Wellness and Work: What's the ROI of Caring?

November 15, 2017
  • Bob Chapman
  • Bob Chapman
    CEO & Chairman of Barry-Wehmiller


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.

It turns out that statement comes from the research of Dr. Casey Chosewood, the Director of the Office for Total Worker Health at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Think about it, it makes sense. 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 such help
  • 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 violent
  • 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 past year

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 employees.

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.



Related Posts

Need help in applying principles of Truly Human Leadership in your organization? Chapman & Co. Leadership Institute is Barry-Wehmiller's leadership consulting firm that partners with other companies to create strategic visions, engage employees, improve corporate culture and develop outstanding leaders through leadership training, assessments and workshops.

Find out more at ccoleadership.com