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Wellbeing Elements

16 Nov

Wellbeing is a big topic–very big.

But thanks to the work of Dr. Jerry Wagner, the idea of wellbeing is much easier to understand. Jerry is currently the Director of the Institute of Wellbeing Management at Bellevue University in Omaha, Nebraska. He is also the designer of a unique software program that helps organizations uncover and evaluate employees’ ideas about how the organization can improve wellbeing.

Dr. Wagner has identified ten elements of wellbeing:

Employee Benefits  Physical Health and Nutrition  
  Job and Career Growth  Recognition and Rewards  
  Communication  Social and Recreational  
  Environment and Place  Community Service  
  Financial  Work Policies

A few thoughts about the elements:

  • Some of these elements overlap and also work in concert with each other.
  • Some of these elements might be extremely important to you or your organization, others less so.
  • There is a growing body of evidence about the importance of these elements.

Dr. Wagner has consulted with a number of organizations that have seen the benefit of working together to improve wellbeing. They’ve engaged in a process using the idea management software specifically tailored to wellbeing to identify and rate ideas their organizations could implement. Here are comments from employees who participated in the wellbeing process and how they felt about the experience:

“It was exciting to learn some new things, and also be reminded about wellbeing and how we could be more proactive in wellbeing activities. The process brought excitement to the organization and also brought some cohesiveness. It’s planting seeds of change for us as a community in trying to help us focus not only on our physical wellbeing but our emotional and mental wellbeing.”

“What I thought was exciting was brainstorming and coming up with ideas that would improve our work environment. What especially got my attention was the physical piece… one’s physical wellbeing has an impact on how they do in the workplace.”

“It was wonderful being able to create ideas with co-workers from other departments. I’m excited about the future and what we’ll be doing with the wellbeing ideas.”

“That feeling that you know you are part of something, part of a movement where you change people’s lives for the better, is very exciting.”

“I’ve heard from employees who want to take a financial planning class. Others want to take advantage of our tuition reimbursement benefit. Others want to get more involved in the community—they feel like they want to give back. You get the conversation started, and you’re helping to create a culture where everyone is expected to be always improving.”

You see, when it comes to wellbeing, we don’t have to go it alone. We can work together. We can make a difference for ourselves and folks we care about.

TED Talk– Shawn Achor: The happy secret to better work

9 May

Remarkable twelve minutes on why happiness is so important:

Wellbeing Idea Management Case Study

8 May

The following video was provided by our colleague Dr. Jerry Wagner about the experience of One World Community Health Center and the wellbeing idea management process. For more information about the process and additional testimonials, go to

Quieting the Naysayers

29 Apr

We all know naysayers, people with a less than positive attitude. The dictionary describes a naysayer as someone with “an aggressively negative attitude.”

Aggressively negative, yikes.

Okay, we all have probably been naysayers at one time in our work life. Things happen at work and we can get crabby, hopefully for just a while. However, I think we can all agree that too much naysaying, too many aggressively negative attitudes, can seriously damage the culture of a workplace.

How do we stop naysaying?

I had the opportunity to interview an executive whose organization participated in an Employees Know wellbeing idea management project, an effort designed to gain employee feedback about what could be done to improve individual and organizational wellbeing. She was very pleased with the process that brought forward employee ideas. This process included the creation of a “unity council” to manage the project and communicate with employees who forwarded wellbeing ideas. Most of the ideas had been implemented in a few short months, and was looking forward to conducting the process again the following year. I asked her if she saw any additional benefits to the process we had not discussed. Her answer was a pleasant surprise: “Mark, our culture is different. In particular, the naysaying that we used to have is gone.”

The naysaying is gone???

She told me that previous to this process there were several individuals who always seemed to be negative about, well, anything and everything. Moreover, they were quite vocal, and like a bad virus would spread their negative attitudes to others. As the wellbeing idea management process unfolded, something seemed to happen in the organization, something quite unexpected. When employees (whether naysayer or not) saw that employee ideas were being taken seriously and then implemented within a short period of time, the naysayers seemed to lose their footing.  The naysaying went away. “Our work environment is now much more positive, and not just about wellbeing but about other things. Just going through the process has contributed to our wellbeing”, she said.

In our consulting work, we’ve seen three different groups vie for control of this part of the culture, the part that allows, or at least tolerates, negative attitudes. They are:

  • “Hard-Core-Naysayers”,
  • “Swing-Vote-Naysayers”, and
  • “People-Who-Put-Up-With-Naysayers”.

