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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

Focus on well-being to unlock people’s full potential at work

When people feel cared for as human beings, they will contribute to your company’s performance.

Focus on well-being to unlock people’s full potential at work
[Photo Source: Jacob Lund/Adobe Stock]

The pandemic has brought to the forefront an issue that many organizations never thought deeply about: the multi-faceted realities of individuals’ lives and how that can impact their performance at work.

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Before the pandemic, while employee well-being was important for some companies, other leaders questioned why employee well-being was the corporation’s responsibility. But the rising stress and anxiety levels caused by COVID-19 made it clear that employee well-being is, in fact, a workplace issue. Consider that only about 47% of Americans considered themselves to be thriving at the end of 2020, the lowest percentage since the 2008 economic recession. Let’s further explore the increasing focus on holistic well-being within corporations and the difference between wellness and well-being.

WELLNESS VERSUS WELL-BEING

Wellness is often tied to a healthy physical state. Eating, exercise, and sleep habits all contribute to our wellness. That’s why many organizations offer employees access to onsite gyms and perks like regular workshops or yoga/exercise classes. But as we all know, our lives and our ability to thrive goes beyond our physical wellness, hence the increased focus on holistic well-being. Well-being encompasses all dimensions of our lives, from our physical/mental health to our relationships, our careers, our finances, and our sense of purpose. But research shows that only 4% of U.S. adults are thriving when it comes to their physical well-being. For corporations, this can translate into lower productivity and employee engagement and higher insurance costs.

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WHY HOLISTIC WELL-BEING FUELS PERFORMANCE

A global report highlighted the importance of focusing on six core human needs in order to unlock people’s full potential at work. The framework is called “net better off” and it includes six dimensions: emotional and mental, relational, physical, financial, purposeful, and employable. The research shows that 64% of someone’s professional potential—defined by their ability to use their skills and strengths at work—is influenced by these six dimensions. Further, it shows that factors like education, tenure, level, industry, geography, and company size have little impact on someone’s potential.

In its latest monthly HR Leaders Monthly Magazine, Gartner highlighted the importance of considering the fullness of employees’ lives and the need to help them grow as people, not just as workers. Furthermore, another report highlights how providing holistic well-being support can increase the discretionary effort of employees by 21%, twice as much as companies that provide traditional (physical and financial) programs alone.

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In summary, when people feel cared for as human beings, they will contribute to your company’s performance.

C-SUITE MINDSET EVOLUTION

It’s clear that post-pandemic, executives are rethinking their responsibility toward their people. As the Accenture report states: “Prior to the crisis we found that only 35 percent of C-suite (CXOs) felt responsible for leaving their people better off, and in a mere six months this has jumped to 50 percent.”

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Such a shift in responsibility requires a modern approach to how we lead, inspire, and support individuals within our own organizations. It requires that we redefine our roles as executives and that we constantly reevaluate evolving employee needs in a holistic way, to truly help them evolve, grow, and thrive within our organizations and within their personal lives.

Investments in technical training or skill development are no longer enough. People need help finding their purpose; dealing with interpersonal relationships; learning how to identify and leverage their strengths; optimizing their physical, emotional, and financial well-being; and ultimately, reaching their full potential in all aspects of their lives.

As this evolution is happening individually and across organizations, while most companies also move toward hybrid work arrangements or fully remote staff, we must not forget the impact of presenteeism. In an office environment, that was defined as being physically at work just to look dedicated, even if you weren’t actually being productive. In general, about 35 productive days are lost per worker each year because of presenteeism, compared with three because of absenteeism.

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In 2020, working remotely during the pandemic led to people working longer hours overall—although working longer hours doesn’t necessarily lead to more productivity. The pandemic simply shifted presenteeism to remote workers. Unfortunately, some employees and leaders still put a lot of emphasis on being seen (physically or virtually) and on working long hours as a way of showing that they’re productive, reliable, and capable of managing stress. Leaders need to shift these perceptions in their minds and in their employees’ minds to fuel a more collective sense of well-being across organizations.

Putting in place holistic well-being programs is just the first step. To truly reap the return on investment, leaders should continuously encourage employees to participate in these programs. The best way to do that is to have each leader of a team invest in their employees’ well-being and their own. Often by modeling healthy well-being choices, we can improve our lives and inspire our teams to do the same. If you’re still hesitating to get started, consider doing a well-being pilot program within one or two of your teams and measure the correlation between employee well-being and corporate performance. You may wonder why you didn’t get started sooner.


Dr. Andreea Vanacker, CEO of SPARKX5, a mental well-being technology company. Author of three books, multi-lingual speaker & vitality expert
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