A Cure for the Common Company
IT SHOULD go without saying that the health and well-being of employees have a direct impact on the success of an organization. Yet, it is unusual for an organization to put it on the high-priority list along with profitability and customer service.
The solution is to build it into the culture of the organization. Willpower alone won’t do it. Chief Medical Director of Employee Health and Well-Being at John Hopkins Medicine, Richard Safeer, provides six building blocks to do that in A Cure for the Common Company.
1. Shared Values
Including employees through conversation or, in most cases, online surveys is a good way to know the values are shared. “Don’t try to sweep discontent under the rug. As a manger or leader, if you interact with an employee who doesn’t care for the shared values of the organization, try to help them find their personal connection.”
The challenge, of course, is getting a refined set of values and definition of well-being with the buy-in of dozens, hundreds, or thousands of employees, all of whom have their own values and cultures they bring to work with them every day.
2. Social Climate
“Leaders can promote a positive social climate by building a sense of community, fostering positive attitudes, and creating a shared vision.” Questions to ask include, “What process does your organization have in place to help new employees feel like they are part of the team right away?” “What opportunities do you create for employees to socialize?” “What volunteering opportunities has the organization provided for your employees?”
Norms are the way the organization does what it does—behaviors that we do without much thought. “In organizations around the world, norms that run counter to what is healthy for most people are rampant.” It’s not just free donuts but work hours, after-hour emails, and eating in front of your computer.
“Norms can be identified, and they can be changed, and when we make the effort, we can have a profound positive impact on people, teams, and organizations.” Knowing the impact of soda on the health of the employees, Safeer began tackling that at John Hopkins:
I took a stroll through our buildings. Sure enough, there was soda everywhere: the cafeteria, vending machines, gift shops. It was served at our meetings. Our culture embraced unhealthy beverages. The widespread presence of soda, along with visual cues, product placement, and financial incentive (at the time, a soda cost less than the same size bottle of water) were all contributing to a culture of unhealthy nutrition and making it easier for our workforce to accept that drinking soda was the norm.
4. Culture Connection Points
A cultural connection point is where the design of the workplace acts upon our well-being. “Cultural connection point can influence healthy behaviors and attitude, or they can be complicit in unhealthy behaviors and attitudes.” Connection points like the green leaf symbol tagged to healthy foods, choices placed at eye-level, fitness classes, rewards and recognition all help to support healthy life choices.
5. Peer Support
Willpower is not a good strategy. Peers can provide support and help to build subcultures that encourage healthy choices. “Peer support is unique in that it is based on a trusted relationship, is ongoing, and is grounded in a familiarity with day-to-day circumstances.”
6. Leadership Engagement
Well-Being needs to be on the leadership agenda along with everything else like finance and customer service. Participate in well-being initiatives. “Well-being is not an expense, it is an investment, and without it, you’ll end up with ‘No People, No Profit.’”
Leaders need to eliminate organizational speed-bumps. Safeer points out nine speed-bumps like all talk, no action, a lack of accountability, losing focus, and moving too fast.
The building blocks are pretty straightforward, but part of the challenge is dealing with all of the various subcultures that exist within the organization. While you are trying to create a culture pointing in one direction, there may be subcultures that point its members in a completely different direction, like that group that smokes behind the building.
Subcultures do not have to be solely formed around work-related elements. They can be formed around common interests of a group, such as jogging or sharing the same religious beliefs.
Subcultures often have a more powerful influence on their members than the broader culture because the behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs of the members of a subculture are more deeply intertwined with each other.
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