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Who owns wellbeing in your organization?

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During a recent webinar presenting the results of our survey, Working Well: A Global Survey of Workforce Wellbeing Strategies, we were asked, “Who is typically responsible for wellbeing and is cross-functional collaboration required?”

Wellbeing is multi-faceted, embracing the physical and emotional, financial, social, professional, community, and spiritual health of employees – and some say, even more. Clearly, then, it can’t be owned solely by the benefits or compensation teams, or talent, training or employee relations, or corporate communications or sustainability.

In fact, the responsibility is owned by all, yet the tone and advocacy are set at the top.

Culture sets the tone

Wellbeing is so much more than fair pay and benefits, or a passing campaign like a walking challenge, or even investing in tools and resources to enhance health and financial wellness. Positive wellbeing intersects with the fundamental human need, underscored by ever-increasing research, to have an individual and collective sense of purpose. As I advised my two sons as they chose their educational and career paths, it’s much easier to get up each workday morning with energy when you have a strong sense of purpose – a belief that what you are doing makes a difference.

In fortunate organizations, the mission and purpose are crystal clear, reinforced from top-to-bottom in the organization, and the culture sets the tone for and supports employee wellbeing.

Some CEOs have outlined a clear mission that infuses their culture. Retailer Best Buy’s CEO Hubert Joly recently said, “We’re not in the business of selling TVs and computers. We’re a company that’s in the happiness business.” He is shaping Best Buy into a company “that’s purpose-driven and is fueled by human magic.” That message translates into ensuring team members are able and trusted to help customers figure out the ever-tangled web of technology, so it works well for them.

Former CEO of U.S. Bancorp, Richard Davis, told his workers, “You’re not just opening a college fund for these new parents. Seventeen years from now, you’re granting them the experience of watching their child walk across a stage to receive his diploma.” Davis was described as “a bit of an evangelist about banking as a dream machine,” and is now fulfilling wishes for critically ill children as CEO of Make-A-Wish America.

I’ve worked in HR consulting most of my career, here at Buck and in our legacy companies. Now, more than ever, we’re in the business of supporting our clients in helping to enhance their employees’ wellbeing. To us, employee engagement includes more than competitive benefits and compensation. It also embraces many cultural intangibles, from the company’s reputation in (and contribution to) the community, to how the work itself contributes to a spiritual sense of worth. Engagement focuses on making sure employees want to come to work every day.

Key roles

So, back to the question: Who owns “wellbeing”?

It starts at the top, where the tone is aligned with the organization’s culture, creating (as Daniel Coyle’s The Culture Code puts it) “an environment where innovation flourishes, problems get solved, and expectations are exceeded.”

Certainly, Human Resource leaders and professionals own a large share – through total rewards programs and policies that respect broadly diverse needs of today’s workforce.

And responsibility is shared by other senior leaders who architect and oversee the design of programs and resources to help employees work in a safe environment, with minimized distraction and the ability to be actively engaged in the work of the organization – serving their various customers.

Middle managers and supervisors also play a key role. Facebook researched the old adage that employees don’t leave companies; they leave managers. They found that usually was untrue, but “Managers play a major role in designing motivating, meaningful jobs.” Strong managers found opportunities for employees to use and build on their strengths, to learn and grow, and to do work that supports the organization’s overall goals.

Open supervisory communication ensures employees know what they’re working for and can be assured their voices are heard, so that upper management can learn what’s working and what needs to change.

Finally, employee peers can influence one another’s self-worth even in far-flung organizations or those with large virtual workforces, through social media and online communities of interest.

Making a difference

In these optimal operational and cultural conditions, wellbeing can thrive. Unlike the confusion and ineptitude pilloried in the comic strip Dilbert, employee commitment and performance is rewarded and the whole organization is better positioned to excel.

President John F. Kennedy was famously quoted as asking a janitor at NASA in 1961 about his job. Mop in hand, the man replied, “I’m helping put a man on the moon!” NASA knew everyone’s talents were needed to achieve their purpose and made that point clear.

We each make a difference in reinforcing the worth of our colleagues and together contributing to the organization’s purpose. In that sense, we all “own” wellbeing.

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