Updated: Sep 5
Few would argue that employee wellbeing is important. Increasingly, CEOs are encouraging employee wellness programs. As with most organizational changes, support from the top plays a big role in the success of the initiative. Wellness is no different. In fact, it may even play a bigger role than in other programs.
However, wellbeing, both for CEOs and for their employees goes beyond wellness programs. It’s about elevating the work experience, creating psychological safety and embracing self-care. Disruptive societal and cultural changes are ripping us apart. And maybe people are lost, confused, struggling to find out what is normal.
CEOs need to take the lead, to demonstrate that their own self care is important and then to support the wellbeing of their employees, whatever it takes.
Investment in and support of wellbeing programs is good for business. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) estimates that every dollar spent on wellness returns $2.30 to the company. That's a pretty good return. Not only that, Deloitte has found that CEOs who prioritize and model their own self-care see a 20% increase in employee engagement. Calculate that ROI, it's massive. And the CEO is getting healthier and becoming better as well. Double-whammy.
Stress is off the charts. The demands of work are more, not less. Adjusting to hybrid work environments, employee disengagement and turnover, juggling school issues with children and societal and cultural isdues are leading to both employee and executive burnout.
The days of the hard-charging, go it alone, full speed ahead CEO are fading. The PWC study also found that more CEOs are taking better care of themselves.
71% get more than 6 hours of sleep every night
60% exercise multiple times per week with half of those working with a personal trainer
32% have a wellness coach
32% have an executive coach
93% socialize with other CEOs
This is good news and we need more of it.
Forward thinking CEOs are looking beyond the escalating trends in healthcare costs and recognizing the return on value of increased wellbeing for themselves and for their employees. The new mantra is that if you do not take time for your wellbeing, you will have to make time for illness. This is a mindset shift from “feel good” programs to “be well” cultures. Wellbeing has moved from “nice to have” to “essential protocols.” This includes and starts with the CEO.
The CEO has to take the lead in prioritizing and demonstrating well-being. It’s not enough to simply install wellness programs, it’s essential to create wellbeing cultures. This begins when the CEO models self care.
CEOs are role models for their employees. They serve as examples as to how to lead healthy and balanced lives, how to succeed personally and professionally, how to set boundaries, focus on what is truly important and make good decisions. Where parents, educators and previous employers have not sufficiently prepared people to have successful careers and lead fulfilling lives, the CEO must fill in the gaps. And unfortunately there is no curriculum, there is no destination.
Tony Hseih, the founder of Zappos is a case in point. Zappos was all about culture and community activism. People loved Tony and working at Zappos. Zappos was acquired by Amazon and after Hsieh left, something went off the rails for him. Where he was once a corporate cultural icon, he descended into alcohol and substance abuse, bizarre behavior and bad decisions that ultimately led to his premature death from smoke inhalation from a house fire from which he presumably could have been spared.
There are many examples of CEOs that develop seemingly sudden health issues, that fill the tabloids with exploits of their bad decisions and see their once thriving companies slip into the pit of malaise.
Employee disengagement, executive burnout and the Great Resignation are all indications of the corporate tapestry becoming frayed. Working from home, the blurring of boundaries and the elimination of a buffer between work and home during commutes has put us all on edge. We zoom all day, sit for long periods of time with little to no movement or sunshine. and grind away. And in the process, it grinds us down.
The concept of work has changed:
Where is work? Is it at home, at the office or on our phones and devices and therefor always with us and available to be switched on without notice.
We used to have a commute. It was a buffer to prepare for and unwind from work. There was a clear delineation between work and home. That buffer has been decimated.
Technology has transformed work from nine to five to “Always On.” When the caller hears “they’re gone for the day”, the response is “I’ll just call their cell phone or text or email.” In other words, there is no escape. The workplace has become 24/7/365.
The concept of corporate culture is elusive. No one brings in donuts, no harmless pranks, no more “Did you hear the one about…?”
There is a Fear of the Unknown, the Fear of Missing Out.
There is a total loss of community and connection.
Add to all of this, the complexity of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, multigenerational workforces, gender complexity and increased emotional intensity regarding politics, injustices and pervasive mental illness. One could wonder if well-being even has a chance. One could wonder where we are going to wind up.
In times of crisis, of uncertainty and confusion, people look to leaders. Historically, that has been wise family elders, church and certainly political leaders we believed in and trusted. Those days are gone. And employees are set adrift trying to figure things out on their own.
This is where the CEO who is fit for service can make the difference. That is not to say they have all the answers. They don’t. However, they must be fit for service. They must be prepared to lead. Their cup is full is full and their batteries are fully charged. It starts with the CEO that places a monomaniacal focus on their wellbeing. And it is evident in how they show up.
Think of the athletic superstars such as Tom Brady, Michael Jordan and Roger Fererer. They show up prepared, rested, ready to play at a high level. And they bring their team along with them. They raise the standards. They expect adversity. They understand that there will be surprises. There will be disappointments. And they rise to the level of their training, to the caliber of their habits and routines. This is the difference.
A business leader once told me “Successful people consistently do what average people occasionally do.” It’s the consistency that makes the difference. And this applies to wellbeing.
Recently wellbeing has been associated with mental health. Author Shawn Talbott more aptly refers to it as mental fitness. It’s no wonder. And it leads to disenchantment, poor habits, isolation, bad decisions and ultimately sickness.
Recently studies have shown that employees and executives are working longer and longer at a time when personal time has never been more highly valued. There is a serious disconnect. The answer lies not in the incorporation of more benefits or more Paid Time Off, rather it is in the prioritization of well-being.
"The first thing we have to do as a culture is change our mistaken beliefs that burnout is the price we have to pay for success. Or that it’s the way to signal that you’re tough and disciplined and dedicated to your job.” -Arianna Huffington.
And this starts with the prioritization, implementation and modeling of wellness practices and lifestyle changes with the CEO.