Building Wellbeing Into Your Culture To Improve Productivity Starts With You: 5 things business leaders need to do

Alicia Mandel offers expert HR insights on creating intentional workplace cultures in this Think Human not Resources series article.

In most cases what’s good for the individual employee is good for the organization. When the organization cares for its employees – the employees are simply more open to using their discretionary effort to care for the organization. 

This observation comes from direct experience, and it holds up.

After all, an organization is made up of individuals – all with energy, all with emotion and all with a desire to do great things. 

However, in the post-pandemic era, it has become increasingly clear that employees’ well-being has taken a significant hit. Burnout looks to be at an all-time high and doesn’t seem to be getting any better with the chaos/confusion surrounding a return to the office and a potential recession staring us in the face.

What can we do? It Starts With You.

As leaders, I believe we have a 2-part obligation 

a) To be at our best  

b) To create an environment where everyone can be at their best 

I’ve thought about, researched, and tried several things that will build well-being into your culture. As I list them below, please remember what they say on the airplane…put your mask on first…meaning, wellbeing at your organization starts with you. 

Leaders hold the vision of what is possible. To create a company fueled from wellbeing, you first have to live it. It truly does start with you. 

5 Practical Steps Toward Workplace Wellbeing

#1 Priorities – Stop sacrificing ourselves

Trying to have energy like a superhero and being at your best are different things: When did “I was working on this until 4:00 am” actually become a badge of honor? I get the hustle – in fact, I’m all about hustling. And grit. However, hustling until the middle of the night isn’t something to brag about. “Pulling an all-nighter” is better left to college students who sleep until noon the next day. 

What if we changed the mindset FROM one of being obligated to sacrifice your own health with long nights TO one where wellbeing is good for the company? Instead of being obligated to sacrifice your personal health to get the work done, the obligation is to care for your wellbeing because that’s what success is built on. The company needs productive, high-performing people so the obligation is to stop working and get some rest.

Ideas for application:
Companies can implement more strict working hours to ensure employees are getting enough rest. Offering flexible or unlimited PTO, or switching to a 4-day work week, like garten has, can ensure productivity in the office is optimized and employees are getting enough rest.

#2 Food – Prioritize food because it’s what we’re made of

It always comes down to the food: As someone who has been watching my weight almost my whole life, eating right was very discouraging. Then I learned about using food to propel me forward in almost every aspect of my life and something clicked for me. Food is directly correlated to the energy I have and the work I’m able to produce. When I eat better, I feel better and therefore I produce better results. Sounds reasonable, right? 

YET…I worked for a large company not too long ago that subsidized their food service/cafeteria. Every day there was a ‘special’ that was usually heavy. Heavy protein, heavy sauce, heavy carbs, maybe some veggies… and a sugary dessert.  

Trying to do a good thing by creating affordable meals was actually detrimental to the health and wellbeing (and definitely productivity) of their employees. People would eat the special and wonder why they were dozing off during their afternoon calls/meetings. It’s called a ‘sugar crash’ and we’ve all heard of it. 

The food doesn’t have to be limiting, doesn’t have to taste bad, and it’s absolutely more than salads. In fact, it can be delicious, fresh and energizing – so when we go back to work we are no longer exhausted – instead, we are ready to take on the world.

Ideas for application:
Companies like garten can offer better-for-you catering & snacks in the office. Nutrient-dense, low sugar & simple carbohydrate food options can prevent the mid-day slump.

#3 Sleep – Everything we do improves with adequate sleep

It’s funny the way we can think biology doesn’t apply: For those with young children, it is obvious how important sleep is to feel great (or simply functional).  Remember how it was before children…you went to sleep and then you woke up – after 7 or 8 hours, feeling refreshed. The point is, lack of sleep leaves negative impacts everywhere. 

Let’s all agree to never police how many hours of sleep employees get. Instead, the magic comes from changing the culture around self-sacrifice for the sake of “productivity.” Setting the conditions for a successful career AND enough sleep is what business leaders can strive for. 

Improving sleep not only helps employees succeed at work, but it is also foundational to enjoying the rest of life. If we recognize that a company is made up of the individuals who work there, we’ll want to take note. 

Ideas for application:
Providing employees with times of day for purposeful pauses – of rest and relaxation – can help employees take a break, even nap when they are low on sleep. When working from home, you can offer more flexibility in scheduling to allow sufficient sleep for employees. This is something garten implements 2x times daily.

#4 Movement – Moving our bodies improves cognitive work

After all, the brain is connected to the body: I love to exercise. Actually, that’s not exactly true. I love how I feel after I work out. That feeling of finishing a tough hike, a workout using heavy weights, or crossing the finish line on the 5K (or 10K, or more…). 

There seems to be a direct correlation between how sweaty I am and how accomplished I feel. But, I learned something else during the pandemic…I learned that walking, just moving, is sometimes all we need to clear our brains and get rid of some stress. I mean, I always knew this intellectually – but during the pandemic – especially at the beginning – there was so much stress. There was so much unknown that I was able to feel it coming on in my body. I learned that when I started to feel that way, the best thing I could do for myself was go outside and take a walk. I walked a lot in March, April, and May of 2020. Just moving our bodies seems to give our brains a rest. It allows us time to take a few deep breaths and move forward.  

Ideas for application:
Providing employees with times of day for purposeful pauses – for walks, yoga, or movement – can help break up the monotony of meetings and improve employee performance. Think about offering a yoga or workout Zoom class to your employees, such as the garten Experiences team events. 

#5 Being intentional – Video calls aren’t the same as in-person meetings – we can experiment to find what works for our teams

Don’t treat a Zoom call like an in-person meeting: Why bring people together if they are going to be staring at a zoom screen? 

I love being with people face to face – problem-solving, thinking out loud, innovating, and collaborating. And while some of that can happen on a video call (or even less on the telephone), the magic just isn’t the same. There are plenty of things we can/should do that do not require facetime with anyone. Experiment with your team to find the right balance.

For this hybrid strategy to work, leaders need to understand exactly what our people are doing and parse the work accordingly. 

Ideas for application:
Companies should create hybrid policies around when it’s completely necessary to have employees come into the office.

Wellbeing Is A Great Investment 

My company wants long term performance and I imagine yours does too. To support long term performance, we must invest our focus into building systems that correlate with human biology. The fundamental issue is when company culture expects sustained productivity at the expense of wellbeing. 

Instead, let’s use these 5 steps as a guide to make the culture at our companies compatible with long-term productivity. 

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” 

-African proverb 

The definition of a company is going together. It’s time to start thinking and acting in ways that support productivity on the foundation of wellbeing. 

Alicia Mandel has 30+ years of experience in high-profile companies as a thought leader in learning and leadership development, change management, organizational development, executive coaching, and workplace culture. As the Chief People Officer of garten, she puts her expertise to use working with leaders of organizations that want/need to make a change. She coaches high-potential and high-performing leaders to remove barriers to success. 

Today Alicia lives in Phoenix and enjoys traveling to see her clients all over the country. She has two adult (sort of) children – a 21-year-old son and an 18-year-old daughter. She has two dogs and enjoys a great glass of wine (or bourbon) as much as a great workout.