We have known for decades that employee engagement is key to enhanced performance. Many organisations also knew that paying attention to employee well-being played a part in sustaining engagement. But, the pandemic has thrown a whole new light on the issue. That light has proved to be a searing laser beam, burning deep into the consciences of executives. They now preach the importance of employee well-being. Why? Because they can see the bottom-line impact, not necessarily because they care.
Executives now see that the route to a sustainable organisation is to focus on creating healthy and ethical workplaces; environments in which employees are equipped, encouraged and supported to look after their mental, emotional, physical and financial health. Resources are being diverted to it, processes and systems are being put in place, and training is being conducted in all manner of related topics such as mental health, emotional intelligence, yoga, pilates, mindfulness, resilience, and meditation, …the list grows by the day.
‘Life is about being made to do something and then being glad you were made to,’ Anon.
Are these efforts admirable? Of course, they are. Do the companies that are implementing these amazing schemes deserve the accolades, praise, and PR they are getting? Frankly, that is questionable. Why were they not doing it before they were forced to? We should all have been doing much of this work decades ago. We knew then the positive impact that these tactics can have on productivity. So, why didn’t we? Probably, a combination of short-term thinking (focusing on the next quarter’s profit, rather than on the organisation’s sustainability), and processes that produce managers and leaders at the higher levels who don’t honestly care about their staff as much as they should (they typically got there by being excellent at something other than bringing out the best in people).
Clearly, those organisations that are investing in ensuring employee well-being will reap short-term rewards. They will see a return on their investment and continue to promote their initiatives. The challenge they will face is sustaining interest; sustaining engagement with the apps, processes, and services once the initial enthusiasm has worn off. Until we focus on developing genuinely healthy and ethical working cultures, many of these initiatives will prove to be temporary band-aids and the parasitic pressures of cash-flow, cost containment, and profit targets will infect their effectiveness. We will move on to the next initiative.
So, should we continue to focus on equipping employees to assess their own mental, emotional, physical and financial health? Of course. Should we continue to make apps, processes, and services available to them for when they need them? Of course.
And, we need to lay much stronger foundations by creating cultures that genuinely reflect healthy and ethical workplaces. We need to educate, upskill, and encourage every employee to care for the health and well-being of every other employee with whom they interact – never to walk on by when they suspect an issue. From such a pool of employees who truly care, we then need to select into people-management roles, only those who demonstrate the passion, capability, and commitment to managing people well. Only when such individuals start to occupy the senior ranks of our organisations will we genuinely have healthy and ethical workplaces because we care and not simply because we were made to by profit motives and external forces.
This article was first published in November 2021.