What’s wrong with employee wellness?
Employee wellness, or workplace wellness, is an established and lucrative approach to improving the ‘mean time between failure’ of the organic components of your business model. Humans have always been a ‘weak point’ in the industrial era factory. Increasing market disruption and the consequent uncertainty has put this model under tremendous stress. As a critical element of the model, workers must absorb this stress.
If the machines are the muscles, the workers are the tendons. Damaged tendons make even the most powerful of muscles useless.
What many leaders have yet to grasp is that attempting to fix the workers is not the solution.
Business model wellness would be a better goal. An adaptable model that can better align to a tempestuous market would lead to a healthier outcome for the business, employees and the customers.
This is mental!
Another issue I am seeing is the focus on mental health, particularly in respect of isolating it from emotional and physical health. These being the three core intelligences that living organisms need to operate. I covered this in a recent post.
Mental health fundamentally involves our ability to make decisions with clarity and with energy conservation in mind. But even with Mensa ‘platinum’ membership, that is of no use if the data on which your decisions are made are flawed. Poor emotional intelligence leads to poor decisions. And even if you were emotionally and mentally strong, if you cannot physically act on your decisions, then you may as well lack emotional and mental intelligence.
On the savanna you would be classified as ‘lunch in waiting’. Though mercifully not for long.
That is not to decry the mental anguish that comes from say poor leadership or exclusion. In most cases, it is not the stressed person that needs fixing. Having a Headspace app on your phone or even listening to it regularly may salve the pain, but it doesn’t fix the problem.
Yay, the robots are here!
Humans were never designed for industrial work. A people-less factory is preferrable, given the increasingly high maintenance of people. Originally there was no other choice, given that technology couldn’t do everything. But that is changing. Our need to pay bills, and in some cases a need to maintain a ‘perfect’ lifestyle, has chained us to this flawed model. Liberation from inhumane factory process work should be a cause for celebration.
Keep in mind, when I say factory, I mean anything with a conveyor belt, including one that carries data.
But you might argue what is so inhuman about being a bricklayer, tech sales account manager or a surgeon. Well for one, they are process jobs and ripe for automation. Secondly, they characterise the industrial era obsession with careers and skills. Skills are needed to get the job done, but if you don’t know what job needs to be done (thanks disruption), you will end up with a workforce of intransigent hammers when the problem isn’t a nail. Traits trump skills in this post-industrial world. And careers will increasingly become something your parents talk about.
Be more human
The point is that humans are highly adaptable generalists, but we have had three hundred years of being told that specialism is the way to get ahead. Sadly many people today will go to their grave not having fully enjoyed the potential of this piece of kit called our body. A finely-tuned piece of kit developed over millions of years to cope in the harshest of conditions.
As humans, we have certain anthropological drivers that if expressed over the day make us feel human. These include the need to be mobile, social, curious and creative. I explore this in more detail here. Employers would be wise to build these ‘anthro drivers’ into their workplace, or more challengingly, wherever the worker chooses to work.
Smart employers know that innovation is the key to thriving in this era of disruption.
They also recognise that (a few) humans are good at this and so the war for talent continues to become more acute. As it turns out, we are all potentially good at this cognitive activity. However, society, in particular our schooling, has denatured us into specialised unthinking process workers. Fixing that would go a long way towards employee wellness.
In any case, algos and robots can’t do innovation (yet), so humans are still in play. And indeed it is play because being curious, courageous and creative is fun, challenging and uplifting. And it plays to our deep-rooted survival instinct.
Mens sana in corpore sano
My vision of everyone being in the innovation game might imply that our brain is our ‘money maker’ and that our body is simply needed to get us to meetings / operate Zoom. Again mental intelligence cannot be isolated. Thus we also need to develop our physical and emotional intelligences. Improvement in any intelligence means improvement in all intelligences. Over the years, I have talked about the cognitive athlete. This is in part a recognition of the importance of our capacity to think, but it also reflects the broader attributes of being a high performing human.
I anticipate the death of careers and I propose that self-discovery and thus self-mastery, becomes the new post-career professional framework.
Some wellness initiatives are to be applauded. We have come a long way in respect of worker safety, at least in some countries. Some wellness issues are in essence just a small thank you for carrying the increasing stress that goes with the free-falling business model – desk massages and discount coupons come to mind. Some are genuinely well meaning, but backfire because they still see people as commodities.
Bringing in a high-profile fitness instructor at great cost simply causes the less athletic members of your workforce to ‘die inside’. The company’s new drive to fast on Fridays, having learnt about the benefits of intermittent fasting, has now simply reignited the eating disorders of several staff.
Wellness management is not sheep dipping. It needs to be personalised. Whilst it can help in binding a culture, that is not the goal. The wellbeing of the individual is the focus.
Intrinsic motivation is needed, so pressurising the worker to partake will likely backfire.
It’s just a game!
We live in a world now where friendship is just a click away, as is a trophy. Thus the gamification of wellness would appear to be in keeping with the times. This will appeal to your extrovert high performers. But keep in mind that they are a subset of your talent pool. If this is where the emphasis of your wellness programme lies, then this is more a marketing exercise in employer branding than employee wellness.
Employee wellness is big business. However I believe that it is an industry built on shaky, but fixable, foundations. I would argue that wellness is the responsibility of the individual.
An anthropologically optimised work environment is the responsibility of the employer. In many cases, that will require a deeper organisational transformation than discounted gym membership.