Here’s what I think happened to these groups as a result of the wellbeing idea management process:

  • The “Swing-Vote-Naysayers”, who didn’t like to gripe but felt like they had some legitimate complaints, stopped griping because, well, they no longer had a reason to gripe. They were glad that leadership stepped up and responded. As long as leadership continues to be open to processes such as this, they’ll be just fine.
  • The “People-Who-Put-Up-With-Naysayers” were as pleased as they could be, because they had ammunition to tell the hard-core naysayers to stop it. This made them smile. Some of them are smiling because they can stop looking for a new job because they were sick of the negativity.
  • The “Hard-Core-Naysayers” stopped because they lost their audience. It’s hard to naysay when lots of positive things are happening around and to you that came largely from feedback from your peers. Some may be looking for another place to naysay—we’ll miss them but wish them well.

Idea management killed naysaying at this organization! In truth, what killed the naysaying was a manager who encouraged employee feedback, was able to truly hear what employees were concerned about, and acted in way that helped employees know they were heard. We call that leadership.

Nobody Goes It Alone– The Case for Wellbeing at Work

27 Apr

If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy, and inspires your hopes.

~ Andrew Carnegie

What is wellbeing? One definition says wellbeing is the “state of being happy, healthy or prosperous”. All of us would like to be happier, healthier or more prosperous, right? In our work we’ve seen employees at all kinds of organizations work together to improve wellbeing—this can truly happen.

Improving our wellbeing is more important now than ever before. As “advanced” as we have become in things like information technology or medical science, the truth is that wellbeing for many of us is headed in the wrong direction:

  • As a nation, we are more obese than ever before, which is a leading cause of heart attacks, strokes and diabetes.
  • The rate of how much we save has gone down, and more of us face financial challenges such as bankruptcy or losing our homes than ever before.
  • The percent of employees who dislike their jobs, who are “disengaged”, is disturbingly high.
  • In spite of all the ways we can be connected, many of us feel more alone, in some ways more isolated, than ever before.
  • Happiness in the United States, as measured by surveys, has not increased in decades.

We can do better. We have to do better. Addressing these problems by increasing our wellbeing may be the most important challenge of our time.

How do we do that–how do we increase our wellbeing?


We think our wellbeing matters. We believe we can work together to improve wellbeing, and the workplace is an excellent place for this to happen.

You might be asking yourself—isn’t “our wellbeing” a contradiction in terms? Isn’t wellbeing something I have to do for myself? Isn’t that my responsibility, not my employer’s?

To be sure, wellbeing is about what each of us decides to do. No one is holding a gun to our heads as we chow down on a greasy, cholesterol-laden bacon cheeseburger. No one is forcing us to sit on the couch watching yet another rerun of our favorite sit-com instead of exercising. No one is telling us to spend money on an item we can’t really afford and probably don’t need. And though some of us may feel “locked” into a job (even one we hate and is not a good use of our unique talents) career changes are possible.

Those are choices we make.

But you might be surprised at how much our wellbeing is impacted by those around us—our family, people we meet in school, people we associate with in community groups, and folks with whom we work:

  • When we tell someone about a personal goal we have set for ourselves, the chances we will achieve that goal increase dramatically.
  • Our friends, at work and elsewhere, can have a profound impact on our health, such as if we smoke or are overweight.
  • If a coworker we are close to is unhappy and talks to us about leaving her/his job, we are more likely to leave our job.
  • Seniors who have weak social ties are more likely to die than those who have strong relationships and social networks.
  • Most of us will find a new job by leveraging our current network of friends and their contacts.

As the musician Bruce Springsteen sings, “nobody goes it alone”.

Every now and then we have one of those rare moments when everybody can win if we all work together toward a common goal, when, as they say, all boats rise with the tide. In the case of increasing wellbeing in our places of employment, working together, deciding to not “go it alone”, can be a “win-win”. If each of us increases our wellbeing, we’ll likely experience more happiness and health and joy. And we’ll also likely be far more engaged and productive at work, so our employer will be happy—everybody wins!

We know of numerous examples of where improving wellbeing in the workplace has specific, measurable returns. It’s already clear that investing in wellbeing activities can reduce health care costs and improve employee engagement and retention.

Let’s work on wellbeing– together.

Kiss My Kettlebells: Examining Corporate (And Our Own) Wellness, Part Two

6 Nov

As I mentioned in my last post, I had the great pleasure of facilitating a discussion at the second annual HR Reinvention Experiment. My talk was entitled “Kiss My Kettlebells: Examining Corporate Wellness”.

