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Seeing recovery through the right lens

Seeing recovery through the right lens

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“Major employers are investing in their workers and communities because they know it is the only way to be successful over the long term.”

Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, and Chairman of Business Roundtable

 

“Nothing should go back to normal. Normal wasn’t working.” That’s the business meme still making the rounds as we navigate a post-but not post-pandemic return to work. The global crisis has had a seismic impact on businesses, economies, and the physical, emotional, mental, and financial wellbeing of most everyone. As employers now look to ramp back up and rebuild their customer base — with a focus on securing supply chains, wrestling operating costs, and re-envisioning the organization itself — it’s critical they not lose sight of the main source of revenue: The workforce.

As organizations start to reengage their workforces — some by resuming paused operations, others by bringing employees back on site, and still others rethinking where, when and how work gets done —individual and organizational wellbeing must be the lens through which to view the business world post-COVID-19.

In working with our clients, we’ve found a wide range of “return to work” approaches: About a third of these employers are considering an eventual return, but were not sure how to make that happen, or when, while another sizable segment is planning on returning different workers at different times and in different ways. What we all agree on is that it will take innovation and imagination, teamwork, and a new style of leadership to reengage both employees and customers, and thereby reinvigorate the business.

Thinking outside the box isn’t enough. It’s time to remove it entirely.

Work has been broken — and so have people.

Businesses naturally want to get back to being profitable and successful; the more insightful ones know that it can’t be done without restoring the workforce — even if that workforce looks and operates different than before.

While employers want to maximize business performance to achieve financial goals, employees want to maximize their own performance to achieve their life goals. That’s been the impetus behind wellness programs all along: When people thrive, organizations do too … and vice-versa.

But the success of wellness initiatives has been dubious over the years, depending on how success is defined and measured. Wellness 1.0 failed to deliver the desired results (which in the U.S. was to lower healthcare costs). Wellness 2.0 was an attempt to broaden the focus, informed by the understanding that healthcare costs are driven by many factors, and through this lens, results improved, but marginally so. Outside the U.S., the ROI on wellness was measured in other ways, such as improved workplace health and safety scores; but this too failed to make wellness a business imperative. Wellbeing 3.0 sought to elevate the focus, but still it’s perceived as primarily a tactical endeavor that rarely gets substantive executive mindshare and thus broad organizational support.

As organizations move to get back on track, what’s needed now is a strengthening of the trust behind the social contract between employee and employer. In reflecting on the pandemic and its impact, “It will matter whether you actually acted to put the safety of employees and communities first,” one CEO told a McKinsey writer, “or just said you cared.”

New dimensions of wellbeing

So, if wellbeing programs haven’t been getting the C-suite attention they should — and are often viewed as failing to deliver the desired results — what’s the remedy?

Alex Gorsky, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Johnson & Johnson and Chair of the Business Roundtable Corporate Governance Committee, asserted that Business Roundtable’s new Statement on the Purpose of the Corporation “better reflects the way corporations can and should operate today. It affirms the essential role corporations can play in improving our society when CEOs are truly committed to meeting the needs of all stakeholders.”

The Statement prioritizes all stakeholders — starting with customers and employees — and challenges organizations to look beyond cost-saving measures, or shareholder returns, and consider whether everyone is reaping benefits from business success. With regard to employees, this means taking a holistic view:  That is, supporting and encouraging each employee as a “whole person.” Total wellbeing is so much more than “health and wealth” — it’s our lives in total. It encompasses purpose and opportunity for growth; personal physical, emotional, and financial health; and a safe and supportive environment in which we work and live (which increasingly is becoming one and the same for many individuals).

Purpose

Employers that can foster a strong sense of shared purpose — where employees “buy into” the organization’s mission and know how their work contributes to it — will be better positioned navigating uncertainty and returning to strong performance. Being given opportunity to develop strengths, feeling that individual opinions are valued by management, and being positive about their work leads to fuller engagement, higher commitment, and greater business results.

People

Employers need to be prepared to offer flexible working schedules and leave policies that are nimble in the face of uncertainty. Compensation needs to be fair and market-based. And company plans and programs have to go beyond the basic level of protection to providing support for physical and mental health, financial security and wealth accumulation, and emotional resilience. COVID-19 has served as a “stress test” on employers’ programs, and even those organizations that have invested significantly in these areas to better meet the needs of their increasingly diverse workforces are seeing where shortcomings still exist.

Place

The restrictions introduced by the pandemic have changed old perceptions about where and how people work best. For instance, 60% of businesses surveyed by McKinsey in early April said that “their new remote sales models were proving as much (29 percent) or more effective (31 percent) than traditional channels.” Employees have a right to expect healthy workplaces (including remote work sites), supportive policies and tools, and the opportunity to connect and collaborate with colleagues.

Looking beyond the work “site,” the impact a business’ operations have on the surrounding community can be either positive or negative, another area upon which the pandemic has shed light. Interestingly, by building relationships — and building trust — among shareholders, workers, suppliers, customers, and communities, businesses can develop  what the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance calls a COVID “immunity” to some of the negative business results of the pandemic. They can bolster the employee, customer, and community loyalty by providing “reliable services to customers and investing in the local environment and community.”

Empowered employees

While COVID-19 has wrought much suffering, it’s also provided a long-needed impetus for change in how work is done, how people can best be supported in achieving corporate objectives, and how success is shared. Those supports include the right rewards, a flexible and robust infrastructure, and encouragement through tools, resources, and shared values.

When the elements of the organization’s culture — personified by its support programs for employees — come together, the result is empowered employees who are able to rise to their best efforts, which in turn enables the business to achieve its financial objectives, and that in turn supports greater growth and opportunities for all.

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