Why business must have a human face
Why must we make business human-centred? What role do belonging and culture play in business success? I was asked to answer a few questions on the subject recently and here are my answers.
As employers, why should we care about the wellbeing of our staff, and is this really an employer’s responsibility?
Many reasons and “yes it is”. One is that healthy people perform better, achieve better results, work better together and adapt better to change. Employees who feel that their bosses care about their wellbeing are shown to be more engaged, have lower levels of absenteeism and of staff turnover. It’s a win-win. Second, an organisation is nothing without its people. The success and wellbeing of the staff and the business go hand in hand. Organisations that understand and act on this will continue to adapt, innovate and outperform those that don’t. Third, the biggest impact on wellbeing at work is the culture. As Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats Strategy for breakfast.”It’s about being human. The way in which people communicate, connect and care for each other at every level of the business has a profound influence on how people perform. Fourthly, work doesn’t exist in a vacuum. As commentators are always reminding us, we live in a time of, and are constantly affected by, huge political, environmental and economic uncertainty – VUCA – volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. The external pressures we are under are huge. In such times, collective capacity is enhanced by anything that builds psychological safety. Feeling that your boss is interested in you as a person, and may even like you, that you belong, that your role has value and meaning in the whole picture, are factors primary to our thriving and by extension the success of the business.
What is the cost to business if we choose not to prioritise the wellbeing of our staff?
The two biggest causes of absenteeism are musculo-skeletal problems and stress. The former could arguably be attributed to the latter. When asked what the biggest problem people faced at work was, 74% said stress. In a recent report two out of three men said they were feeling the negative effects of stress as a result of work pressures. Only 11% felt able to talk about it openly. At the latest count, stress was estimated to be costing British industry around £26 billion per year. What many people don’t realise is that the biggest proportion of this, about £15 billion, was attributed to “presenteeism” – turning up at work when you were ill and/or underperforming because of stress, long hours, excessive workloads, lack of control, poor working relations. All of these factors are precursors to mental ill health which has a massive cost at a personal level, before we even talk about the costs to business. Low morale, more errors, reduced productivity, lack of trust, conflict, long term absence, litigation, recruiting new staff – the list is long.
What are the benefits on an individual level of workplaces supporting the wellbeing of staff?
Human beings are essentially social animals. The vast majority of functioning in the newer parts of the brain relate to processing social and emotional information within the group. The workplace is a community. The wellbeing of the individual cannot be separated from the wellbeing of the group, the way in which people interact. We all need a sense of belonging, a sense of meaning and being valued and respected. When these building blocks are in place, engagement is a natural fallout rather than something that you can target and build per se. So it comes back to culture, fostering and allowing a culture to emerge in which people feel appreciated, well-resourced, well-managed, cared for human to human. Putting in place strategies that encourage wellbeing and demonstrating an understanding of these basic principles of human behaviour will pay huge dividends.
And what about the benefits from a pure business perspective?
Financially, Return on Investment (ROI) from existing programmes is shown to be between 4 and 24:1. TfL’s stress management programme was estimated to reduce absenteeism by 79% in the first two years. We can talk about Productive Organisational Energy – POE. People coming to work with a spring in their step, connecting well with each other at work, leaving with a sense of achievement. Stress, which must be seen as a systems failure not an individual’s failing, is the biggest reason that people underperform, fail to innovate, collaborate or make intelligent decisions. On the flip side, a high POE is shown to result from a) positive social-emotional culture, which requires excellent working relations and management styles, b) cognitive focus, which is impossible when stressed, and c) agentic behaviour, a feeling of autonomy and meaning, that “I make a difference. “ From a business perspective what you get is exceptional results, low staff turnover, high levels of engagement, better acceptance of change, a more innovative, learning atmosphere, and a real loyalty and commitment among the people who make up the business.
How can we begin to create a culture of wellbeing that goes beyond free fruit and the occasional massage?
It starts at the top. There has to be a real commitment by the people whose leadership has such a profound influence throughout the company, to not just tick the box and be seen to be “doing something” but “being in action” themselves. It also starts at the bottom, with staff being consulted and involved in what ever programmes are being put into place, a true listening to their voice. Once leaders and management recognise that the most valuable asset any business has is the energy of its employees and that a human-centred culture is the basic soil from which profits can grow, the rest will follow. A good place to start is by recognising that work-related stress is a real thing, that its causes are rooted in the culture or system, and that it is not a sign of individual inadequacy. There is a direct correlation between team performance and the emotional self-awareness of its leader. Give as many people as possible the understanding and tools to “thrive.” Train managers and leaders at every level in emotional intelligence, self-awareness, communication skills, the basics of self-care so they model “best practice”. Get the “being” right, and right “doing” will follow.