As I mentioned in my first post about the workshop, we spent time talking about our own journey in wellness. I am convinced we can more effectively assist others in their wellness journey if we are actively involved in our own.

In the second part of the workshop, we looked at the elements that make up successful wellness programs. For this section I cited information I heard earlier in their from Dr. William Baun, who heads the wellness effort at the MD Anderson Cancer Center. I had the pleasure of hearing him speak at the first annual Well Being Conference held in my hometown of Omaha. Bill and his colleagues authored a terrific article in the Harvard Business Review (this link will show you the first page or so of the article, but you will need a subscription to read the entire article, which I strongly encourage) that identified six elements that are common to some of the best corporate wellness programs in the country. They are:

  1. Multilevel Leadership, passionate leaders at all levels,
  2. Alignment, where wellness is a natural extension of the firm’s identify and aspirations,
  3. Scope, Relevance and Quality, where wellness meets the unique needs of various employees,
  4. Accessibility, so there is convenience to wellness resources,
  5. Partnerships, that are both internal and external to the organization, and
  6. Communications, that helps overcome apathy and can address sensitivities people may have about their wellness journey.
We had a terrific discussion about these elements, something I strongly encourage you to do where you work. Get a conversation going with key stakeholders to determine where you believe you have strength in these six elements, and where you may also have some gaps. Doing so will help you know where you’re at and what steps need to be taken to move your wellness effort forward.
One of our participants talked about how reviewing these elements helped her rethink her approach to wellness. “We’ve been doing some things here and there, but we don’t have a plan and a design of how this is going to help our company be a better place to work. It’s time to get that discussion going.” That kind of honesty and spirit will make a difference!

Kiss My Kettlebells: Examining Corporate (And Our Own) Wellness, Part One

1 Nov

I had the great pleasure of presenting “Kiss My Kettlebells: Examining Corporate Wellness” at the second annual HR Reinvention Experiment, held last week at the Hot Shops Art Center in Omaha, Nebraska.

What a great discussion!

To give you a sense of our conversation, I first asked participants to explore their own wellness journey, a conversation that isn’t always made and frequently no easy. But I would contend that we will only be able to influence others in wellness if they believe we are active wellness participants– we simply need to be on that journey. If not, we risk looking like hypocrites.

For this exercise I asked them to think about where they were in seven key wellness categories. These seven categories were identified by Dr. Jerry Wagner, who was kind enough to offer them as a resource. You can find out more about them at his web site called Employee Wellness Collaborative.

I appreciated the honesty of the participants regarding where they were on the journey. One person talked about how they were working to improve their financial wellness, an often overlooked but increasingly important wellness category. Our more challenging economic times have certainly put more stress on employees regarding their financial wellness. It was encouraging to hear one participant talk about the financial education programs they have offered their employees, and how that has improved morale and productivity. It’s clear providing resources in areas such as financial wellness will be more important for more employers.

Another participant talked about her challenges regarding career wellness. She has recently completed additional higher education, and is hoping to grow in her current employer. As she was sharing tears welled in her eyes as she discussed her goals and dreams. We have people working with us right now who are also feeling strong emotions about where they are on their wellness journey, and we will gain more productive, committed employees if we can help them achieve their wellness goals.

And what about yours truly? Several months ago I was given some sobering information about those annoying scores like cholesterol and blood pressure. They shook me up a bit, and by good fortune I was given the opportunity to participate in a corporate wellness program that featured these lovely little devices called kettlebells. Several months later I’m in far better shape, and am healthier than I’ve been in years. I told my wife she’s just going to have to figure out another way to get rid of me! In truth, I feel much better, and am glad I’ve gotten a little further along the wellness path.

How about you?

Living In Fear At Work Is No Way To Live

18 May

I spoke with a friend of mine who is looking to leave her current employer. She is an outstanding employee– hard working, highly skilled in her functional area, considerate and helpful to her coworkers, and passionate about serving others.  Her direct supervisor loves her; in fact, when her supervisor learned she was being wooed by another company a couple of years ago she was persuaded to stay.

Why would someone leave a job they like with a supervisor who wants to keep them? A senior leadership team that uses fear and intimidation as their modus operandi, that’s why. Here’s what she told me:

Most people here are walking on egg shells around the CEO, who is a tyrrant. We are all scared of her irrational behavior. There are times when she intimidates people, thinking this somehow will motivate them. It does just the opposite. My boss tries to shield me from this, but the fear people feel in the office can be cut with a knife. I love what I do, but life is too short to put up with this crap.

