Views of compensation will be expanded and enhanced. Leaders have yet to put a price tag on the costs and benefits of remote work. In all likelihood, remote work will be seen and valued as an employee perk.
The pandemic pause brought us to a moment of collective reckoning about what it means to live well and to work well. As a result, employees are sending employers an urgent signal that they are no longer willing to choose one — life or work — at the cost of the other. Working from home brought life literally into our work. And as the world now goes hybrid, employees are drawing firmer boundaries about how much of their work comes into their life. Where does this leave employers? And which perspectives and programs contribute most to progress? In our newest interview series, Working Well: How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness, we are talking to successful executives, entrepreneurs, managers, leaders, and thought leaders across all industries to share ideas about how to shift company cultures in light of this new expectation. We’re discovering strategies and steps employers and employees can take together to live well and to work well.
As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Bob DeKoch & Phillip G. Clampitt.
Bob DeKoch has devoted his entire career to leadership roles, refining his own skills, and mentoring hundreds of aspiring leaders. Rising to senior executive roles in numerous organizations, he has over four decades of experience across major market sectors: the construction services industry and real estate development business, the pulp and paper industry, the beverage industry, and the chemical industry.
Phillip G. Clampitt (PhD, University of Kansas) is the Blair Endowed Chair of Communication at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay. Phil has won numerous awards for his teaching and scholarship. Phil has consulted on leadership, communication, and strategic planning with organizations such as Nokia, PepsiCo, The US Army War College, Schneider National, and Dental City.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you better. Tell us about a formative experience that prompted you to change your relationship with work and how work shows up in your life.
When I was completing my PhD, I started applying for assistant professor positions around the country. Everywhere I went, the selection committee asked me, “Why do you want to be professor?” My candid and, I thought, pretty clever response was always the same: “I love ideas. I love people. And, I love connecting the two.” Almost everyone on those committees nodded in knowing agreement and usually ended up offering me the position.
Seasoned by many years of teaching, coaching, and reflection, I’ve often thought back on that response. While I still love connecting people to cool ideas, I came to realize that I was wrong about something important. What I’ve learned is that professors have to connect to people first, then they can connect students to life and career-changing ideas. Those significant tweaks to my teaching philosophy have transformed my relationships to students, the thinking routines of my students, the career success rate of our graduates, and the pedagogical framework for our program. (Phil)
As I moved up the corporate ranks, I had Increasing responsibility to lead people. The technical and administrative skills of leadership came fairly easily to me. But I realized I had much to learn about leading others. Over time, I discovered that the key was allowing people to do the best they could in their positions and my primary role was to release their potential through engaging them in challenging projects/task and personally investing in their aspirations — even if it meant pursuing opportunities elsewhere. (Bob)
Harvard Business Review predicts that wellness will become the newest metric employers will use to analyze and to assess their employees’ mental, physical and financial health. How does your organization define wellness, and how does your organization measure wellness?
We are still learning how to do this in a comprehensive enough way. Our goal is to capture on the dimensions of workplace wellness including mental health, physical health, empowering social dynamics and financial health. We recognize that what happens outside the office effects the office environment and vice versa — what happens at the office influences employees’ personal life as well. Capturing all these dimensions (and their interactions) in a single metric proves particularly challenging. In short, we measure wellness in the broadest way possible and seek to look at the various dimensions that influence employee wellbeing in the workplace and outside it.
Based on your experience or research, how do you correlate and quantify the impact of a well workforce on your organization’s productivity and profitability?
Most measures are indirect like employee turnover, absenteeism, and employee satisfaction. These measures have a direct influence on productivity and profitability. For example, the more turnover, the more time devoted to hiring and training new employees. In addition, there is loss of productivity as the new employees get up to speed.
Even though most leaders have good intentions when it comes to employee wellness, programs that require funding are beholden to business cases like any other initiative. The World Health Organization estimates for every $1 invested into treatment for common mental health disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. That sounds like a great ROI. And, yet many employers struggle to fund wellness programs that seem to come “at the cost of the business.” What advice do you have to offer to other organizations and leaders who feel stuck between intention and impact?
Think outside the proverbial box.
In our research over the last 40 years, the number one predictor of job satisfaction and engagement is employees’ relationship with their direct supervisor. How many employees have had sleepless nights over some conflict with their supervisor or some inadvertent words exchanged? Worse still, what about employees who feel their supervisors ignore them or don’t care about them. These social dynamics, when overlaid with power differentials, create a toxic brew resulting in unnecessary stress and a host of health disorders. If leaders find it hard to see how investments in employee mental health, particularly through enhancing the employee-supervisor relationship, they should think about the costs of NOT doing so. Specifically, what will happen to quality employees who are dissatisfied with their managers? What kinds of workplace violence might occur because of unidentified mental health issues?
Speaking of money matters, a recent Gallup study reveals employees of all generations rank well-being as one of their top three employer search criteria. How are you incorporating wellness programs into your talent recruitment and hiring processes?
