In today’s highly competitive work environment, employers are increasingly recognizing the importance of employee wellbeing. However, there is still a lack of clarity on what exactly we mean by wellbeing in the workplace. This ambiguity can have serious consequences. For instance, employers may implement workplace wellness programs that don’t take into account all aspects of employee wellbeing, resulting in lower engagement, productivity, and ultimately, retention. Similarly, employees may have different perceptions of what wellbeing means to them, leading to confusion and dissatisfaction. To avoid such problems, we need to get on the same page about what we mean by wellbeing in the workplace.
On this episode of How People Work, Jordan and Jason discuss the importance of getting on the same page about wellbeing in the workplace and how this shared understanding will allow employers to develop workplace wellness programs that promote employee wellbeing in a holistic and effective manner. It will also help employees make informed decisions about their own wellbeing goals and enable them to communicate their needs effectively. Ultimately, achieving a shared understanding of wellbeing in the workplace will contribute to a healthier, happier, and more engaged workforce.
Key ideas and highlights
- The conversation around wellness and employee engagement has been ever-growing since the pandemic. But, measuring wellness by engagement alone isn’t enough.
- You must implement wellbeing strategies that work in order to get the employee engagement you want.
- Employment is designated by the World Health Organization as a critical social determinant of health. How can employers maximize their employees’ wellbeing in the workplace?
- Deloitte Workforce Wellbeing Imperative
Word of the day
- Immaculate — said @28:55 ✅
- 0:00 Intro
- 3:31 Why has this conversation around wellness become so important?
- 5:03 Measuring engagement alone isn’t enough
- 7:00 Why engagement doesn’t accurately measure wellness
- 8:33 How to get the kind of employee engagement you want
- 12:03 Why employees need to have a mission statement of their own
- 16:10 Employment as a critical social determinant of health
- 21:26 What actually improves our situation?
- 23:36 The deeper meaning of the word shalom
- 25:10 Wellness is not out of reach for anyone
How many hours and years of our lives do we spend on work? For nearly all of us, we spend 30 plus years and one third of our days in our vocation, more time perhaps, than we spend at rest or at play. But this isn’t a problem. Why? Because work is good. Work needs to be integrated deeply into our lives and must be in line with our most important goals and values. And if it is, we have a far more complete and fulfilling life experience. Welcome to How People Work, podcast, where we explore the intersection of how humans think and act and how they apply themselves to their work. When you understand both of these things, you’ll be equipped to be insightful, compassionate, and compelling leaders.
Welcome back to How People Work. This is your co-host, Jordan Peace. I’m back. The real Jordan Peace. Hashtag. I should have that. I guess so. Yeah. Yeah, that’d be kind of fun. What’s the thing called on Twitter? Handle? I should have that. Twitter, @therealJordanPiece. Somebody probably already does. Sitting here with Jason Murray as usual. Jason has not left you for two weeks like I did. I apologize, but I am back excited to pick up where we left off. And thank you to Cassandra Rose for filling in for me. She did a fantastic job and made the job look a lot better than I do, which is always appreciated for those that see our video clip. But yeah, you guys talked a lot about wellbeing, a lot about, I was just listening to this clip around, she’s talking about how you can kind of do everything right, but if you have poor managers, it all falls apart. Which is a very frustrating thing to hear.
Cause you’re like, wait, you’re saying if we do everything else right? But this one thing. But at the same time, I think in a strong culture with happy people where wellbeing reigns, you wouldn’t end up having an ugly experience with your manager because your manager would be healthy themselves. They would be well, they would therefore be kind and have reciprocal relationships with their peers and employees and friends, et cetera. So we want to talk a little bit more today, and I’ll let you frame it up, Jason, since I’ve been gone a little bit. But about where this topic of wellbeing has not come into play as if it wasn’t before, but really resurfaced in a very strong way recently. And kind of what that’s about. What’s going on in society that would lead to that? What’s going on from a research standpoint that would lead to this resurgence? And we’re going to talk a little bit about that, having that positive vision of work and that positive vision of life and having something to anchor on and all about how that plays into wellbeing. But how did it go with Cassandra? How did — I mean, was it nice to be rid of me for a couple of weeks?