I feel badly for my friend. She is a good employee stuck in a company run by a leader who should be supervising a Cold War Soviet gulag instead of a twenty-first century company.  Sadly, her lament is something we hear far too often from employees who weigh in via employee engagement surveys collected by our research partner Quantum Workplace. Here’s an employee offering a similar sentiment:

There is too much fear in the organization. It prevents us from making quick and decisive decisions. Form over substance is the primary guide for certain management. Heavy politics prevents success.

What a shame. What a waste of time and talent. The philosopher Sophocles said “To him who is in fear everything rustles”. Too many employees are in environments where they “rustle”, where their hearts and heads cannot be put fully to the task at hand for fear of the despot leader.

Of course, people don’t have to be managed by fear and intimidation. The companies with highly engaged employees we studied and who are profiled in Re-Engage actually work hard to minimize fear, knowing that this approach brings little long-term value to the enterprise. Contrast these feelings with the following employee, who lauds his employer for allaying fear in the midst of these more difficult economic times:

In these uncertain times the leadership of the office has gone out of its way to hold staff-wide meetings to keep us informed of how the firm is doing and what it is doing, short of layoffs, to hold down expenses, and to try, generally, to assuage the fear that is naturally going on right now.    Trusts its employees to do their respective jobs without undue interference or micromanagement.

Here’s another employee, who has chosen to stay with her employer, in part because of a leader she can trust:

I have had opportunities to leave the organization, but have chosen to stay because of the leadership of our operation and the opportunities that are afforded me and my fellow employees.  I believe leadership is honest and provide crucial information about the current state of our industry in light of the economic down turn.  This transparency has kept me here.


Employees don’t have to be motivated by “do-this-or-else”. Leaders who feel a need to manage by fear and intimidation are, in my view, broken. In this case of my friend, the CEO has a Napoleon complex that serves no one. It’s pathetic, really.

We’ve found employees can be motivated in so many more productive ways, such as desire to contribute to something important, a need to feel part of a productive team, or an opportunity build one’s skills and talents.  What leaders need to do is help employees find the best within them to bring out that talent.

Want to engage and re-engage employees? Stop leading with fear.

(Photo from by stuant6 on Flickr)

What Goes Into Employee Engagement?

7 Sep

At the Benz Communications blog you’ll find an interview I did with Jennifer Benz on employee engagement and some of the important issues around creating and maintaining a great workplace.

I’ve learned a lot from Jen. She and her team have passion and deep expertise in employee benefits communications. As we go through this significant transformation in health insurance reform it is even more important to create and maintain an open dialog with employees. You can follow her in Twitter, like I do: @jenbenz!

Take Care of Employees and They’ll Take Care of Business

1 Jul

I love attending the local Best Places to Work events where companies are recognized for their efforts to create engaging work environments. They are celebrations of workplaces that have created the conditions where people choose to work hard, care deeply about their associates and customers, and employees have a commitment to stay and grow with their employer.

At one such event Microsoft was recognized as a Best Place to Work. They frequently appear on these local lists, and have often been tapped in the annual list published by Fortune magazine. As part of the description of why Microsoft made this local list it was noted that they were one of the first U.S. employers to offer a benefit where employees who have children diagnosed on the autism spectrum can receive early intervention therapy services to support their development.

Let me go on record here-I have a child with autism, and am very familiar with these services. Although they are widely recognized as helpful to children who suffer from autism (including an endorsement from the Surgeon General) they are not typically paid for by private insurance. Most families, including ours, pay for these services out-of-pocket. Having an employer like Microsoft fund these therapeutic services through their health insurance program is a tremendous benefit to families who have a child with this condition. (An article in the Seattle Business Journal offers more details about the benefit.)

I tip my hat to Microsoft for the efforts to help families like mine (and I hope you consider advocating for such a benefit where you work), but the other part of the story is this: Microsoft is listening to the needs of their employees and offering benefits to address those needs. They received numerous requests from employees, who told the company their stories and made their cases for why this would be an important benefit. And to their credit, the company responded.

In our research into the elements that drive highly engaged workplaces we note that an employer’s ability to support the well being of their employees is a key driver. It’s also one that has increased in importance over the last five years. We speak at length about this in chapter nine of our new book, Re-Engage as well as an article in the May, 2010 issue of workspan. Employees who believe their companies genuinely care about them and their families are more likely to be engaged, productive employees. In this case Microsoft saw value in funding autism services. For another company it might be a wellness benefit. In yet another company the employees may find additional support for continuing education to be of value.

What’s clear is this-employees will care more about work when they believe their employers cares about them.