Portal - March/April 2021

EXECUTIVE SUITE

How to Create a Dynamic Culture of Organizational Well-Being

 

An Unlikely Case Study from America’s Heartland

 

By Chris Griffin

How will the pandemic affect business as we move forward? That question is on everyone’s mind these days, whether you are a business owner, in management, or on the front lines. Covid has affected all of us, personally and professionally, and determining how these changes will affect organizations in 2021 and beyond seems to be the holy grail of the business world. Regardless of the physical or procedural changes we have or will come to accept as normal, understanding one aspect of the new paradigm is crucial if any business plans to succeed in a post-pandemic world. Focusing on employee well-being will be critical if an organization wants to be competitive as this new environment unfolds.

We often confuse employee well-being with employee wellness when discussing employee health. It’s an easy mistake and one that is completely understandable. After all, when employee wellness programs hit the scene in the 1980s, programs focused primarily on biometric health markers. Although the programs targeted employee health, the true value for management lay in the reduction of healthcare costs. The programs were only as valuable as their return on investment. Any data as to how improved employee biometrics positively affected an employee’s life outside of work was beneficial but secondary. 

The pandemic accelerated the need for organizations to shift the paradigm from wellness to well-being. Helping an employee manage their glucose levels is important, but going forward it will only be one piece of the puzzle. If we are to expect full employee engagement and commitment, we must incorporate the entire person into existing wellness programs. Instead of focusing on wellness, we must target the well-being of our employees. But how does a wellness program evolve into a well-being program? 

One example comes from a small organization in Middle America.

Founded in 1978, Daycos is a family-run operation located in the heartland of the United States in Norfolk, Nebraska. It is a privately-held corporation with approximately 62 employees. Daycos is a revenue-solutions company, providing services to the military and commercial freight industry. As a former member of the moving industry, I was a Daycos customer for years. Every interaction with the company left me feeling the employees really cared about their customers. There was an authentic, palpable concern that the customer had the best possible experience with Daycos. And while that makes for great customer service, I never really considered what it said about the organizational culture as a whole.

After moving into the field of executive coaching and organizational development, I continued to monitor Daycos, as I was struck by the concern they consistently show for the well-being of their employees. In fact, I came to consider Daycos the Google of the Midwest due to their focus on employee well-being.

So how did they do it? How did Daycos create a culture of well-being from a more or less standard-issue wellness program? I had a conversation in March, just before the shutdown, with Brandon Day, CEO, and Tami Pick, Director of Employee Relations, to discuss what caused this organization to become an unwitting trailblazer in the employee well-being arena. 

The story begins simply enough. Around 2010, Brandon felt a need to help his employees improve their health. As with most office workers, life was more or less sedentary and weight gain had become an issue. This was not just about his employees, however. Brandon also had put on extra pounds and wanted to get to a healthier weight. More importantly, he wanted to help those in his company improve their wellness as a whole. More than just making it a thing about weight, Brandon and his team chose to focus on helping people make healthier life choices both inside and outside of the office. 

One of the key factors separating this wellness crusade from others was transparency. It wasn’t just about the bottom line. It was also personal for Brandon. He and his team shared their own experiences with others in the program, which created an authentic atmosphere of concern and made the experience feel more like a team effort rather than a thinly-veiled cost-cutting measure.

Following standard models of the time, Brandon and Tami, along with Co-owner Tammy Day, started small, focusing on biometric issues. Initial programs included weight loss, smoking cessation, and preventive care for employees. And as with most wellness programs, employees greeted the idea with a healthy dose of skepticism—but it was generally well-received. Over time, participation has grown steadily and now includes well over 80% of the employee population. To put it in perspective, the average participation rate in wellness programs for U.S. companies is just over 38%. Even with the skeptics, Daycos’ participation rate is quite impressive. 

But why was this program well-received from the start? The answer lies in the ultimate vision for the program. Brandon and his team were not looking to simply cut costs. They had a grander vision in mind; one that made Daycos an enticing place to work. A place where employees were happy, where they enjoyed what they did, and where people wanted to be. Brandon understood that the more attractive a job was to an employee, the more productive that person would be. Even without being fully aware of it at the time, Brandon was laying the groundwork for an organizational culture of well-being, not just a wellness program. 

In addition to biometric concerns, the team explored other avenues which might positively impact the employee experience. Things which are now considered standard were more cutting edge when they were first offered. Things like flex-time and the organization of 5K charity walks. The office boasts an exercise room—one of the first organizations in the area to do so. Brandon and his team began to include domains of well-being outside of physical health, which supported the overall satisfaction of the employee.

