Your Action Plan: 3 Steps for Creating a Culture of Employee Well-Being

August 6, 2021 Aaron Kinne

three people looking at sunset with hands upWhat steps can you take to create a culture of employee well-being in your organization?

To find out, we tapped the collective wisdom of three leading experts, based on content they presented during Workhuman® Live Online. For the last several months, we’ve been sharing comprehensive action plans – based on sessions from each content track – to give you concrete tactics you can put into play in your organization. To date, we’ve presented action plans for the following content tracks:

We hope these roadmaps will help you assess and tweak your HR strategy, and better position your organization for the future of work. Today, we’re sharing three key actions that will help you bring greater emotional health to your employees – and your organization.

1. Practice and strengthen your emotional fitness skills.

“Emotional fitness is the skill of cultivating a more supportive relationship with yourself, your thoughts, your emotions, and other people,” noted Nataly Kogan, founder and CEO at Happier, Inc. “It’s about learning how to embrace the challenges and the uncertainty that come our way and support ourselves to help us move through them with less struggle.”

According to Nataly, there are five core skills that can help humans build and strengthen their emotional health during times of challenge and uncertainty:

1. Acceptance – The ability to acknowledge your feelings and the situation you are facing with clarity, instead of judgement.

2. Gratitude – Choosing to notice the small, positive moments in everyday life – even when times are challenging – and sharing appreciation for others.

3. Self-care – Intentionally fueling your emotional, mental, and physical energy: taking a walk, taking deep breaths, or just closing your eyes.

4. Intentional kindness – Being actively kind and compassionate toward others – without expecting anything in return.

5. The “bigger why” – Regularly connecting with your sense of meaning and purpose by identifying how your daily activities and tasks support larger goals, help others, or contribute to a cause you believe in.

So what is Nataly asking you to embrace? “I am asking you to take up this mission and to help me lead this change – within yourself, your teams, your organizations – to make emotional health a core principle, a core practice.”

She wants to see emotional health become “as essential as communication and project management.” In her view, it should be “an absolutely non-negotiable part of work.”

"Because when we struggle less, we have more energy, more capacity, more of our potential that we can bring to our work, to our colleagues and to our teams."

2. Train your brain to improve psychological well-being and performance success.

“One very common reason people would like to train their minds is to combat stress,” observed Dr. Amishi Jha, neuroscientist and professor at the University of Miami. “When we think about stress, we must keep in mind that it has many terrible effects on the body.” But, she adds, “it’s not just the body that gets compromised and degraded as a function of stress. It’s actually the mind, and in particular, the brain’s attention system.”

Why is that important? “We use attention for almost every single thing we do,” she noted. “Attention is not just for our cognitive functioning. We need our attention to feel well.” Not only does attention help with thinking and feeling, it also helps with connecting: “Our direct interpersonal connection with each other, our ability to communicate with one another, and – probably most important in the context of the professional or workplace setting – our ability to lead requires our attention.”

Dr. Jha identifies three key subsystems of attention:

1. Focus – Directing attention toward certain things to get more stimulation from the input in our environment. “We can direct it to our thoughts, our feelings, our interpretations of the behaviors and intentions of other people.”

2. Caution – Ensuring your attention is primed and ready to engage, so that in the moment it’s needed, you can instantly deploy it and use it to keep you healthy and others around you safe.

3. Juggling – Also called the “executive system attention” or “central executive,” juggling ensures that “leadership is guiding and overseeing all of the different processes that must go on to make sure that the behavior of the people that will engage in those goals will do it appropriately.”

According to Dr. Jha, “a stressed mind is a wandering mind … Under stressful circumstances, you’re not just reflecting on the past when your mind presses ‘rewind.’ You’re ruminating, reliving, or regretting circumstances that have already happened.” So what’s the antidote to the wandering mind?

“The solution to this conundrum of defaulting to mental time travel in unproductive ways would be to keep our attention very steady and keeping the button right on ‘play.’ And that is exactly what I mean when I use the term ‘mindfulness.’”

The good news is your employees can perform “precise mental workouts” that will enable them to keep their attention “in the now, and do so without an editorializing or judgmental orientation to their experience.” Dr. Jha calls such workouts “mental push-ups” – and she wants you to do them.

“The push-up is this simple,” she noted. “We focus, we maintain, and then we notice and redirect, over and over again. And just like any muscle in the body, just like physical activity and exercise, the more we repeat this, the stronger our mental capabilities … It is within our own hands to exercise the mind in this way, to optimize our performance, and optimize our functioning.”

3. Build relationships.

Here’s a question for you: What do you think has the biggest impact on your health and well-being? Is it stress? Finances? Diet?

According to Jen Fisher, chief well-being officer at Deloitte, and her colleague, global CEO research director Anh Phillips, the answer is relationships. “More than money, more than fame. [Relationships] are critical to our mental and physical health, happiness, and longevity,” noted Jen.

So what does this have to do with the workplace? According to Jen, because we spend so much of our waking hours at work, “the workplace is a critical place for developing the meaningful connections we all need to thrive.”

And while we know that social connections at work increase employees’ commitment to work, only 19% of people have a significant relationship with a workmate, according to a joint survey by Pew and the American Life Project. Why are workplace relationships lacking?

“It may have a lot to do with our steady progression towards a tech-heavy, information-loaded 24/7 workplace culture,” observed Anh. “People start using business technologies to become more and more productive. But ironically, it can often actually make us less productive.”

Jen observed that as artificial intelligence takes over some of our routine and repetitive work, the nature of work will be “highly cognitive, creative, and intellectual.” She added that “These human skills, like empathy, emotional intelligence, and critical thinking are the skills of the future. Ultimately, acquiring and implementing these skills will not only enable people to work better with automation and AI, they’ll also make us better at collaborating, and will strengthen our human connections in the workplace.”

Jen added that, “The key is a renewed focus on our most human qualities by establishing consciously positive relationships with ourselves, with our technology, and with our team – starting with our immediate teams and working our way outward to the furthest reaches of an organization and beyond.”

Jen and Anh then walked the audience through four quadrants representing workplace cultures:

1. School of sharks – “Relationships matter, but well-being is simply unimportant,” noted Jen. “This workplace is characterized by focusing relationships entirely on their utility for getting business results, regardless of genuine qualities. It’s the height of ‘workism.’”

2. Doom loop – “With the doom loop, business suffers as neither relationships nor well-being are valued,” said Jen. " … “Business results on most metrics – from profits to employee engagement – are below average.”

3. Lone leopards – According to Anh, this is “a culture that values individual well-being, but not strong relationships … For most businesses, it represents a lost opportunity. With less connection and understanding of contrasting styles, individuals struggle to create win-win solutions.”

4. Trusted teams – “Our ideal is a workplace that values both strong relationships and individual well-being,” adds Anh. “It means diverse types of people working together without forcing conformity and genuinely caring about each other. People in these teams give and receive respect from their colleagues at all levels of the organization.”

According to Anh, building a trusted team begins with an understanding of yourself – your work style, tendencies, and preferences – and then learning the work styles of others. In this way, you understand how you can best work with team members. In summing up, Jen observed that, “Putting well-being into action means embedding well-being into work itself … a good place to start is by considering how all aspects of the workplace environment impact our well-being.” “

Designing well-being into work is about putting people first and systems second,” added Anh. “It’s about developing an awareness of all the systems affecting our work – technology, organizational hierarchy, culture, personal habits – and modifying those systems to server the health of our bodies, mind, and business.”


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About the Author

Aaron Kinne

Aaron Kinne is a senior writer at Workhuman.

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