Workplace wellbeing paradox 2:
The employees who engage with and are thus benefitting most from individual workplace wellbeing interventions are the ones who already make their wellbeing a priority.
In this article we unpack the engagement issue and present some recommendations to avoid the most common pitfalls organizations fall into that leave a lot of potential value on the table.
We know that employee engagement with wellbeing interventions is one of the greatest frustrations of being a workplace wellbeing professional.
‘We’re trying to help you, why are you resisting us?’
Humans are, at their core, irrational and emotional creatures, that is why they do irrational and emotional things like smoke and eat fast-food even though they understand it is poisoning them. The short-term gratification of these behaviours tugs harder than the long-term health and wellbeing risks. Our subconscious ‘chimp’ doesn’t know about the long-term implications, it is simply looking to help us survive and be happy in the moment. The ‘Chimp’ controls 90% of our brain activity.
That tug is even stronger when we apply these unhealthy behaviours as rewards for working hard or as a momentary reprieve in an otherwise stressful and demanding life. Our ‘chimp’ loves a treat and keeps asking for them thus continually reinforcing our bad habits.
Trying to persuade our employees to give up these treats without tackling the stressors and mindsets that cause them is futile.
Engagement with workplace wellbeing is as low as 2% and rarely achieves more than 15%. This was reinforced at our ‘Mastering the Art and Science of Workplace Wellbeing’ event in Dubai last week when a delegate muttered;
‘15%, wow, that would be nice!’
We find ourselves in a situation where not only is engagement very low, but many of those who are engaging would find other ways of maintaining high levels of wellbeing even if their organization wasn’t supporting them.
We simply aren’t influencing the employees who present the biggest risks to improve their wellbeing in support of helping themselves and building a stronger business. This signals not only a lack of engagement with wellbeing, but a bigger lack of engagement with the organization in general.
Disengagement breeds more disengagement.
This is problematic for so many reasons, but the one that causes the greatest damage is that these interventions are implemented on the promise of reducing health insurance premiums, driving up productivity, and stemming the flow of voluntary staff turnover. i.e., leaders are looking for sound returns from their investments, which is fair enough.
As such, expectations are high, and when progress towards these commercial goals is not achieved, the belief in wellbeing as a business driver comes into question and engagement across the organization rapidly wanes, even amongst those who were previously enthusiastic.
Disengagement becomes a victim to the social proximity effect,
If my peers disengage, I can disengage too.
So, how do we break the downward trend?
Just like in last week’s solution, the answer is to create a culture of wellbeing, which is tough, but oh so rewarding both psychologically and financially.
If employees don’t know what’s on offer, how can they engage? Even if we provided them with the info during onboarding and have a section on the company intranet, they will forget, because life is complicated, and unless it is an immediate need, their brains require that thinking space for other things.
Every workplace wellbeing strategy needs an accompanying communications strategy and a dedicated resource who’s job it is to internally communicate about workplace wellbeing on an ongoing basis. This resource may only be required on a part-time basis, but they should have strong marketing, sales, and content writing skills, as well as a comprehensive, multi-channel plan to follow.
Leaders and managers should also be armed with communications materials and messages that they are both confident and expected to use.
Mitigate loss aversion.
Loss aversion is a cognitive bias that describes why, for individuals, the pain of losing is psychologically twice as powerful as the pleasure of gaining. Understanding this is essential, because humans will be more willing to choose action or inaction to avoid a loss than to achieve a gain. So, if they feel that participating in wellbeing interventions means losing credibility in their team because of stigma, or being seen to be slacking off, they won’t engage. If they worry that their manager will openly or discreetly judge them negatively for taking time to participate, and that this may lead to a job or promotion loss, they won’t engage. Even if they know they will gain something from participating, a small risk of loss, trumps a high chance of gain.
To tackle this, our culture of wellbeing needs to make it very clear that there will be no repercussions for employees who actively in engage in improving their wellbeing, and that doing so is expected and will be rewarded. leadership and management role-modelling and encouragement is exceptionally powerful here.
If you treasure it, measure it.
If bonuses, promotions, and pats on the back are reserved for financial performance alone, we send a loud & clear message that given the choice, that’s where we want them to focus. This is a false economy, because we know that wellbeing is a driver of multiple financial metrics including sales, revenue, customer loyalty, ROIC, stakeholder returns, absenteeism, and much more.
As such, wellbeing needs to be a key metric for performance reviews for all employees and a target for managers and leaders. Educating employees and empowering them with the permission to make wellbeing a priority performance driver is essential, which means building it into KPIs and providing the data and the training to ensure they can deliver.
One size does not fit all.
Workplace wellbeing best practise is now moving away from top-down, organizational-wide solutions. As we become more acute in our understanding, we take a more refined approach. This is achieved by using data to target the specific stressors adversely affecting different groups, and this goes far beyond leaders vs everyone else. Sweeping generalisations and generic communications mean that we leave it in the hands of employees and their managers to know when they should engage, and that disempowers the organization and undermines wellbeing investments.
Our wellbeing leads need access to high-quality, detailed insights at a demographic level, as well as the training to develop the analytical skills to make sense of that data and create solutions to the challenges they find.
Don’t ignore the work itself.
The month-end and year-end stressors that impact finance and sales teams are very different to the sporadic project-peaks and people challenges that impact marketing and HR, and these differ again to the immediacy of responding to customer needs for our front-line professionals. Similarly, those who have physical roles such as construction teams have very different wellbeing challenges compared to sedentary knowledge-based work. They each need different support, at different times, as well as a dogged commitment to understanding and reducing the risks they each face that compromise their wellbeing.
More choice doesn’t always mean more impact.
If employees are overburdened by their workload, and exhausted by their working environment they will struggle to find the time or will to engage with the wellbeing initiatives on offer. The last thing they need is to add ANOTHER item to their to do list, especially when they have home-based demands that require their attention too. Placing the onus on employees to sort through an ever-increasing number of solutions simply adds further overwhelm to the already overwhelmed. Less is very often more.
These are six common pitfalls organizational wellbeing approaches regularly fall in to, there are many more. However, getting these right will dramatically improve engagement and create much greater control for organizations who are weary of this workplace wellbeing engagement paradox, and keen to realise the full potential of their investment in wellbeing.