helping people to lose weight or be healthier in the long term. In spite of this, people promoting these initiatives at the workplace inevitably claim that their program (unlike all the others) results in successful long-term weight loss.  Because of the growing evidence that these programs may negatively impact health for many people (1), it is critical to make the following distinction. Successful long-term weight loss can only be determined AFTER the program is over. Regardless of the length of the program; whether it is 2 weeks or three months or two years, claiming success while people are still in the program (or just after it ends) is disingenuous. This is because, without exception, once programs are over participants begin regaining their weight and a significant percentage end up weighing more than they did when they started. Instead of offering programs that result in frustration and weight cycling, we suggest investing in initiatives that help people make peace with their bodies and their food.

Take Home

We have provided numerous links and references if you want to read more about these important issues and there are lots of additional free resources on our website as well. In an effort to sum up the most important take homes from this information we would say that, for health and business professionals alike:

“The best, and probably the only way to ‘get’ employees to act like creative, thinking, responsible, autonomous adults is to treat them as if that is exactly what they are.”

We invite you to send in your additions to help move our vocabulary for organizational and employee wellbeing into the 21st century!

Additional Reference:

  1. Dharini M. Bhammar and Glenn A. Gaesser. “Health Risks Associated with Weight Cycling.” in “Wellness not Weight: Health at Every Size and Emotional Interviewing.” Ed. Ellen R. Glovsky. San Diego, CA: Cognella, 2014.