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Building Organizational Well-being from the Ground Up

“Organizational well-being” is a term that’s tossed around in discussions about company success and longevity quite a bit these days, but it’s still a concept taken lightly by many companies—at a cost.

What is organizational well-being?
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Spearheaded by Gallup surveys and bolstered by longitudinal data from leading researchers, the link between the health and well-being of the individual employee and the overall well-being of the company—which is typically measured in financial success—has become more apparent. In other words, the happiness and health of employees is really good for business.

OfficeWorkout_11Think about it like this: Employee well-being has a domino effect that can spill in either direction. High well-being leads to higher levels of engagement and productivity, which improves a company’s success; low well-being contributes to absenteeism, burnout, and a feeling of being “checked out” at work, which only damages the company’s reputation and bottom line.

When employees are flourishing, the workplace displays minimal politics, high levels of morale and productivity, and low turnover rates. Gallup provides some hard-to-forget numbers:OfficeWorkout_6

Employees who feel their well-being is thriving have up to 62% lower health-related 
costs than their struggling coworkers, and they boast a 35% lower turnover rate.

The cost savings from these two factors alone should be a deep incentive for companies to invest in employee well-being, but many do not.

OfficeWorkout_2_400Why don’t more companies focus on organizational well-being?

Buzzwords like “organizational well-being” move through circles quickly, with many companies passing the term off as another fad. In fact, many ignore the concept completely.

Patrick Lencioni, longtime business consultant and bestselling author of The Advantage: Why Organizational OfficeWorkout_3Health Trumps Everything Else in Business says, “In spite of its undeniable power, so many leaders struggle to embrace organizational health…because they quietly believe that they are too sophisticated, too busy, or too analytical to bother with it. In other words, they think it’s beneath them.”

Stopping to evaluate and impact organizational well-being challenges the status quo of how many leaders operate: they must slow down and observe, rather than rush through for results; they have to be willing to work with sometimes unquantifiable results; and they have to be able to see that sometimes the easiest, most common-sense OfficeWorkout_4solution is actually the right one.

Every successful organization has to be both smart and healthy. The smart part of organizations—the decision sciences, as Lencioni calls the strategy, finance, and marketing aspects of business—usually rise to the top of organizational priorities. But robust health is, while more difficult to quantify, just as important.

How does a company increase organizational well-being?OfficeWorkout_7

The single most important factor that can ensure employee well-being in a company is not mandated physicals or health programs, which many employees find invasive and judgmental. Nor is it simply installing healthier vending-machine choices or hanging some pictures of natural landscapes around the offices (although research shows that both of those can have a positive impact).

OfficeWorkout_12The best way to improve employee well-being—and thus organizational well-being—is to embody health and well-being at the level of leadership. “When managers care about their well-being, their team members take a greater interest in their own well-being,” says Jim Hartner, Gallup’s chief scientist of workplace management and well-being, in a 2013 Gallup report.

In other words, if you want a healthy, flourishing company, you need a leader who embodies those OfficeWorkout_5qualities and nurtures them in individual team members. Managers who participate in workplace health programs themselves, make healthy food choices, and demonstrate skillful ways to manage stressful situations, can have the biggest impact.

“Norms are shared in a way that’s contagious, and companies and managers can help set those norms,” says Hartner. “But the team will carry them forward.”