Mental and physical health is front and center as a result of the pandemic. COVID-19 has exposed the many problems of inequity and access that plague US health care. Although many employers offer what they consider to be generous health coverage — and many have expanded their mental health offerings in response to the psychosocial strains of the pandemic — substantial challenges remain.
The important task of creating a healthier workforce needs to start with a fundamental shift in how companies think about employee health. As we emerge from a year that’s upended the way many of us think about and approach work, it’s time to focus not just on the health of our business but also the health of our employees — one cannot exist without the other.
Approach employee health like customer satisfaction
Currently, there is a tendency to think of employee health as just an HR and benefits issue, evidenced in the little time and attention employee health gets from CEOs, which often then gets delegated to benefits people and sometimes outsourced to benefits administrators and consultants. Given the economic and strategic importance of employee health, this lack of priority seems like a profound mistake.
Much like when customer loyalty and satisfaction became recognized as key drivers of company performance and became a priority of senior management, employee health needs to be regularly on senior leadership and board of directors’ agendas.
When companies became serious about improving customer service and loyalty, they set goals for these outcomes, measured them, and were willing to invest money — in a cost-effective way — to improve the customer experience. This is a great outline for how to approach employee behavioral and physical health.
The true cost of employer-paid health insurance
There is currently an overwhelming discussion of and emphasis on health insurance costs. Although costs are important, they cannot be the sole criterion by which employers assess their healthcare performance and perhaps not even the most important indicator. A healthy workforce misses fewer workdays, turns over less frequently, and is more productive.
As Jeff Immelt, the former CEO of General Electric, told me, the company was spending $3 billion a year on health benefits, and until the recession of 2008, he was giving that spend almost no attention, consistent with my observation that employee health has typically not been a top management priority. When Immelt decided that $3 billion was too large to not prioritize and engaged more actively with employee health and its costs, GE began to take health much more seriously and improved employee health while cutting expenses.
How to build a culture of health
Building a culture of health is no different from what is required to build a culture of innovation or customer service and loyalty.
First, measure behavioral and physical health. Then you have to hold health-relevant vendors, such as benefits administrators, healthcare providers and organizational leaders, accountable for ensuring improvement on these measures over time. As the quality movement and management experience illustrate, what is measured gets attention and improves, and what isn’t measured tends to get ignored and worse.
Second, appoint a Chief Health Officer, someone responsible for overseeing, coordinating and improving employee health. When companies get serious about diversity, equity and inclusion, they appoint an individual to oversee these initiatives. To build a culture of health, take those same steps. It will occur more readily if there’s someone appointed with the explicit job of ensuring that physical and mental health becomes a priority in the organization’s culture.
And third, building a culture of health requires understanding the dimensions of work such as work hours, job autonomy and the other things that affect employee health. The more employers understand what affects health, the better able they can create health-promoting work arrangements.
The business imperative of employee wellbeing
Employers spend a fortune on employee health — large employers estimate they spent about $15,000 on benefits of each of their employees in 2020. But only when it’s made a business priority, and implemented effectively, will companies see the benefits of their investment across multiple dimensions.
In a world where companies are increasingly focused on sustainability and are called to report their sustainability performance, human sustainability — represented by employee health and wellbeing — is an integral part of building a sustainable company.
Pragmatically, employee health is important because of its economic impact on company performance and its societal-level economic consequences. The connections between work and health have been explored for decades. In a 2020 study I conducted with colleagues from the Gallup organization, self-reported health was positively correlated with job satisfaction and employee engagement and negatively related to the number of missed workdays, stress and burnout.
As a matter of moral values, we should not have workplaces creating so much stress and depression that people are literally putting their health at risk to earn a living. Employers need to change their mindsets about employee health, making it a strategic priority and undertaking decisions that create workplaces that foster total worker health.
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Taking A Company-Wide Approach to Learning & Development
There’s a lot of coordination that goes into a company’s learning and development programming, from identifying skills gaps and creating engaging content to scaling initiatives company-wide. And because there’s so much complex planning involved, organizations can sometimes get caught up in the details, and overlook how L&D fits into broader organizational goals. A recent survey—titled "The Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change"—from Cornerstone People Research Lab (CPRL) and the Human Capital Institute (HCI) found that only 55% of organizations believe their L&D programs are well-aligned with their company’s overarching strategy. But CPRL and HCI’s survey reveals two logical ways to overcome this challenge. First, there’s a need for L&D executives to participate in strategic conversations around organizational goals to ensure that L&D planning aligns with broader business plans. And second, it’s important to share responsibility for learning effectiveness. If facilitating continuous learning is a part of everyone’s role, it becomes easier to integrate it organization-wide. Promote Cross-Departmental Collaboration and Responsibility To better align L&D efforts with overarching business goals, learning executives have to participate in strategic conversations about organizational direction. For instance, when business leaders gather to discuss goals and KPIs for the coming year or quarter, HR and L&D leaders should be involved in those conversations. And the opposite is also true: Business leaders need to help direct the learning outcomes framed against those goals. According to the "Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change" survey from CPRL and HCI, only about half (51%) of learning leaders report being involved in these discussions. During these business planning discussions, it’s important to establish accountability, especially among people managers. CPRL and HCI found 67% of people managers report being involved in the creation of content, but only 47% are involved in the accountability for the results. By holding more people accountable to the success of L&D programs, it can be easier for a company to spot pitfalls or opportunities for improvement. It creates shared goals for measuring effectiveness, and establishes a process for making changes. For example, by getting people managers involved in L&D initiatives, L&D leaders can work with them to get a better understanding of a specific team’s skill gaps or what reskilling or new skilling solutions will work best for them. All leaders in an organization, in fact, should be eager to participate and own their team’s newskilling, reskilling or upskilling efforts. Ask a people manager in the IT department to reiterate the importance of learning to their team, and track the amount of time their employees spend on learning content. This approach will not only create a shared commitment to continuous learning, but can also help leaders outside of L&D and HR get a better idea of what content or formats work best for their teams and recommend adjustments accordingly. Continuous Learning Is Everyone’s Responsibility Aligning overarching business plans and strategy with learning and development efforts can improve each’s efficacy. The more cross-departmental collaboration that exists, the more information that HR and L&D leaders have about their workforce and its needs, strengths and weaknesses. And with more accountability, all stakeholders in an organization can become more involved in ensuring the successful partnership between L&D and a company’s overall strategy. To learn more about the findings from Cornerstone’s "The Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change" survey and its recommendations for using cross-departmental collaboration and accountability to help with L&D efforts, click here to download and read the full report.
