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Tapping into Employee Well-being to Drive Organizational Performance

By Autumn D. Krauss, Ph.D.

Employees are the heart and engine of organizations. When they feel good, they do good work. “Feeling good” is another way to say having positive well-being. Individual well-being refers to a holistic whole-of-life experience that includes multiple dimensions, including our motivations and sense of purpose; our resource levels in terms of time, finances, and energy; our mind; our body; and our human connections or social well-being. These dimensions are both transient, changing regularly as we live our lives, and interconnected with each other. They collectively determine how good we feel, which means focusing on one facet in isolation will not necessarily result in overall positive well-being. For instance, when we have a sense of purpose, it gives us energy to invest in building a strong mind, body, and relationships to take care of ourselves and live life to the fullest. Alternatively, if we are struggling with one facet of our well-being, such as managing our financial stability, it often causes us to “pull back” from other investments like our physical health and personal relationships.

While employees have personal well-being as individuals, organizations have a kind of well-being too. Organizational well-being culture refers to how well a company creates an environment that enables employees to thrive.  It is about making well-being a true cultural value. This starts with integrating employee well-being into the company’s purpose and business strategy.  Well-being should not be treated as a separate “benefit” or “initiative.” It should be a core part of how the company functions and be given the same level of importance as other cultural values that reflect more traditional business topics such as customer service, profitability, or achieving results.

Companies with positive well-being cultures implement programs, practices, and support mechanisms that take well-being into consideration as a core part of business operations, not as an afterthought or activity to do if they have extra time. This includes ensuring that company leaders role model investing in their own personal well-being and convey that taking care of oneself is not only permitted but also endorsed as part of what it means to be successful.  

Key benefits of positive organizational and individual well-being

A strong positive organizational well-being culture and positive individual well-being are key to a company’s ability to adjust to change faster, better, and more efficiently than its competitors. This offers a significant competitive advantage, which is often reflected in positive impact on business outcomes including profit, market share, revenue, employee engagement, and customer satisfaction. For instance, employees with positive well-being and organizational support are 91 percent less likely to leave and twice as likely to be engaged in their jobs.

Shifting to an organizational culture of well-being

The benefits of investing in both organizational and individual well-being are clear; however, it may be difficult to know where to start. Here are some suggested first steps:

  1. . Acknowledging that every company is at a different starting place when it comes to their well-being culture.
  2. . Recognize that like any other culture change initiative, this effort should be viewed as a transformation, not a quick fix or Band-Aid to solve a “rough patch” of high employee stress and low morale. 

It is likely to require large-scale changes to organizational practices and leadership approaches to achieve significant and sustainable benefits to the business and employees.

  1. . Use diagnostic and change management activities to gather initial intelligence and initiate the change process. A few ideas include:
  • Kicking off a comprehensive listening tour to connect with employees through focus groups, interviews, or surveys to understand their well-being needs. Remember that each employee has a unique well-being profile, so a “one size fits all” approach will likely not work.
  • Spending time to understand the current maturity of your well-being culture. How has your company thought about employee well-being so far – as a problem, a benefit, an initiative, a company practice or habit, or a real value reflected across the organization?

While you are assessing your company’s current organizational and individual well-being, it is also helpful to take stock of your current programs and offerings to support. Many companies offer copious programs, resources, and tools that are meant to support their employees’ well-being; however, they are often not integrated into a strategy and, instead, appear piecemeal at best or confusing and conflicting at worst. Take some time to inventory and organize your current well-being resources to improve the employee experience. Then, focus on ways to more effectively communicate and use resources that you already have available. Finally, to launch a true culture transformation, leadership must embrace and model the importance of well-being for the business. This includes investing in their personal well-being and taking well-being into consideration when making decisions and creating the business strategy.

Last, be prepared to encounter challenges. It is unlikely that you will get everything right. Does this mean that you give up?  Not at all!  In addition to continuing to engage your leadership team, work to assemble a group of passionate champions and informal influencers to lead a grassroots well-being effort across your organization. A lot of people care about their own well-being and want to work for a company that cares about it too. Tap into that passion. Organizational well-being, just like individual well-being, is not something you “have”; it is something you must constantly work to develop and maintain.

About the Author

Autumn D. Krauss, Ph.D.
Principal Scientist, Human Capital Management Research

Dr. Autumn Krauss’s role is focused on conducting and applying research on the psychology of work to inform the solutions that SAP SuccessFactors develops and delivers to its clients, as well as providing consultative guidance to companies so they can best leverage human capital management practices to foster a strong positive company culture and improve employee wellbeing and performance.

About SAP HR Research

Our research team advances the art and science of Human Capital Management by studying the relationship between technology, workforce psychology, and business performance. Our researchers and psychologists uncover trends to keep you on the cutting-edge of technology and thought leadership – and help shape the design of SAP SuccessFactors HCM software.

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