Oh, it’s great having you. Yeah. But Cassandra’s awesome. It was great chatting with her about,
Did you give her a word of the day that she had — .
I didn’t do that to her.
You were Kind.
Yeah, I was a little afraid of what she would’ve done to me if I tried to give her that.
It is a distracting thing sometimes. You’re sitting there, the whole episode going, when am I going to squeeze this word in there?
And she’s very professional in the best of ways. And I’m so casual. I felt a little intimidated, honestly. So I was like, I’m not going to do that to her.
Mom came to the podcast. Yes. It made you behave.
Yep. Yeah. So we got into wellbeing a little bit. We touched on, in one of the episodes that we did on this Deloitte Workforce Wellbeing Imperative, which is a report that they put out recently that I actually want to dig back into a little bit. Cause we kind of scratched the surface, but we didn’t really dive into it. But this question of why wellbeing is surfacing more as a conversation. I think there’s a whole bunch of factors going into this, and I’m interested in your thoughts on it too. But I think one of ‘em is this sort of historical perspective of, well, there used to be wellness. That was kind of the way people talked about it. And wellness originated as a way to manage population health within organizations. So it was first and foremost an effort to try and improve health, to reduce claims costs.
And so it was purely driven by cost savings within the organization. So we might infer maybe there were some good intents that if people were healthier, they live better lives, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But at the end of the day, your medical plan is the biggest, one of the biggest costs that you have outside of payroll for an organization. So if you could reduce that cost, hey, that probably sounds pretty good. And so this effort kind of originated decades ago, and over time, the evidence for improved outcomes around wellness in that way are suspect to say the least. And so that began to shift into more of this engagement. Well, let’s measure engagement. Maybe that’s a better way to look at this. Well, what happened most recently is the pandemic. And so all this time, we’ve been thinking probably since early two thousands, that engagement is the thing. We need to measure employee engagement and improve employee engagement.
And there’s aspects to that to unpack more than likely. But what happened is the assumption was always made that engagement was a good proxy for wellbeing. And so if engagement looked good or if it was trending in the right direction, that was a signal that, Hey, your people are in a pretty good place. Right? Well, what happened in the pandemic was all of a sudden you got this divergence between engagement and wellbeing. And so what happened was everyone was working at home as they were actually far more engaged in their work than they ever were before because of technology, because of proximity. You’re not leaving an office any longer. It’s just there all the time. And so engagement rates actually went up early in the pandemic. But what plummeted — captive audience. Yeah, captive audience, all sorts of reasons — but kind of measures of health and wellbeing tanked. So stress levels through the roof, right? I mean, we’re all at home with our kids. If you have kids, what do you do? It’s pretty stressful. And so
Because, you can be engaged from a standpoint of you respond to emails quickly.
Or you attend meetings or you show up on time. If those are the measuring sticks of engagement, then you can program people, you could program apes to be engaged from that measuring sticks standpoint. But from a relational engagement standpoint, that actually was a huge challenge early in the pandemic to feel really connected at all.
Well, and what it revealed is engagement doesn’t tell the full story. So engagement, we’re not suggesting engagement is a bad metric to use, but it’s certainly not the only metric we should use.
Sure. I mean I could think of times in my own personal life where I was probably hyper engaged at work, be specifically because I was not doing well personally. Right? Whether I was insanely stressed about something going on, a health thing happening in my family, or marital stress or whatever the case may be.
Work’s a distraction.
Sorry, honey, we do fight, but this is, everything’s good. But yeah, work is a distraction, work’s s a place to hide sometimes from the things going on in life. So the thought that engagement would just cover you in terms of measuring wellness or wellbeing. When you take a step back and think about your own life. Yeah. It’s like that’s kind of ridiculous. Yeah.
Well, it seems self-evident when you step back and think about it in that way. But I guess nobody really stopped to think about it in that way. And so what the pandemic did is it elevated this awareness of, oh, the way we’ve been thinking about this and running engagement surveys and seeing improvements, and then just kind of checking that box, Hey, everything’s good. All of a sudden we realized, well, that’s not adequate to what’s actually going on. People are more complex than that. The relationship between engagement and actual health, stress, wellbeing is much more complex than maybe presumed.
