“What we found in our research is that thriving at work often is as much or more about the relationships and quality of interactions with others as the type or pace of work.”
Based on the research that has been reviewed in the past few posts, it’s clear that networks may be the key to successful innovation and execution in organizations. Building broad and diverse networks can help employees gain understanding, access information, create solutions, and accomplish important work. But today, we turn our attention to something that may have an even greater impact on the health and success of an organization – employees’ wellbeing.
The financial impact of employees’ well being has been increasingly recognized by organizations around the world in recent years. As a result, companies are now investing more than ever before on their employees’ health. According to an analysis by IBISWorld, the workplace wellness industry has ballooned from $1 billion in 2011 to $6.8 billion five years later. According to the Society of Human Resource Management, almost a quarter of employers in the United States increased their wellness offerings last year. And guess how much employee wellbeing programs are costing American employers annually? Research by the Rand Corporation suggests that it’s $6 billion a year.
Employee wellness matters – and employers know it. That’s the good news…but here’s the bad.
According to new research published by the American National Bureau of Economic Research, workplace wellness programs aren’t working. This research looked at a program that offered employees biometric screening, a health assessment and various services and classes, such as chronic disease management, tai chi and a fitness challenge. Sounds like a dream, right? On top of all that, employees were incentivized with money to take part in the program. But here’s the thing – ultimately, the program still didn’t significantly change employees’ wellness behaviours.
Why? According to research by Gallup, the problem may be that these programs only address one component of wellness – physical health. Fostering workplace well-being requires more than just offering a program targeting physical health – there needs to be organizational-level changes to a company’s culture.
Gallup defines successful workplace wellbeing as consisting of five interdependent elements, only one of which is physical health. These other key aspects of workplace wellbeing include purpose, financial security, community, and social relationships.
Gallup’s analysis suggests that compared to adults who are thriving in just the aspect of physical wellbeing, those who are thriving in all five elements report 41% fewer unhealthy days, are 36% more likely to say that they always fully bounce back after an illness, 65% less likely to be involved in a workplace accident, and 81% less likely to look for a new employer.
Evidently, this data suggests that in order for a workplace wellness program to succeed, it has to address all five aspects of workplace wellness, rather than simply targeting physical health. Companies need to invest in more than just programs that enhance their employees’ physical wellbeing – investments that enhance their sense of purpose at work, financial security, connection to their community, and their social relationships at work are likely to also lead to financial benefits.
And this is where Rob Cross and Rebecca Garau’s research comes in again. According to these researchers, social relationships and networks are a critical source of resilience, well-being, and work satisfaction because it helps employees weather particularly challenging and intense times.
According to their data, employees who are working in difficult circumstances or in mundane roles are just as likely to thrive in those roles as those in jobs that appear to be ideal and inspiring. The difference between those who thrive at work and those who don’t isn’t necessarily the position that they’re in – but the way they build relationships in their network and collaborate with others. They proactively recognize that their social networks can help them create purpose and sustain high performance at work. In other words, they realize that the relationships and quality of their interactions at work are what helps them thrive and stay resilient.
Those who thrive at work recognize that there are so many things that they can’t control at work – but the way they build and shape their social relationships is not one of them.
As an employer, then, it would be wise to ensure that your employees know that their relationships at work matter, and that this is something that you value. Investing in programs that only target your employees’ physical health isn’t enough to make a lasting, positive impact on their wellbeing – investing in programs that develop their networks at work may be just as (if not more) impactful.
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