Employee Well-Being Adds to the Company’s Bottom Line

by Sharlyn Lauby on December 5, 2012

(Editor’s Note: Today’s post is sponsored by Bright Horizons, a leading provider of employer-sponsored child care, early education and work/life solutions. They have consistently been included in FORTUNE Magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work for in America. In addition, 80 of the organizations on Working Mother Magazine’s 100 Best Companies list are Bright Horizon’s clients.)

Organizations spend a lot time talking about wellness. And they should. It’s an important topic. But when we talk about wellness, often the conversation only focuses on health. As in health and wellness.

wellness, well-being, employee, bright horizons, health, assistance, care, benefit, logo

The conversation we should be having is about employee well-being. This not only includes wellness but a whole bunch more. I had the opportunity to learn more about the subject of employee well-being by chatting with Danroy Henry, Sr., chief human resources officer at Bright Horizons. Dan is responsible for the delivery of people solutions to more than 20,000 Bright Horizons employees, located in North America, Europe and India. He’s also a contributing author to Inside the Minds and has been a featured speaker at the NEHRA annual convention, SHRM, the Conference Board, and NAAAHR.

Dan, I’ve always connected Bright Horizons with their child care services. But now I’ve learned the company does so much more. Can you briefly share with readers what the organization provides?

[Dan] It’s true. Bright Horizons started in child care and it remains at the core of our work/life solutions today. We’re extremely proud of the fact that so many people have known us for that for so long, and that so many employers continue to look to us to create great child care programs for their employees.

wellness, well-being, employee, bright horizons, health, assistance, care, benefit, Danroy HenryBut the world has gotten more complicated since our founding in 1986 – people have more responsibilities and more roles they’re trying to balance. And one of the things we realized is that, while full-time child care is crucial, it’s equally crucial for employees to have access to other kinds of care – elder care, for example, and back-up child care if the nanny is sick or school is closed. People still have to get to work even if their first grader has a snow day.

One of the services offered by Bright Horizons is employee well-being. I’m intrigued with the concept. What does it mean?

[Dan] Well-being is the state of feeling that you’re grounded and managing life. It’s not that you have complete control of every single piece (we know that’s not possible), but that you’re able to do the things you want to do, whether that means working, exercising, taking care of the kids, saving for college, paying back loans, or maybe participating in community service – whatever your priorities. Equally important, well-being is about not feeling completely out of control in terms of the big picture. In simple terms, high levels of well-being helps people function better.

Traditionally as employers, we’ve been conditioned to tell employees “work is work and home is home and the two shall never meet”.  You know, that whole leave your personal issues in the parking lot. Why should companies reconsider that approach?

[Dan] I hear that a lot. Why should I care if my employees have high levels of well-being? Why should I care about their states of mind outside of work? All I need is for them to do their jobs.

Right there – “All I need is for them to do their jobs” – is your answer.

A lot of people have this idea that work and life are two expressly separate things – there’s that oft-used word “compartmentalization.” The assumption is that your employees arrive at work and everything else in their universes melts away the moment they sit at their desks. But people aren’t really built that way.

Think about the expression we’ve all used: “I’m so worn down, I can’t think.” It doesn’t matter whether the things driving you to the edge are work or personal. The end result is the same – you’re spent. And for an employer, this is bad news. Because when an employee gets to that edge, that precipice, this person really can’t think… can’t engage, can’t focus, and really can’t do the best job. And on an organizational level, that is just poison.

So our line of thinking is: What if you could make sure your people weren’t stretched to that point? What if you could assist people so that their lives felt in control instead of out of it? They’d work better, right? And our research has shown that to be absolutely true.

Give me an example that readers can relate to.

[Dan] Okay. Let’s say you’ve employed a really smart, great guy who happens to be a father with a couple of kids. And on top of that, he’s got parents in their late 80s who are not well and who often need his assistance. And in addition to all of that and his job, he’s got a car that might not make it through another month. And right at the point when he feels like he’s standing on quicksand, his mother is hospitalized and his dad cannot be home alone. Now it’s true – all of those things technically have nothing to do with work. And since the boss would like to keep it that way, our employee knows he can’t take time off from work without paying a price professionally. So this guy, with his failing car and his sick mother, with no support who is treading water to keep from drowning comes to the office. How do you think he’s performing? Probably not so well.

Now let’s take that same guy but give him some help. He’s got some child care through the company. And he found out they have elder care, so mom and dad are taken care of. And let’s say that the culture of the company says, “When your family needs you, go be with them. You will not be penalized.” So our guy takes a day or two to get the car to the shop, and to check in with his parents/kids, and basically, to catch his breath. And he comes in two days later and he’s got a handle on things and is ready to work.

What you get in this second scenario is a guy who’s not at the breaking point; someone who even amid setbacks can keep going, sustainably over the long haul. And to get that, you’ve got to tend to your employees’ whole lives, not just the part you see at the office.

Now I know some people are reading this and thinking, “All of that is just too squishy to be a business concept.” Which is so funny to me because it’s exactly a business concept – specifically, the service-profit chain. Who doesn’t work better when they’re satisfied with what they’re doing? And satisfied employees build satisfied customers. That’s the chain. So the very tangible, unsquishy fringe benefit of building that kind of well-being-supportive culture – a culture that recognizes people have lives outside of work – is you end up with people who are not just feeling good enough to work, but they’re feeling committed enough about their companies to want to work.

So technically, work and life are separate. But for employees to be effective, the two need to be integrated. So if you, as the employer, pay attention to one you get great benefits in the other.

If I’m an employer and I want to improve employee well-being in my company, what can I do?

[Dan] To really affect the well-being of your people, you have to know what’s affecting them. A lot of employers sort of generically lob all of their support dollars at very general things like health benefits, or a few random perks – maybe a subsidized gym membership or a trendy perk like cupcake trucks or new-age office chairs.

But that isn’t going deep enough. And it will amount to wasted resources if office furniture isn’t a source of stress.  So, the first step for any employer is to ask, “What’s affecting my people? Where is life hurting their ability to produce good results?” And what we’ve done is created a tool to help clients do just that.

Essentially, this tool allows employers to see what’s challenging their specific workforces and to find out what would help their people to work better. Think of it as a market research tool, only the market is internal. And like any market research, what you end up with is a sense of what kind of investments will be money well spent.

What kind of results do companies that focus on employee well-being see?

[Dan] From a research perspective, I can tell you that companies that institute programs aimed at helping employees integrate work and life end up with employees with much higher levels of well-being and who, as a result, are much more effective employees. These supported employees have fewer health concerns, take fewer sick days, and report higher engagement than employees of companies that do not offer well-being support. And that adds up to healthier bottom lines in terms of things like productivity and reduced healthcare costs.

Many thanks to Dan for sharing his expertise and insights. If you’re interested in learning more about employee wellness, you can download a white paper on the topic. Also be sure to check out the employer resources pages on the Bright Horizons website or keep up with their team of work-life experts on the Bright Horizons blog.

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