I think part of the problem is employers are trying to benefit employers as a primary. And I think that if you focus on benefiting your employees as a primary means, the benefit will come back around to the employer as a secondary means. So if you were to say, okay, well let’s measure engagement and let’s call it a proxy for wellbeing. And so as long as people are logging in, attending meetings, responding to emails, doing all of the work things that benefit the employer, then we’re just going to check that wellbeing box because it’s good enough to get the work done. But of course, what’s happening is this slow drift right there, there’s this slow kind of slow work death, if you will, of just like, yeah, I’m here, but I hate you. I responded to that email. But with a lot of cynicism. And over the course of time, if the well-being itself is not prioritized, then all the engagement in the world is not going to mean a whole lot. Whereas I think if you focus on the actual wellbeing, the health, the happiness, the purposefulness of your employees, you’re going to, as a side effect, you’re going to get all the engagement you want. I think it’s just a focus on the wrong thing. And that all goes back to this population health idea of in the very beginning, why were we measuring wellness to begin with, to save claims cost, right? It was all kind of directly about the employers’ benefit.
First and foremost, bottom line-driven versus what you were saying is, well, hey, can we start with a different end in mind? And maybe that end is, as we’ve suggested on this podcast, human flourishing. Versus the -
The bottom line will boom, will follow. Absolutely. Yes. How could it not?
A hundred percent.
How could it not? Yeah.
Well, and I think it’s worth talking about, cause I think you said a couple things when you were describing wellbeing. Yeah. That would probably be easy to gloss over. And I suspect people might be nodding their heads saying, yeah, yeah, I totally agree. But there’s some nuance that’s worth unpacking because I think my experience in talking with many, many, many hundreds of HR leaders in the time that we’ve been operating Fringe, yeah. Maybe more, maybe thousands.
No exaggeration there.
No exaggeration. Yeah. That I can’t say that I’ve come across a consistent, maybe consensus viewpoint on what exactly is meant when we talk about wellbeing. And so what I observe is there’s still a lot of conventional thinking around wellbeing in that it hasn’t moved far from what wellness was thought of originally, which is really narrowly focused on mental health, physical health, and financial health. So it was really just tied to what, I’ve got a health plan, I’ve got a retirement plan, and I’ve got an EAP plan that gives me a couple counseling sessions as needed. Right? Right. Boom. Check those boxes. Yes. We got well being covered. And what you described, I think was something where you included words like purpose in it. And I don’t think you said holistic, but that’s what I was thinking in my mind was a viewpoint that was more all encompassing than just those three kind of silos that I think are typically referred to.
Yeah. It’s funny. When we sit down to start a business, we immediately go, okay, what’s the mission? What’s the vision? And what are the values? Because it’s some trained business school thing and a very good thing I think that we do as a company. But how many people at 15, 16 years old, or 18 or 22 or whatever, sit down and do the same thing for their life? Nearly no one, unless you’ve got some incredible kind of mentors and maybe a counselor or somebody in your life that’s incredibly wise that sits down and goes, what’s your mission statement? What are your values as you could actually write them down and speak them out loud and kind of speak them into existence. You’re not doing that, right? Yeah. So you jump into a company and you’re inspired potential, hopefully, right? You’re inspired by this idea of, oh man, this company has a mission, and I’m on the mission too, but it’s not deep enough.
It’s not good enough to sustain an individual for years and years and years to have a shared mission with a group of people that is about ultimately some, maybe at best, some social change, some world change, some aid of other human beings in some way, and it’s good, but it’s not that individual’s vision. They didn’t sit down and create it. They’re just jumping in. And that is a degree of purpose. That is more than nothing. And that’s great, but other, if you don’t have that in your life, then you are, your life is like you’re, I’m trying to think of something lightweight, like a feather or something. The wind blows and you’re just flying around the wind of circumstances, right? Oh, I got a raise and people were nice to me and they complimented my shoes today and stuff went well, and I had this new tequila. That’s really good, right? Yeah. I’m happy.
It’s a feeling.
It’s a feeling. But it happened to you
It’s not sustained.