Although the program is somewhat loosely defined, there are structural guides in place to track effectiveness. The company continues to perform biometric screenings to determine employee risk factors, which translate into insurance savings for the employee. Here is a key difference between the Daycos program and other corporate wellness programs: Daycos sees the cost savings as a benefit to the employee, but they do not drive decisions about the program itself. In other words, Day and his team do not base their decisions about the wellness program on the impact to the corporate bottom line. This is in direct opposition to many programs where results must tie back to corporate savings in order to justify the program’s viability.

As the wellness program evolved, the team worked to create a culture of well-being that aligns with organizational values. Daycos has a very simple philosophy when it comes to organizational success. There are four components—the business, the community, the employee, and the customer. All of them are considered stakeholders, and each holds equal weight.

Day understands that the four components are interrelated and that a change in one will have some consequences for the others. This understanding drives decision making throughout the organization. Brandon told me in our interview that “no amount of money is worth sacrificing the health of employees simply for the bottom line.” Day’s actions support this belief, and the results are evident in the organizational culture.

The program is now headed by an employee steering committee. It is truly a bottom-up endeavor. The committee receives a budget for the year and is then responsible for choosing subjects that will benefit the employees. They do so by polling the population for subjects and areas staff members would like to learn more about. This might vary from such things as healthy eating choices to meditation practices. Delivery of the subject matter varies as well. The choices are completely employee-driven, which supports the authenticity of the program.

Daycos’ organizational philosophy and commitment to employee well-being is evident and transparent. The company offers office fitness, paid vacation and wellness breaks, a 40-hour work week, and work/life balance. They support community service opportunities and donation matching because they understand that connecting to something larger than the self is a strong factor in personal well-being. 

Well-being in the Time of Covid and Beyond

None of us know what the workplace will look like as vaccines become available and we crawl out of this long, bleak winter. However, it seems certain that there will be certain indelible shifts in organizational culture. Due to the effects of the pandemic on individuals, we will most likely see an accelerated shift from organizational wellness programs to cultures of well-being. 

According to SHRM, we are beginning to see an expansion of wellness programs to include areas such as emotional resilience, stress management, and financial fitness. Prior to the pandemic, only 44% of employees surveyed felt optimistic about their personal well-being. One can only imagine the results if that study was repeated during or shortly after the pandemic.

In December, Tami Pick confirmed the wellness steering committee has shifted focus to prioritize and support emotional well-being. Working from home has created a whole new set of challenges for both management and staff, with many employees reporting higher levels of anxiety caused by the new working conditions. The steering committee reported an increase in requests for stress management practices. There is more interest in meditation practices along with other emotional self-regulation tools. 

Maintaining a sense of community among the staff is one of Pick’s main concerns. Working from home often creates a sense of isolation. Tami uses Zoom to combat that feeling. They have found that using breakout rooms for smaller team meetings during company zoom calls builds camaraderie as well as making it easier for staff to feel connected and heard. There are also Zoom meetings scheduled where staff can discuss anything—as long as it isn’t work. Although informal Zoom meetings won’t replace in-person informal gatherings in the company break room, they do enhance the social relationships which play a large role in the positive well-being of employees. 

While virtual meetings may have become the norm for most businesses, Pick also recognizes the power of personal connections. One of her goals is to reach out to each employee twice each quarter. These are short conversations, more like check-ins, designed to see how each employee is faring, and to help them feel supported and heard while working remotely. 

More employees are reaching out for EAP assistance with stress management, as well. Interestingly, it is not only employees but their families who are making use of the EAP program. There has been a marked uptick in children accessing the program due to anxiety about distance learning and the eventual return to the classroom. 

The extended use of the EAP program exemplifies a trend which will become crucial in the near future. Employers will design strategies to integrate the concern for employees’ personal and professional well-being. A majority of employees have experienced trauma on some level due to the pandemic, and it will be more important than ever that employees feel valued and supported by their employers—not only for themselves, but for their families as well. This understanding will be crucial to organizational success moving forward, as research shows that employees with a higher sense of well-being are more productive and more likely to remain with their employer. It only makes sense that an organization would want to cultivate that well-being.

Using Daycos as a case study, we can see that an authentic concern for employee well-being must align with company values if an organization is to create a viable culture of well-being. Employees need to feel an authentic concern for their well-being for its own sake, not just how it relates to the bottom line. Healthy employees, both physically and mentally, contribute to a healthy and profitable organization; you cannot have one without the others. Expanding wellness programs from simple biometric measurements to including more holistic aspects of employee life builds a culture of well-being. That culture will not just be a nice-to-have; it will instead become mandatory for organizations who wish to remain strong and competitive in the post-pandemic economy. 

Chris Griffin is an executive coach and consultant, and a moving and forwarding industry veteran.