Why Employee Well-Being Matters Most Today and How Leaders and Culture Make All The Difference

By Dr. Joe Saviak and Carlos Aviles, Fire Service Leader and Military Veteran

The daily and cumulative stress of the diverse set of challenges involving the COVID-19 pandemic on the American workplace emphasized the need to effectively address the priority issue of the well-being of our teams.  Employee well-being should be defined broadly as physical, mental, and emotional.  Different organizations are at various points in recognizing and meeting the crucial need to offer leadership, a culture, services, resources, policies, and programs to ensure the continuous and long-term well-being of their employees.

Employers who do this successfully will experience improved organizational and individual outcomes.  Specifically, the health of the workforce and the culture in the workplace could be the missing keys to your recruitment and retention problems.  It requires leadership.  It may necessitate culture change.

The well-being of those we lead and our coworkers must always be at the forefront of our mission. The culture of an organization plays a large role in this issue.  It influences whether employees will ask for help and if support is provided.  Leaders must be held accountable for the climates they cultivate.

In a world of increasing turmoil and crisis, it’s important to remember that every day, family, friends, and coworkers could be fighting demons and stressors about which we know nothing.  There are normal, natural, and predictable major life stressors for employees such as the death of a parent, divorce, or the health challenge of a loved one.  There are also significant external events which increase stress to individuals such as the well documented increase in life stressors and social problems which occur during a pandemic or bad economy.

Specific positions and roles such as public safety involve chronic exposure to trauma.  All available brain science and neurological research now conclusively confirm that human beings experience very predictable effects from repeated exposure to trauma.  Like anything else which could harm us over time, specific services to effectively deal with these foreseeable consequences are needed.  The good news is best practice services and model programs are known, accessible, and can be successfully implemented by employers.

The need to feel valued and taken care of is nothing new in the workplace. Today’s staffing challenges have forced employers to rethink their benefits packages, and many are placing more of an emphasis on health and wellness. This is especially true in the area of mental health.

A successful mental health program begins with normalizing the idea that it’s okay to not be okay, and that asking for help is a sign of strength not weakness.  It has to become the culture.  We ask for, recommend, seek, and support employees doing things that keep them healthy.   Once again, leadership is responsible for the culture.

Services should be easy to access and free (or at low cost) when possible.  Partnerships with proven providers offering best practice services and peer counseling have ensured positive results for many organizations.  Leaders should seek to eliminate all the barriers that exist between the employees and the needed services. For example, employers should seek to reduce out of pocket costs, contract with several clinicians, and begin to offer training to employees.

Buy-in will come from leadership and employees experiencing more positive outcomes over time.  Like any valuable culture change, employees will be your best advocates to their colleagues.  Your employees will become stronger and more resilient in the process.

As leaders, we should strive to create an environment where our workforce feels valued, respected, and appreciated.  Their needs and problems must be our needs and problems as leaders.  Taking care of our team is what leaders do.  In the end, we want them to retire happy, healthy, and financially secure.



From the Teacher: Leadership Lessons with Dr. Saviak is a weekly column with the esteemed Joseph C. Saviak, Ph.D., J.D., M.A., M.S., Management Consulting & Leadership Training

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