It’s not sustained. Because when the opposite things happen, when you feel you didn’t really dig in your outfit that day and your boss was a jerk, or maybe not even a jerk. They just weren’t overwhelmingly kind or whatever the situation may be. And now we’re down and out. And if those things happen, those circumstances that are negative happen over and over again in sequence in a certain context, whether that’s work or whether that’s in a relationship or whatever the case may be. Our tendency, it’s just to run away from the circumstances in which we experience the negative emotions because we’re not anchored to anything that’s greater or higher than the emotion of the moment to go, well, yeah, you know what? I really didn’t enjoy the last two weeks at, I don’t know, of college as I’m studying to get my doctorate in X, Y, and Z, so I’m just going to quit versus no, I, I’ve got a vision for this thing that I’m going
I can suffer through two weeks. Damn it. I’m going to do it. I’m gonna work hard. So I think that’s what I mean when I talk about purpose and when we talk about happiness, and I wrote a blog, I don’t think we’ve published yet, but about degrees of happiness, and there are a lot of meanings to that word. As you look back through the Latin or the Greek or however far back you want to go, there’s levels of that, and none of those levels are sustainable until you get to that place where there’s purpose. All of it is just sort of that windy feather…
Yeah, we talked about that a few episodes ago. There’s those different kind of levels of happiness in the Greek.
Yeah. I think, was it? It was Aristotle. Yeah. I can’t remember who exactly.
It was. Yeah, I think that’s an important point. So one thing I think is, I hadn’t actually seen this until a couple weeks ago, but the World Health Organization actually uses a definition of wellbeing that’s very much aligned with the way that we’ve been talking about it, which was surprising. I didn’t expect to come across that, but actually, but -
You think it’s something purely medical in nature.
Well, and here’s the fascinating thing. There’s kind of a couple layers to it, but one is they name employment as a critical social determinant of health. So they have all these kind of determinants of health or what they call social determinants of health that are kind of factors that play into what likely determines health outcomes for an individual or community. And so employment is one they name explicitly. So your degree of employment or unemployment, obviously, but then also the content of the work that you’re doing has a really profound impact on wellbeing in the case of physical, mental, social, financial, et cetera. But they also name your sense of purpose and ability to grow in that definition of wellbeing. And I think it’s awesome. And I mean, I’m just curious your reaction to that description.
Yeah, I’m a little shocked about the source of that. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that’s pretty amazing that an organization that I just would really expect something kind of very clinical, very medical. So that’s pretty neat actually, to think about. Someone’s thinking more deeply about it. And obviously there’s a lot of data to suggest that you could have perfect health and you could eat all the right foods, and you could all of that even workout nonstop and get maybe the endorphin endorphins and everything from that. And that’s great. But even that is just that level one kind of happiness, that level one. So I think that’s great. I think about what’s going on in our society that leads us to this place where wellbeing is more of a conversation. I think Covid is part of it. You’ve got a mental health crisis, you’ve got a lot of people focused on mental health. The focus on that expands the definition of health a little further.
I think it just brought it to the forefront. It’s not that people didn’t have these no issues before, but we’re talking about it now.
Notoriety, right? Yeah. It got more attention. But I think too, just kind of culturally in the West, at least, we’ve kind of made up our minds for or wrong, and I’m going to argue wrong, that whatever we feel is kind of the truth and paramount and most important, and as we just described around circumstances, feelings, they change like the weather, more often than the weather.
