Which is more important: wellness or profits?
In many years of professional practice, I’ve seen the amount of hype — and talk, talk, talk — that passes for work rise, but amidst a surprising lack of leadership initiative directed at increasing the health and brilliance of organizations. Yet such initiative is necessary to achieve significant change in the performance capacity of a business.
Unhealthy Workplace Cultures Reflect Dim-Witted Leadership
Frankly, too many organizations have cultures of fear, doubt and anxiety. They’re also fundamentally impersonal, superficial, distressful, even unhealthy, places to work or innovate.
Leadership – or, more precisely, the lack of leadership – plays the central role in the creation and maintenance of unhealthy workplace cultures.
The most remarkable failing of leadership in such organizations is failure to nurture the health and well being of employees. There is an appalling tendency to justify such dim-witted leadership by pointing to the profit goals of the business. The faulty assumption here is that employee wellness decreases profitability, when it actually makes employees more productive.
Ignoring Health and Wellness Erodes Productivity and Profitability
Only one in seven heart attack victims in America makes the lifestyle changes necessary to decrease heart risks after a heart attack. Only 3% of Americans follow the basic four health habits. The perception of stress in the workplace has risen.
- Stress alone has cost U.S. businesses more than $300 billion per year in lost productivity, health care costs, accidents, turnover and burnout, according to some estimates.
- A study by the Center for Creative Leadership found 88% of employees feel work is their biggest source of stress
- Nearly 75% of employees believe “leadership” increases the level of stress, according to the CCL study.
Dr. Ackrill notes high-achieving, “Type A” leaders often do not feel the deleterious effects of stress and poor health habits except in the forms of heart disease, depression or burnout. She cites research showing that this state of stress significantly limits our executive brain function, our abilities to make the better health choices, to make effective business and interpersonal decisions, to advance brilliance and innovation.
Resistance to substantial wellness programs in American corporate executive suites resembles the disregard and denial by automobile drivers in the 1970s about the importance of seat belts.
Visionary Leaders Give Wellness and Profits Equal Attention
In the midst of this paradox, we see business “leaders” demanding productivity improvements while doing little to nurture employee wellness. Yet herein lies a perfect opportunity for true leadership initiative that can improve bottom line profits and leave a legacy of leadership worth emulating.
Zappos.com’s CEO Tony Hsieh makes happiness his strategy for success. See his book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose. As we appreciate Mr. Hsieh, we encounter a rare leader, one who cares not just about business deals, but about the people affected by them. He has been very profitable precisely because he sees culture as The #1 Priority.
First Lady Michelle Obama is serious about leadership actions to increase the wellness of America’s youth. By remarkable initiatives, Mrs. Obama and Walmart executives announced Walmart — the largest grocer in the world — would significantly shift buying practices to offer significantly healthier foodstuffs. It will be revealing to watch the reaction by other food industry leaders who for so long have seen wellness as antithetical to profitability.
A good reference source listing respected business organizations that promote healthy leadership initiative is Fortune Magazine’s “List of the 100 Best Companies to Work For.”
The point is that healthy leadership initiative is something we can each practice, and in ways that help people to thrive at the happy height of their intelligence. Doing the right thing is always good medicine. There is not a degree or a certificate requirement. So, let’s get going.
Who are the leaders in your life who have shown visionary initiative on the issues of health and wellness? How has this initiative improved your organizations? I’d like to hear your examples.