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Let’s Elevate Change by Taking a More Holistic Approach to Workforce Well-Being

Photo credit: Anna Medseason / Pexels

BY: Jessica Grossmeier, PhD, MPH // Speaker, Author, Advisor, Researcher

Employee expectations about their work and their employer have changed. According to Gartner, a global research and advisory firm, employees are demanding more in return for the time, effort, and intellectual capital they bring to their employer. They want to be valued for their contributions and “. . . to be seen as complex human beings with rich, full lives.”

Employers who pride themselves for offering a competitive salary, a safe place to work, and a large array of benefits are finding it’s no longer enough to attract and retain top talent. Workers in a variety of positions from hourly nail technicians to specialty practice physicians are leaving their jobs in search of a more enriching life. Of those who remain at work, a significant number say they are experiencing burnout. And Gallup researchers estimate low employee engagement rates are costing the global economy $8.8 trillion!

A recent global Mercer study found that employees thrive when they are doing work that feels fulfilling, having fun at work, and have a sense of connection and belonging. These contributors ranked more highly than the typical suspects of having a supportive manager, opportunities for learning and growth, and even the ability to integrate life and work! Moreover, executive leaders list high employee turnover rates among their top concerns.

Elevating change for workforce well-being means rising to meet these challenges by ensuring our well-being strategies are aligned with what matters most to all stakeholders including leaders at all levels and front-line employees. Are your well-being strategies addressing these emerging needs?

The business case for a more holistic approach

We’ve long known that a holistic approach to well-being includes these dimensions, but traditional approaches to workforce well-being have considered these needs as too personal, too sensitive, or too tangential to business priorities to include them. Ample research shows we must address these needs to fully support employee thriving and there is a business case for doing so. Studies link having a sense of purpose, strong social connections, and self-transcendent mental states to higher levels of creativity, innovation, team cohesion, employee engagement in their work, productivity, and more effective problem-solving. Meeting such needs can also help prevent burnout, promote resilience, and contribute to higher employee retention rates.

How do we create the conditions of work to support these innate human needs?

A 2021 survey of more than 500 US employers found that 98% were planning to offer or expand at least one employee benefit, specifically around child/senior care benefits, flexible scheduling policies, and mental health services. It’s terrific that employers are starting to broaden the spectrum of issues addressed as part of their well-being initiatives, but today’s challenges require more than an expanded menu of programs, resources, and workplace perks. Employers need to do more than raise awareness and ask employees to enroll in educational programs to enhance their well-being. Now, more than ever, employees are trying to make sense out of the world around them. They are asking big questions, like “What really matters to me?” and “How do I prioritize the things that bring me joy and fulfillment?” and “Is it possible to make a living without sacrificing my well-being or my quality of life?”

Next generation workforce well-being needs to address the lack of professional fulfillment workers are feeling. Employers need to address escalating levels of isolation and loneliness by identifying new ways to help employees feel connected to one another as part of their work. Workers also need to feel included, valued, and appreciated at work; to have hope for their future; and to have access to experiences that tap into their creativity and fuel joy in their lives.

It’s time to take a more holistic approach to workforce well-being by expanding our offerings and resources to address three innate human needs: the need for meaning and purpose, the need for connection and belonging, and opportunities and support to connect with something bigger than ourselves (which I call transcendence).

These needs are highly interrelated and so strategic approaches to addressing them often meet more than one of them at once. For example, when talking about one’s sense of purpose or meaning in life, individuals often talk about their life roles and relationships. Many life purpose statements mention aspiring to be the best parent, spouse, partner, community member, or friend. We often live out our deepest sense of purpose and values in community with others. Likewise, transcendence is often experienced in the company of others. The self-transcendent experiences of awe, wonder, and joy often occur as the result of a deeply felt connection with another person or as part of a group. A simple activity like volunteering in one’s community alongside one’s co-workers during an employer-sponsored community day of service has the potential to meet many of these needs.

The most effective workforce well-being initiatives address multiple dimensions, ideally in an integrated and holistic way that approaches the individual as a whole person rather than as isolated behaviors or conditions. It derives from the understanding that a whole person is made up of interdependent parts, and imbalances in physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and other aspects of well-being can negatively affect overall well-being. This holistic view was taught by Hippocrates and dates back to the 4th century BCE.

How to begin addressing these needs

Fostering an organizational culture that addresses innate human needs for purpose, connection, and transcendence begins by activating employees at all levels in the organization in discussions about what matters most to them. Such discussions may begin at senior leadership levels and then be incorporated into managerial training, professional development for employees, and new employee onboarding programs. These discussions might be augmented by data from focus groups and employee surveys. The key is to give employees at all levels an opportunity to voice their needs.

When leaders at all levels are responsive to what they are hearing and seeing in qualitative and quantitative data, it can inspire more systemic changes that begin to influence culture. Individual story sharing may inform team discussions about shared purpose, values, and desired ways of relating to and interacting with one another at work. Such discussions may be the catalyst for creating stronger relationships, more authentic ways of communicating, and stronger employee perceptions of trust and support for their well-being. Collectively, these kinds of conversations may inspire changes in organizational policies and how workers go about their daily work.

Note: Portions of this article contain excerpts from the book, Reimagining Workplace Well-Being: Fostering a Culture of Purpose, Connection, and Transcendence by Jessica Grossmeier

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Jessica Grossmeier
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jessica Grossmeier, PhD, MPH // Speaker, Author, Researcher, Advisor
Jessica Grossmeier is an award-winning researcher and the author of Reimagining Workplace Well-Being: Fostering a Culture of Purpose, Connection, and Transcendence. She is a leading voice in workplace well-being, having dedicated her career to identifying evidence-based strategies that promote a thriving workforce. Her current work includes advising, writing, and speaking on topics related to workplace well-being best practices, measurement and evaluation, strategic planning, and value demonstration. Dr. Grossmeier is a frequent speaker at national conferences and serves on several advisory boards devoted to helping employers create a workplace culture that fosters employee well-being. On a more personal note, Jessica lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and enjoys hiking, yoga, reading, art gallery crawls, wine tasting, and any travel that allows her to combine those interests.