And so I think we’ve come to a wrong conclusion in Western society that we can trust our feelings to guide us, guide our decisions, guide how we see the world, interpret the world, teach others about the world. So I think that’s problematic. And then I think also the polarization politically and socially that we’ve seen over the past 10 years has also been really harmful because I think there’s so much anxiety induced by the idea that I might say the wrong thing, or I might say the wrong thing to the wrong person, or I might trigger somebody through something that I’m just kind of trying to share, or I’m at my worldview -
We’re losing our social moorings in all this. I mean, we’ve kind of gone to such an individualized, the degree to which we interpret our experience of the world through an individualistic lens is so great that it’s just my happiness is paramount and happiness not in the way that we’ve been talking about it in terms of a sense of fulfillment and purpose that involves local community, your family, and so on and so forth. It’s literally just how do I feel right now? But I think when we step back, it just doesn’t even make sense. So when I was driving over here, that’s funny, coming to record this with you. I was listening to a podcast and these folks were talking about wellbeing. I was kind of curious to see what they were talking about. And one of the people on the podcast referenced a statistic that said, well, 44% of people when you poll ‘em, say they experienced stress at work the previous day. And 22% of people say they experienced sadness or anger. And so they were using that to support this sort of sense of, yeah, there’s a huge problem. People feel a certain way, and those feelings really need to acknowledge them, and so on and so forth. And it’s like, yeah, that’s true. We do need to acknowledge what we feel. But when I look at my own experience, and you alluded to this earlier, it’s like
Sometimes I’m doing things that I love at work and insanely stressed at the same time. Both things are true. And so how do you hold that together? And yeah, you can’t live under a constant state of stress, but in some respects, what do you do with the fact that a lot of people don’t have any control over their circumstances, or a lot of us have kids that can stress us out of our minds at times? What are you supposed to do with that?
I mean, 100% of us have no control over at least some of our circumstances, getting a disease. There are things that, yeah, it doesn’t matter what you do in life, you don’t have control over everything.
So, well, this thought just popped into my head is, so we often think in terms of what improves our situation is the absence of the thing that we don’t like. And so I think the default sort of position that people come to is, oh, stress makes me feel bad. And so therefore, the optimal position is get rid of stress. But when you think about these definitions of purpose and happiness, none of them are about the absence of something. They’re actually about the presence of something better.
Something more pure.
Exactly. And so -
I saw an Instagram video, and this is about raising children, but the point stands had this guy had a glass of water, and the water had leaves and grass and all this stuff, and you wouldn’t necessarily want to drink it. And so basically what he was showing was, Hey, I can sit here with a spoon or tweezers, and I can try to pull all the dirt out of this water, or I could just take a glass, clean water and pour it right over the top, and all the crap just comes out of the top, and I’ve got this crisp cup of water. And he was using that as an analogy to say, Hey, just love your kids because the love poured in is actually what’s going to kind of get the impurity out, which is a beautiful concept. But here it is the same thing. It’s this idea of, yeah, you can sit there and go, man, another leaf, another piece of grass. And just with tweezers your whole life just trying to pick the unpleasant things out, right? Or you can pour in purpose, you can pour in the thing that you actually want into your life, right? You won’t even notice the impurities by comparison, at least, right? Yeah.
Remember one of the first conversations I had with my counselor when I went and they were talking to, they asked me, Hey, what are you trying to accomplish here? And I was like, I have no idea. I dunno, I don’t know what I’m here for.
If you told me I was supposed to show up, some bad stuff happened,
Some stuff going on my life. And I don’t know, I think I’m just supposed to do this.
I hate that initial question. Like, I don’t know.
So there’s all kinds of good stuff and ancient kind of wisdom traditions. And so in the Jewish tradition in particular, there’s a word shalom that we often translate as peace, but in the Hebrew language, it actually has a much deeper and richer meaning. And one of the things that came out of my counselor asking me about this was the fact that Shalom actually represents a view of wellbeing, let’s say. Hmm. That’s actually very aligned with the way the World Health Organization described it. So that was one of the things that was shocking to me. And then the other thing that’s really interesting about it is the word shalom in the Hebrew tradition actually isn’t about the absence of anything either. It’s about the presence of fullness of life, fullness of health, fullness of purpose. It’s basically fullness of fill in the blank. And so I think that’s really relevant because I think about maybe a single working mom, and the only job that she can get is this kind of shitty job. And what else is she — Probably, she hates it. Yeah, probably. It’s super stressful. And so is wellbeing for that person supposed to be like, oh, you’re just in a dead end job. You got to get out of it. What options -
Change your circumstances right now? Go, right.
Or Is there a better Right and deeper way that everyone has the opportunity to experience wellbeing?
