Someone from a major health organization once told me that the person
you report to at work can be more important to your health than your
family doctor. We haven’t been able to corroborate that statement but it
makes sense. Think about it. Not to denigrate the fine work done in the
medical community, but how often do you see your primary health care
provider compared to how often you see your leader at work?
The McKinsey Quarterly recently quoted me
in an article about wellness in the workplace. One of the points I made
is that you can’t address wellness with exercise programs and then
treat people like crap. Until organizations do a better job of letting
their people know they are valued and cared for, we won’t even begin to
move the needle on team member wellbeing.
Most leaders understand their influence on team members’ lives
during work hours, but often enough, they don’t think about how their
leadership affects team members outside of the workplace as well.
One of the profound truths we’ve discovered at Barry-Wehmiller is this: The way we lead impacts the way people live.
And, that extends to the health and wellbeing of those within our
span of care. I talk often about workplace stress and the links between
stress and health. Stress often leads to or exacerbates health issues,
and what’s one of the leading causes of stress? Work!
The American Institute of Stress
says that “Numerous studies show that job stress is far and away the
major source of stress for American adults and that it has escalated
progressively over the past few decades. Increased levels of job stress
as assessed by the perception of having little control but lots of
demands have been demonstrated to be associated with increased rates of
heart attack, hypertension and other disorders.”
They also say that in many municipalities, because there is such a
correlation between job stress and heart attack, if a police officer has
a heart attack while on duty or off, it is considered a work-related
injury. Even if that officer is on vacation!
An Attitudes in the American Workplace study uncovered these frightening statistics:
- 80% of workers feel stress on the job, nearly half say they need
help in learning how to manage stress and 42% say their coworkers need
- 14% of respondents had felt like striking a coworker in the past year, but didn’t
- 25% have felt like screaming or shouting because of job stress,
10% are concerned about an individual at work they fear could become
- 9% are aware of an assault or violent act in their workplace and
18% had experienced some sort of threat or verbal intimidation in the
In the same McKinsey article in which I was quoted, Scott Taylor,
an associate professor at Babson College, said: “Up to 75 percent of
people say that the most stressful part of their job is their immediate
supervisor. I don’t know too many managers who wake up and say, ‘I want
to make life miserable for my people.’ Even so, we treat people at work
in ways we’d never treat our family and friends. So the issue may not be
that people need to learn how to care, it’s that people need to learn
how to care at work.”
Again, the way you lead impacts the way people live.
As leaders—as Truly Human Leaders—we need to do good while doing
less harm. We should provide resources to help facilitate healthier
living, while fostering caring environments where team members have
opportunities to become their best selves.
Organizational stress is exacerbated by people feeling that they’re
not appreciated. If we simply cared about the people whose lives we are
privileged to lead, and send them home each night feeling valued, we
could reduce health care costs. When 88 percent of people do not feel
they’re part of an organization that cares about them, we are
contributing to the healthcare crisis. And then we go to the byproduct
to solve it, which is pills and medications and hospital visits.
It's not that wellness programs aren’t good things. At
Barry-Wehmiller, we’ve seen great things happen in the lives of our
people because of our wellness initiatives. But we’re often not
addressing the root of problem. As Gallup said in their most recent State of the American Workplace report,
“If employees don't have great managers, if they don't know what's
expected of them or if they are not in roles that match their talents,
then the longest possible list of perks is not going to be a cure-all.”
Here’s a profound quote from a Harvard Business Review article
on this very subject. “Research suggests that the most powerful way
leaders can improve employee wellbeing is not through programs and
initiatives but through day-to-day actions. For example, data from a
large study run by Anna Nyberg at the Karolinska Institute shows that
having a harsh boss is linked to heart problems in employees. On the
other side of the coin, research demonstrates that leaders who are
inspiring, empathetic, and supportive have more loyal and engaged
Leaders set the tone for their organization, and their behavior
determines whether interactions in their organization are characterized
by trust, forgiveness, understanding, empathy, generosity, and respect.
My good friend and co-author Raj Sisodia is working on a new book on businesses as healing organizations. He recently spoke in St. Louis at an event sponsored by our Chapman & Co. Leadership Institute which we shared on our Everybody Matters Podcast.
Raj says that the decision of whether a business is going to be a
healing organization or a hurting organization is rooted in leadership.
“If the leader is stuck in a certain level of consciousness, the
organization can’t move beyond that,” Raj said. “If the leader is rooted
in fear and insecurity, the organization will reflect that. You can
have a hurting leader that creates conditions where everybody then
becomes, in a way, an agent of hurting. Or you can have a leader who’s
coming from a place of love and care and healing and everyone then
becomes an extension of that. So again, the responsibility of
consciously creating that kind of culture is extraordinary – whether our
better angels or inner demons prevail as human beings. So, it all
depends on leadership and as Ghandi said, We must be the change we wish
to see in the world.”
Years ago, a senior executive at a major automobile company asked
me what kind of return Barry-Wehmiller received for our investment in
our culture. I responded, “Are you kidding me? Did you just ask me what
kind of financial return I get for caring?” And he said, “At my company,
we are extremely numeric.” And I said, “That’s pitiful.” Then he told
me that only 30 percent of the people at his company would recommend a
job there to a friend or family member. No kidding.
What is the ROI for caring? It’s having teammates that are
healthier because they feel valued and understood by their leaders and
teammates. Because they feel fulfilled by the time they’re spending away
from their homes and families, they are inspired and energized instead
of stressed. And when they go home to their loved ones, they share that
joy and fulfillment instead of the stress and bitterness of feeling
unappreciated and insignificant.
The return on investment for caring may very well lead to reduced
costs in medical benefits for your company and higher profits from a
more engaged workforce. But that pales in comparison to creating a
better world both inside and outside your company walls.