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The Well-being Schmooze:
Biggest Buzzword Of 2022 And Why Companies Are Out For A Surprise

The two years of living with a virus has made many rethink broader life experiences. Many have started deeply contemplating their current realities whether at work, at home, or in society. The ‘Great Awakening’ we referred to is a witness to this collective transformational experience we are privileged to co-examine now.

In the first month of 2022, several new articles and research studies have been published regarding trends in HR and/or the workplace. Curious to find out more, we commissioned a meta-analysis of current publishing with Oxford University’s Well-being Research Center and found one common thread across: Well-being.

Well-being as a New Category of Engagement

While compensation, benefits, stock options or the status of working at a particular company and growth opportunities have traditionally been known as important satisfaction drivers in a job experience, it seems well-being is being noticed as a new value driver for global employees.

The first thing that comes to mind, naturally, is whether there is any merit to this new category. Does well-being drive job satisfaction and if so, does higher employee well-being lead to higher productivity and/or to tangible business impact?

Indeed, there is strong evidence collected over a decade that suggests this is the case. As an example, a 2019 meta-analysis by Center for Economic Performance surveying evidence across 339 independent research studies, including the well-being data of 1,882,131 employees and the performance of over 80,000 business units show a strong positive correlation between an employee’s job satisfaction with their company productivity and customer loyalty (and a strong negative correlation with turnover.)

The second question may raise around the way to pragmatically drive well-being experience, and this proves to be a tricky one.

From what we see in the current picture, the majority of global companies are investing in the topic without a core philosophy and often as another strategic initiative. The difference between rolling down a corporate initiative and having a philosophical position lay in our desire to step back and create space to examine a topic from a variety of angles before taking action. Obviously, the easiest thing for an organization to do (and many do) is to ask HR to create a list of new activities in a vacuum and introduce these activities to their employees as “new” concepts in reach of total well-being. Unfortunately, these organizations will quickly find out that their top-down approach to well-being will not get them very far in driving organizational health or productivity.

Why Top-Down Approach Won’t Work?

Because well-being is a primary human concept, it is more than a word or a phrase… It is rather a flow state, a sense, a feeling, and an action in evolution together. It is truly an outcome of a symphony between our hearts, heads, hands, and souls. That beautiful interplay we are now starting to understand better – thanks to recent discoveries in modern medical science, neuroscience, and bio-behavioral science – is truly dynamic. One cannot get to that state following a linear habit or by tracking a single metric (i.e. how many steps have you taken today.)

This is what many companies start to do: Challenge campaigns around walking, sending dietary baskets to employees, introducing new applications to monitor sleep, etc. while all at the same time continuing to create endless priorities that compete, promote wrong people into leadership positions, allow toxic behaviors that work against psychological safety, etc. The two do not match…

To give you a better idea of how well-being actually works, Dr. Martin Seligman, father of the thriving positive psychology movement delves into fascinating empirical evidence culled from years of rigorous research in his book Flourish. He identifies five endeavors crucial to human flourishing — positive emotion, engagement, good relationships, meaning and purpose in life, and accomplishment. As you can imagine any of those categories are complex in human becoming and require a holistic examination to bring a different version of self out in a given experience.

Where to Begin When Serious?

We recommend before signing off on any new well-being initiative that company leaders within and beyond HR take some time to understand how well-being is truly embodied. Why does it happen, how does it happen, what could be the drivers, etc.?

Mapping the four-billion-year history of living organisms is not going to be easy nor should be the goal, however, understanding how our mental, emotional, spirit states coincide inside our bodies and how the nervous system is a critical contributor to how our experiences are shaped will help you examine the topic more holistically.

Put more simply, leaders will need to consider not only an approach to evolving an individual’s one way of being by offering certain stipends, but they will need to consider an individual’s whole way of being such as purpose, passion, emotion, and then, put that holistic view into the center of their work design and rethink experience such the autonomy for work, the diverse make-up of the workforce, equal opportunity for growth, amount of work and workplace climate and leadership experience.

One of the most prominent features of the 20th century has been the enormous and continuous growth of wealth in business without any corresponding increase in the well-being of the people. This is precisely why in the Human-Centered Leadership book we co-authored with Stanford University’s Center for Compassion, Altruism Research, and Education, we had dedicated a chapter to the concept of sustainable growth and beauty. Not because it is sentimental, but because the final and absolute test of an organization is how well people shine through their day-to-day experiences.

What makes a truly sustainable business is not an abundance of revenue or trade, it is the essence of well-being in its people, supported by larger beauty in the environment.

By: Sesil Pir – FORBES