Clearly. Clearly there is, because studies, time out of mind have all come back and shown that the happiest people on earth are the people just above the poverty line. So it is not about getting the best job, making the most money and having the most whatever, freedom over your time, possessions, et cetera, et cetera, that clearly there’s something else, right? That people can be plenty happy in a situation that maybe you would, from the outside-in say, well, that’s not an enviable place to be.
Those aren’t circumstances that I would willingly take on.
Yeah. Right. Yeah, exactly. So anyway, I think there’s a lot of reasons why this conversation is more and more relevant than ever. And I think what I’m proud of about, cause I said some negative things about our society, but what I’m proud of about our society is I think the courage that’s come in our generation and the one that follows us to actually take a look at the deeper things, at the more emotional things at the, to look at work and life integrated and go. So we’re asking the right questions finally, as opposed to this tough guy, Hey, just stuff it and work. That’s not sustainable. Right? And we don’t want a pendulum swing to the other side either, where it’s like, well, our employer is now our parent, and their responsibility is to kind of coddle us and make everything in our life okay.
That’s not it either. But I think good management, good training is taking that mission, vision, and values kind of business school thing, and turn it and democratizing that into, Hey, employee, let’s figure this out for you. That’s what training should look like initially. Help people be fully integrated adults, right? And then we’ll see what kind of stresses they can handle at work, what kind of leadership they can take on, et cetera, et cetera. But no skillset in the world, plus a bunch of grit and determination is going to get you all the way where you want to be if you don’t have no idea where you want to be.
It’s not going to just happen to you. And if it did happen to you, if somehow you willed yourself into someone else’s definition of success, you just got to get there and be miserable because you never wanted it in the first place, and you still don’t know who you are or what you want.
So it’s just such a core thing and such an important thing, I think, for employers to focus on. And to not be scared of that, and to not go well, that’s none of my business. That’s too personal. This is work.
You can’t manage that way.
You know, you just can’t. You have to get into the heart of the matter, into the heart of people, and really reach ‘em. Otherwise, they’re just going to keep bouncing around and looking for somebody who will engage them fully.
And there’s a topic there that I think is going to be exciting to talk about in our next episode, because some things that you just pointed out are referenced in this article that I want us to discuss. And one of them is, well, what’s the responsibility of the individual and the employer as it relates to wellbeing? Because traditionally, it’s like, that’s your thing. You just do what you need to do to be well. Right? And I think what the acknowledgement is, well, if we’re going to say work and life are together, they’re not separate, then there’s a more complex relationship that involves both the responsibility of the individual and the employer in that relationship.
I realize I’ve failed fully. Let me go back to my analogy where I was describing water and purified water, and immaculate water was right there. It was right there and available to me, and I missed it.
I was going to call you out on it, but I’ve gotten burned on that before, and I was like, no, I actually did. He probably slipped it in somewhere.
I didn’t miss it. And I’m shocked that we’ve been going something 26, 27 minutes already. So,
Oh, and Jordan, your word of the day for the next episode is going to be auspicious.
Auspicious. Alright. How opportune. So tee up the next episode for us so that way we can just kind of march right into it. So we’re going to go from here, which we covered maybe one or two questions that we had planned to discuss out of my 10.
So we’re going to stay on this topic of wellbeing, but we’re going to reference this Deloitte workforce wellbeing imperative specifically, which we’ll make sure we include in the show notes. And we’ll probably unpack this over the next two episodes. Cause there’s a lot of content here, and I think it’s stuff that’s really interesting and exciting, but I know the way that we get going on these things. Yeah, we’re not going to do it all in one episode. So the plan is over the next two episodes, we’ll continue this thread of wellbeing and unpack some of the things that I think we agree with, maybe some things that we don’t agree with or have some critiques on in this article.
Great. Well, it seems to be our style to plan, like I said, 6, 7, 8 questions that we’re going to discuss and discuss exactly one, maybe two. So in that light, if you’re listening, you’ve been listening for a little while, you kind of understand the gist of the things we like to talk about from a philosophical standpoint and from a work and employment standpoint, please do submit a question. I would love if that was our world where we just got on and looked and said, oh, here, that’s a perfect question. Let’s do an entire episode about that. So would love to do that. Thank you all for listening to how people work. We’ll catch you next week and looking forward to talking to you again soon, Jason. Thanks.