Initiatives to deliver safety, wellbeing (physical, emotional and cognitive) and effectiveness are in the ascendant – more demand, more providers and higher expectations. Increasingly, legislation is pushing responsibility for employee health and safety to senior management and directors. We have come a long way in a couple of decades.
Exploring five questions can help directors and executives tackle this “messy problem”.
- What is the territory?
Goal: take all practicable steps to minimise harm – see, document, act, monitor, and improve
Risk: rigidity, vulnerability, and failure to see the real issue – obesity, attention, diabetes
Goal: prevent disease and cultivate optimal physical, emotional and mental wellbeing
Risk: self absorbed, worried well, and work is neglected in preference for “easy life”
Goal: achieve success in an effective, altruistic and sustainable manner.
Risk: compromise safety, wellbeing, ethics and brand in pursuit of maximised profit
By starting with safety, allocated to Safety Managers, we put the initiative in conflict with effectiveness, which we left to the rest of the executive. Now that the full spectrum – safe, well and effective – sits at one table, we will see rapid innovation and ultimately integration.
2. Evolution over time?
Humans are wired for risk. We scan for threat of harm, rapidly defaulting into fear, sadness or anger. Bad things happen. It makes us angry and sad and we start to fear a repeat. It is only recently that organisations have focused on disaster mitigation. Loss of life and destructive human or environmental impacts are simply not acceptable.
Then we asked how to mitigate serious risk and the insurance industry was born. Rapidly we are incentivized to manage risk and reduce premiums. In the case of mine collapse, fire and oil spills we have done a great job. We are beginning to test the idea of preventing depression, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Unsustainable healthcare costs will force our attention to this.
More recently we have conquered the zone of safety and compliance to processes that minimise harm. Rapidly the goal becomes zero harm – or six sigma quality. Many businesses do a great job.
Once we have organised the cables, blunted sharp edges and reduced workplace harm, we envision a wider vista of human risk. Which is worse: a flesh wound or diabetes? If the workplace is full of processed carbohydrate, are we responsible for that diabetes? What about the kidney failure, heart disease, blindness and early death that follow?
Most service businesses have little real physical safety risk. The issues are anxiety, depression, sleep disruption, sloth, obesity, attention disorders, and failed marriages. If we ask for billable hours, software solutions, call volumes, and other productivity measures, what responsibility do we have for wellbeing – physical, emotional and mental?
Smart businesses are taking a serious look at wellbeing. Someone who is calm (not anxious) is way more effective. The same holds for being happy, well slept, fit, lean, focused and happy at home. Study after study shows that investments in wellbeing have at least a 3:1 return on investment. They both reduce costs in deliver productivity gains.
We have crossed the boundary between risk reduction and reward multiplication.
From a different perspective, thanks to a proliferation of research on what makes us more effective, we are discovering the “secrets” of high performance. These are widely accepted as emotional intelligence, flexible mindsets and meaning/flow. McKinsey has labelled these as EQ (emotion), IQ (intelligence) and MQ (meaning or flow). Investments can be quite stunning in their payback.
This journey is one of evolution and integration over time. It is inevitable that it will continue. Not only will we get much better at developing extraordinary performers as we have sport, dance, chess, combat or leadership. We are learning how to apply the same methods to helping disadvantaged children succeed, rehabilitate criminal offenders, reverse heart disease, and bring resilience into overcrowded and at risk cities.
3. Can we integrate safe, well and effective under a common framework?
Acknowledging our bias, we think it is a necessary next step. We cannot manage safety, wellbeing and performance separately. A calm, fit, caring and focused employee creates value and minimises risk. A depressed or fatigued employee is compromised and can be a major risk – to self, others and the business. Most of us are a bit of both.
The accumulating evidence pushing these issues up to director and senior manager levels will force the development of integrated and sustainable frameworks to measure, generate insight and master effective solutions at lower cost. We absolutely have to be able to view our human status from bottom to the top of what is possible. We also must be able to link individual and organisational data as they work together. A happy team supports performance, wellbeing and safety.
4. What modern tools are available?
From questionnaires to wearables and datamining there is no limit to data. The winners will learn how to organise the information and select the right levers. Should we tackle the depression or teach meditation? Can sleep cure anxiety? The framework above allows us to organise data and search for correlations.
Every organisation has a different starting point – culture, leadership, stressors and skills. This will shape the solution. While getting people together to learn, debate, generate local solutions, and bond has a primary role, we have no option but to get smart with online training and support.
Many online solutions are available and a raft of Apps increase convenience and reminders to stick to plans. Many online options now have interactive forums for participants to share challenges, plans and support each other. As wearables contribute to this information and help us correlate behaviours and biometrics things may get very interesting.
Most solutions will be mixed – assessments, online training, face-to-face workshops, virtual collaboration, wearables, apps and data mining. Some are doing this already.
- How sustainable are these solutions
If we look at this question from the perspective of an elite team of athletes or soldiers, the occasional workshop to tick a box reassuring the coaches is simply ridiculous. If fitness serves the mission, it will be built into every stage of selection, training, maintenance and rehabilitation. Through this we have seen explosive improvements in sports performance, arts and combat. Business must think more like this because we have to cultivate expertise over time.
Business is competitive and demanding. Excellent leadership, customer service, professional advice, and technology solutions require the collaborative efforts of true expert performers. Expert performers are not simply gifted talent. Research convincingly shows us that the very best get there through deliberate, purposeful practice. The motivation required to persist depends upon carefully designed environments, expert coaches and multi-disciplinary support.
Sport surrounds an elite team with great coaches, support staff, experts and a carefully designed culture. They do this for small groups of 20 athletes. If we are serious about sustainable organisational performance – with tens of thousands of staff – we have to start building our internal support teams.
No initiative to achieve safe, well and effective people will succeed with a few workshops and a neat report to the board.
This has to be part of strategy, lead by the CEO and crafted by the Chief Resilience Officer. While the programme may be lead by external experts, the initiative should start with a three-year commitment with clear objectives and measures – individual, organisational and financial.
Over time we will see internal teams becoming expert in running customised solutions within the organisation. There may be a significant job opportunity developing in this area for physicians, psychologists, physiotherapists, personal trainers and a range of experts in communication, teams, innovation, healthy aging, sleep, fitness, and brain training.
Smarter, faster, better Charles Duhigg, 2015
Peak Anders Ericsson, 2016
Humans are Underrated Geoff Colvin, 2015
Employee Wellbeing in 2016 Virgin Pulse Download
Safety-I and Safety-II Erik Holnagen, 2014