Why supporting neurodiversity is essential for any successful workforce today
When we think of diversity in the workforce, we typically think of it along the lines of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender. But focusing only on those four is its own sort of constraint. To truly create a successful and diverse workplace, you need to ensure you're also embracing neurodiversity too. Understanding neurodiversity In the late 1990s, a single mother in Australia named Judy Singer began studying Disability Studies at University of Technology Sydney. Her daughter had recently been diagnosed with what was then known as “Asperger’s Syndrome,” a form of autism spectrum disorder. As she read more and more about autism as part of her studies, Singer also suspected that her mother, and she herself, may have had some form of autism spectrum disorder. Singer describes crying as she realized that her mother, with whom she'd had a tumultuous relationship throughout her childhood, wasn’t purposefully cold or neurotic as she had thought. She just had a different kind of mind. In her honors thesis, Singer coined the term “neurodiversity.” For Singer, people with neurological differences like autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or dyslexia were a social class of their own and should be treated as such. If we are going to embrace diversity of race, gender, religion, sexuality, etc., then we must embrace a diversity of the mind. The following video is an excerpt from the "Neurodiversity" Grovo program, which is available in the Cornerstone Content Anytime Professional Skills subscription. Neurodiversity in today's workplace Recently, neurodiversity has become a trendy term in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging spaces. And many organizations are working to hire more neurodivergent people, as well as give them opportunities to thrive at work. That’s why, at Cornerstone, we recently produced a series of lessons on neurodiversity. If your organization hasn’t prioritized neurodiverse inclusion yet, here are some reasons why it both supports your people and organization. 1) Neurodivergent people are underemployed Neurodivergent people, especially people with autism, are widely under-employed, regardless of their competence. In the United States, 85% of college graduates with autism are unemployed. According to a 2006 study, individuals with ADHD have higher rates of unemployment than individuals without. However, there is no evidence that neurodivergent people are less competent or less intelligent than neurotypical people. Organizations are missing out on talented people. 2) Neurodivergent people are more common than you may think Neurodiversity manifests in many different ways. It can encompass autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, Tourette syndrome, and many other conditions. And as scientists have learned more about what makes someone neurodivergent, they're identifying more and more people. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 160 children have some form of autism spectrum disorder. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1 in every 162 children have Tourette Syndrome, and roughly 8 percent of children under 18 have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. And that's just children. How many adults, like Judy Singer's mother, have struggled their whole lives without a diagnosis? People who are neurodivergent are everywhere. Diverse organizations are stronger Diverse organizations and teams not only have better financial returns than less-diverse ones, but they also perform better. Having the different perspectives presented by people who are neurodivergent can help your team solve more difficult problems. Different perspectives and different ways of thinking lead to creativity and innovation.
Why Selecting a Leadership Development Program Is Way Too Complicated
Many organizations face a leadership gap and cannot find the talent needed to grow. We could blame the retiring baby boomer phenomenon, the free agent nation, or the lack of investment made in developing leaders. But since blame is a lazy man’s wage, I will not entertain that debate because there are too many options out there for developing leaders. There are many leadership development programs in the market. In minutes, with a simple Internet search or over coffee with your head of human resources, you can discover myriad high-quality leadership development programs that you could use in your organization to develop leaders. The problem is not finding a good program, but in choosing one. Answer the Right Questions So how does one choose? The problem we face in evaluating leadership development programs is that we get caught up in evaluating the content rather than asking a simple question, "What do we want our leaders to be able to do?" Each organization is unique in how it answers this question. And that is where the secret lies. If an organization can select a program that matches the answer to the question above, the selected program will likely be the right one. After all, each leadership development program is very good in some way. It is not so important which one you select. It is important that you use the one you select. In other words, the key is to not let it become another un-opened binder on the bookshelves of your management team. Be An Effective Leader Let me give you an example: If an organization’s answer to the question above is, "We want our leaders to be proactive and focused on the things that drive results," your choices are narrowed down to only a few programs that would deliver on that answer. And if I had to pick one program that would deliver on that answer, without hesitation, I would choose, "The Effective Executive" by Peter F. Drucker. It is a classic, and all five of the behaviors of effective executives taught in the book remain vital skills that any leader should practice if he or she wants to be effective in his or her organization. In the book, Drucker teaches that effective executives: Know where their time goes Focus on contribution and results Build on strengths Concentrate on first things first Make effective decisions This is not a book review or a plug for "The Effective Executive," though I do believe if you had to choose one set of skills to teach your leadership, it would be the five from Drucker’s book. This is a challenge for every organization to simplify the selection of leadership development programs, and ask, "What do we want our leaders to be able to do?" Answering this question clearly will help you choose the right program. After all, many programs are excellent. The secret to success is not in which program you choose, but that you get people to apply the program you choose. Photo: Can Stock