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Prepare for 2024 Worksite Wellness: Closing the Gap

BY: Derek Bell // VP, Solutions & Clinical Operations • VITAL WorkLife

In his previous post, author Derek Bell sketched the state of workplace wellness today and called for organizations to take an expanded approach, focusing on enterprise-wide performance and culture—like leadership, productivity, and organizational purpose.

His first two recommendations were to:

  1. Define your vision of wellness in the workplace, and
  2. To leverage middle managers to close the gap between the wellness goals and workers’ experiences.
You can read his previous blog here.

Third, well-being is about flourishing, and flourishing is about being connected to meaningful work.

In the coming year, we will continue to see more exploration into the idea of meaningful work. Companies are jumping on the bandwagon because it uncovers a connection between the way people feel about their work and how motivated they are to perform. This idea about meaningful work is linked with improvements in engagement, performance, and creative problem-solving. It also exposes factors that contribute to improved job satisfaction, retention, absenteeism, presenteeism and well-being, and it calls into practice how we think about vocation. For an individual, getting to the root of meaningful work is significant in connecting to their purpose and values, answering the question “Does the work I do contribute to making the world better?” For an organization, it can lead to promising work design, professional pathways, and increased performance.

However, creating an understanding of meaningful work and being authentic about how it is positioned for your employees is critical. If leaders try to make work meaningful in inauthentic ways or without organizational supports (like professional pathways, collaboration, skill development, or even things like demonstrating environmental and social impacts), it can lead to demotivation, cynicism, and increasing numbers of people walking out the door. It is important to understand how to best increase opportunities to display and explain meaningful work through values and actions.

Start with gratitude. It is critical to express how much you appreciate what people do, no matter the significance of the tasks. It is important to reinforce the importance of every step of the work and show genuine appreciation and value for the process and the impact of the outcomes.

Provide autonomy. It is important to create choice in work and develop opportunities for people to make decisions that involve their work and well-being. This means you must grow, cultivate, and empower them to make critical and important decisions. To realize this, you must create a trusting environment that encourages opportunities for autonomy and allows people the chance to design their work and meaning in their work.

Value micro-moments. While we cannot change the intensity of work, we can allow for greater space and opportunity for people to connect with themselves during their workday. These moments allow for refresh, renewal, and reconnection. When these are supported, it expresses to the employee that their well-being is important and valued.

Ask for input. What do people value at your organization—Do you know? Have you asked? What do they love to do, and do you have processes built into your leadership check-ins with employees to help determine and support playing to their strengths? Do you provide ample space for them to process meaning and purpose?

These are all steps toward building a workplace culture that enhances well-being.

Fourth, please, increase opportunities to integrate gratitude into your organizational practices.

There are few things more effective than integrating gratitude practices for enveloping your mission, meaning, and practices as well as improving connections, teamwork, and productivity. Encouraging a gratitude practice also speaks to the mental well-being needs of employees daily. When people experience gratitude from their manager, they’re more engaged and productive, and they believe that colleagues appreciate them. Practicing gratitude creates a neurochemical response that improves well-being—We call this a “hope cocktail,” because we know it improves the way people feel about their situation, which leads to more creative and productive decision making. It also provides releases of hormones that improve feelings of connection, pain relief, mood lifts, and regulation, which counteract feelings of depression and anxiety.

Given this opportunity to provide immediate and sustainable relief and improved well-being, introducing gratitude practices stands to improve significant goals that well-being initiatives are directly aimed at, like:
  • Collaboration and connection
  • Stress management
  • Improving mental well-being
  • Physical health, like sleep quality
  • Coping mechanisms, reducing conflict, improving resilience, and navigating adversity
  • Increased life satisfaction, presence, and mindfulness.
Groups that have introduced gratitude exercises, like “gratitude 1-2-3,” “gratitude walks,” and “gratitude letters or journal” as part of their daily practices have seen improvements in these areas among their employees. However, it is also important to have support for mental health and well-being needs through an EAP and similar resources. These supports should be integrated into other well-being initiatives and are not replacing support systems and programs for the full spectrum of needs.

Last point—small but important. Appreciate that you cannot do this alone.

Developing the most accessible, reliable, responsive, and proactive well-being ecosystem is done through a careful mix of your internal processes and the selection of partners to help you create opportunities to meet employees where they are and when they need help. Employees’ demands and expectations are growing more and more complex. Companies and leadership are responding by determining both what they can build on their own and what vendors can match their needs.

Often, low participation in programming isn’t because you didn’t have the right intent in building something internally. Mental health and well-being are personal and complex; often, resources that lie outside your four walls can provide safer spaces for people to engage with. It is important to measure and assess your well-being programming goals and bring in the right partners to complement your ecosystem and share your beliefs and values. Ensure they also have a tested track record of providing support in a way and manner that connects with your employee’s needs.

If we accomplish anything this year, it is that we have improved our plot. We have a rich opportunity to build and be an emboldened collective of well-being professionals owning our space, promoting shared values and a sense of meaning and purpose in our work. We have the chance to be the connective tissue between organizational performance and well-being. We have been given a table, ready for us to make an impact and fulfill both our business best and improving individual’s ideas about how connected they are to their work and lives.

This is our challenge for 2024—and I know we’re up for it.

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Derek Bell
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR Derek Bell // VP, Solutions & Clinical Operations • VITAL WorkLife
Derek is a nationally recognized leader in mental health, well-being, and human flourishing. He is the Vice President of Solutions and Clinical Operations for VITAL WorkLife, the leader in physician and health care systems well-being. He was also previously the Director of Well-Being and Joy of Practice for Ascension as well as Executive Director of the National Wellness Institute. He also hosts the podcast “Highway to Well” and a podcast series on gratitude for the American Nurses Foundation. Derek also teaches “Finding Meaning & Purpose in Your Work” in the M.B.A. program at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point and claims Led Tasso as his spirit animal.