We publicize our wellness programs and coaching approach through social media and during recruitment events. We highlight the collaborative, diverse, and inclusive working climate we strive to cultivate.
We’ve all heard of the four-day work week, unlimited PTO, mental health days, and on-demand mental health services. What innovative new programs and pilots are you launching to address employee wellness? And, what are you discovering? We would benefit from an example in each of these areas.
- Mental Wellness: The relationships with employees’ immediate supervisor is one of the primary determinants of employee mental well-being. In fact, Gallup found that “people with a bad manager had even worse well-being than those without a job.”
- Emotional Wellness: Training and expecting leaders to be respectful, kind, and inclusive cultivates the condition for emotional wellness.
- Social Wellness: Cultivating a collaborative problem-solving environment not only helps the organization address issues, it builds a sense of belonging and support. This requires leadership training and constant nurturing to build those expectations.
- Physical Wellness: Regular health care checkups and wellness programs encourage physical wellness.
- Financial Wellness: Keeping everyone routinely apprised of the organization’s financial health goes a long way toward helping employees anticipate and plan for their financial future. The key is minimizing the “financial shocks” employees experience.
Can you please tell us more about a couple of specific ways workplaces would benefit from investing in your ideas above to improve employee wellness?
Investing in employee well-being brings expected returns in the form of lower absenteeism, lower turnover and higher engagement. The unexpected returns often take the form of identifying new opportunities, discovering new revenue streams, and conceiving of innovations. For example, during COVID, Boldt employees and leaders discovered a hidden market in modular building that the company had not explored before. Making this happen in record time was a testament to a culture devoted to excellence and mutual respect.
How are you reskilling leaders in your organization to support a “Work Well” culture?
We encourage leaders to read our book, Leading with Care in a Tough World. Then we coach them on how to implement the most value-adding skills and beliefs.
Ideas take time to implement. What is one small step every individual, team, or organization can take to get started on these ideas — to get well?
The first step should be to “take a step back” and assess leaders’ and groups’ effectiveness on a range of issues that influence employee well-being including coaching effectiveness, communication practices, ability to manage pushback, and team collaboration skills. Identifying weak spots and addressing those can accelerative employee well-being.
What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Workplace Wellness?”
- Office layout and furniture will be revisited. An organization’s internal architecture of office space will need to be revamped to accommodate home-based workers who need to come to the headquarters to collaborate and problem-solve with colleagues. Office furniture will need to change to address home-based workers who seek the most health-conscious and ergonomic desk and seating arrangements. Employers will revisit how employees design their home office to maximize their productivity and well-being. Employers will seek to answer the question, “What’s does the optimal home office layout look like and why? For instance, work and life issues can merge in the home office; sometimes this can be useful but at other times it can be distracting. So, managing work/life balance may be even more challenging to some remote workers.
- Views of compensation will be expanded and enhanced. Leaders have yet to put a price tag on the costs and benefits of remote work. In all likelihood, remote work will be seen and valued as an employee perk.
- A consensus will evolve over the impact of social media on workplace well-being. The psychological literature already suggests that too much exposure to social media increases anxiety and a sense of disconnectedness in young people. As the consensus emerges, leaders will start placing guard rails on the use of social media.
- Many diversity programs will prove to be disappointing and not result in the outcomes envisioned by many. The reason? For diversity programs to work, they also need to build a leader’s collaboration and inclusiveness skills. Sadly, many diversity programs simply assume that collaboration and inclusive climates will emerge. Sometimes that is true, but more often, it requires concentrated work and devotion to re-shaping the culture.
- Companies will increase their use of surveillance technologies to monitor employee performance but will be disappointed in the results. Tech tools are already developed that make it appear employees are working on the keyboards when in fact they are not. In short, every seeming technological advance designed to monitor employees will be met with some kind of technological countermeasure. The bottom line: the tech advances will not yield results unless employees see them as tools to enhance their own performance and well-being, as well.
- Leaders will re-think how frequently they provide feedback and the scope of the feedback shared with employees. Surveillance technologies like those described in #5 could be useful if managed in the right way. Think about how many people make good use of their smart watches, phones, and other devices to monitor heart rates, oxygen levels and a host of other health metrics. The effective use of these kinds of feedback systems hinges on two questions: a) does the employee consent to data gathering? and b) who else has access to the data? Smart leaders will recognize these trends and adjust by a) making greater use of technology-driven feedback, b) increasing the frequency of feedback to employees, c) regularly coaching employees by using the technology-driven data as a jumping-off point for further employee development, and d) striving to make personalize feedback through face-to-face discussions.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of workplace wellness?
That workplace wellness is top of mind for many HR leaders and people in the C-suite. This means that there will be many innovative ideas emerging to enhance workplace wellness. Those that work will receive traction in other companies. Also, the clear link between workplace wellness and financial results ensures that this will be a sustainable effort.
Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?
Bob DeKoch and Phil Clampitt are both available on LinkedIn
We regularly blog and those can be seen on our website: www.leadingwithcare.net
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and wellness.