Why It’s Time for Every Company to Become A Wellness Company

The pandemic accelerated the movement—and leaders saw results. Organizations that met evolving worker needs achieved the highest performance.

Ten years ago, the business world adopted a new mantra: “Every company is now a software company.” The theory was that software, systems, and data had become so essential to business success that regardless of what industry a company operated in, it needed to think and act like a software company: continuously implementing new technology, leveraging data and business intelligence, and planning in a more agile way.

Although the mantra has affected different companies and industries at different rates, it has aged well. Indeed, business leaders and analysts continue to repeat it 10 years later.

It’s time for businesses to evolve again. There’s a new language and set of practices businesses need to learn to secure their long-term success. These new practices won’t displace the value of technology; on the contrary, they are likely to accelerate it. And just as the concept of becoming a “software company” was initially disorienting to many business leaders, so, too, is this movement. But it holds the same potential for accelerating business success—and the same risks for ignoring it.

That movement is wellness.

Employee wellness is not a new initiative. But it is gaining new traction. According to new research from Mineral, companies that adapted to evolving employee needs saw the highest performance throughout the pandemic. Eighty-three percent of companies that increased employee morale reported increased revenue, which is 2.8 times higher than companies that experienced decreased morale. On top of that, companies with increased employee morale were also 5.5 times more likely to have seen increases in productivity.

Employee wellness is also not a temporary fad. The COVID-19 pandemic, the Great Resignation, and recent labor shortages have brought employee turnover and retention into the spotlight for employers. But employees have been growing increasingly selective about their jobs for many years, signaling a permanent shift in the employer-employee relationship. Employees are prioritizing wellness and the employers who enable it.

The writing is on the wall: Businesses that want to win in the marketplace for talent will need to become wellness companies. Being a wellness company does not mean that a business needs to build or deliver wellness products to customers. It also does not mean that a business becomes a “nanny state” for its employees.

Fundamentally, wellness companies envision themselves not only as an employer of people and labor, but also as a steward for their people’s health and wellness. They understand that the health of their people and the health of their organizations are inseparable, and that, over the long term, a healthy, high-performing business needs healthy, high-performing people within it. To that end, they create cultural, strategic, and operational programs to support their employees’ wellness.

Becoming a wellness company may sound daunting to some. But it’s easier than it might sound, and for many companies it will be far easier than adopting new technology or leveraging business data. It comes down to the following three important practices.

Don’t be an obstacle to employee wellness

Many companies get in the way of their employees’ wellness and don’t even realize it. For instance, if your company requires your employees to find their replacements when they are too sick to work, promotes employees who work on weekends or vacation as “loyal” or “hard working,” or structures the workday as a non-stop stream of meetings, you are likely an obstacle to wellness. Simple practices, such as requiring that meetings be increments of 25 instead of 30 minutes, setting appropriate expectations around work hours or vacation, or requiring management to arrange contingency staffing can remove these obstacles.

Empower employees to work on their own wellness

As I mentioned above, employees are the primary party responsible for their own wellness. The role of businesses is to ensure employees have the time, space, and tools to support their own health and wellness. There is no silver bullet for enabling employee wellness, but there are a variety of simple and proven techniques. The key is to take a well-rounded approach, incorporating wellness initiatives into a variety of business areas.

Operational tools include flexible schedules and “no meeting” days. Benefits policies include paid time off, mental health care reimbursement, and lifestyle spending accounts. Social programs include employee resource groups, 1:1 interactions, and virtual or in-person events, all which set the stage for relationships to form and drive wellness, productivity, and engagement. Wellness programs can also include sponsoring guest speakers who teach employees valuable skills that improve their overall health at home and at work.

Build a culture of wellness

Removing obstacles and implementing programs to support wellness will have a big impact. But the key to truly becoming a wellness company is to elevate employee wellness from a workstream to the company culture. This means wellness is not just discussed in the context of specific wellness activities, but is reflected in the everyday behaviors, ideas, and beliefs within a company, such as a manager’s decision about when to send an email, the organization’s promotion or compensation decisions, or the 1:1 conversations between supervisors and their direct reports.

How do you build a culture of wellness? Begin by putting your commitment to wellness in writing, sharing it in places that employees will see it, and inviting them to hold you to it. This commitment then needs to be modeled by company leaders, for instance by including impact on employee wellness as part of the consideration set for company decisions, not working during vacation, or, even more simply, being open about wellness-related commitments during the work day.

As CEO, I made my calendar visible to all employees in our company, including calendar commitments like walks with my wife, personal exercise or focus time, family vacations, taking kids to doctor’s appointments, and coaching my children’s sports teams. Once the commitment to wellness is made and leaders are walking the walk, the next step is to train managers on not only how to support employee wellness, but why doing so is critical for business and professional success.

In businesses where wellness reigns, leaders show patience and understanding for the health-related needs of their employees. They don’t accept time-off requests while complaining about the inconvenience—even if it is an inconvenience. They make sure that their employees know that their health and wellbeing is a company priority. They also expect that the people they lead treat one another with respect.

Regrettably, some workplaces today, far from being conducive to wellness, are actively unhealthy. Toxic environments, especially when tolerated long term, have deleterious effects on people’s physical and mental health. Workplaces built on wellness, however, uproot toxic practices and behaviors before they can spread. They plant the seeds for healthy interactions and supportive environments.

As the lines between the professional and personal continue to blur, every company needs to think about how to become a “wellness company” to be seen as an employer of choice in today’s market. The equation is simple: The greater the wellbeing of your employees, the greater the wellbeing of your organization. That’s not just good for your employees; it’s good for your business.

This article was authored by Nathan Christensen, Mineral CEO, and published on December 4, 2022 via FastCompany.com.