Work and Coronavirus: Let’s Redefine Wellness
Written by Chip LaFleur
Note: This is a long-form version of an article that also appeared in the Grand Rapids’ Chamber of Commerce’s website.
On March 11, LaFleur decided to pack up our laptops, monitors, and our desk bobbleheads (at least some of them), and transition to remote work. Like nearly every organization in the world, we began a journey towards our “new normal.” We had to adapt to keep the business thriving and profitable, while balancing our commitment to our employees.
In some ways, our transition was easier because of how we operate. Most LaFleur employees take advantage of our marketing agency’s flexible scheduling and work from home regularly. Since our inception, we have respected our employees’ talent and autonomy. We hold everyone to a high standard, but we also give them the tools and flexibility they need to meet their goals.
Still, the stay-at-home order challenged our status quo. Suddenly, our team and community were facing monumental uncertainty, all while trying to balance their workload, family obligations, and other challenges. We went from an office that buzzed with creativity to having our Zoom meetings and concentration interrupted by our kids, pets, and the news.
However, we refused to compromise our culture. Our leadership team started to identify ways to help our team retain its motivation, camaraderie, and joy. We also wanted to make sure that we did not lose our sense of shared accountability. So, we developed a plan that retains our independent management approach, adds some layers of accountability, and prioritizes holistic wellness.
It’s Time to Redefine Workplace Wellness
We are all under remarkable stress: managing our businesses, tending to our families, teaching our children, and monitoring a public health crisis. Our team’s grit and determination have humbled me, but it hasn’t always been easy.
As an employer, I have a vested interest in my team’s wellness. Multiple studies have linked productivity and engagement to employees’ mental and physical health. I’ve also seen first-hand how burnout, stress, and illness can negatively impact a workplace’s dynamics. Investing in wellness initiatives makes good business sense.
Corporate wellness extends beyond the confines of our office walls and must consider our team’s physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Our goal is to help, not meddle, and we need to strike that balance. However, in my experience, most organizations fall short of considering the wellness of their employees, and very few overstep by caring about people’s health and habits too much.
As part of LaFleur’s approach to wellness, we offer more than group health insurance benefits. Our plan also includes:
- Unlimited sick days (and we encourage our team to use them when needed)
- Flexible work schedules that give people time for self-care and their personal relationships
- Project management systems that discourage 40+ hour work weeks
- Peer recognition systems that celebrate and support top-performing team members
When we were all in the office, we also provided healthy food, yoga sessions, and a treadmill to our team.
It is the responsibility of organizational leaders to be proactive and find tools and solutions to help their employees maximize their output and wellness.
We’ve Embraced Evidence-Based Workload and Wellness Management
There are countless studies about the value proposition of corporate wellness programs. A Harvard Business Review study noted that well-built wellness programs not only lower a company’s health care costs, but they significantly boost morale and productivity. When your employees feel valued, respected, and healthy, they’re less likely to seek outside opportunities and more likely to deliver exceptional results.
However, a few other things have stuck with me from that HBR article:
- When the CEO and other company leaders make time for wellness, their team is likely to follow.
- It’s best to frame health initiatives as an incentive or benefit, not a penalty or and obligation.
- You’re more likely to improve your employees’ health and wellness if you offer programs that are fun and accessible.
- A stand-alone program won’t work; your initiatives need to align with your business values and priorities.
Here are some of the ways we’ve embraced holistic workplace wellness at LaFleur.
More Hours ≠ More Productivity
One example of this is something that we strive to maintain at LaFleur: keeping our full-time staff at or below 40 hours per week. According to a study published by John Pencavel of Stanford University, employee productivity falls sharply after completing a 50-hour workweek. The data shows that after 55 hours, your productivity is negligible. The study suggests that when someone works 70 hours a week, they are no more productive than someone who only works 55 hours.
American workplace culture treats marathon workdays as a badge of honor, but the data doesn’t support this myth. At LaFleur, we encourage our project managers and teams to work efficiently and avoid “burning the midnight oil.” We check in with our employees regularly to make sure that they are coming in close to forty hours and not significantly more than that.
As leaders, we need to manage our teams’ workloads appropriately and avoid creating an environment where they feel pressured to work more than they should. When workloads increase, it can be tempting to incentivize long hours and push your teams to meet these demands without additional resources. Admittedly, it can be healthy to push your team toward performance, and there are ways to do that effectively. However, knowing what we know about productivity and overworked employees’ wellness, it’s something that we avoid.
Track Employee Engagement and Act on Your Team’s Feedback
At LaFleur, we love data. However, we don’t limit our data-driven approach to building ad campaigns and search-optimized content; it also informs our HR decisions and policies. Our leadership team consistently has one-on-one meetings with their teams, where they do more than check on deadlines and work product. More importantly, we make sure that they’re getting the tools and support they need, both professionally and personally. Our approach builds trust, rapport, and a real team mentality that helps us make smart decisions and understand the challenges our teams face.
However, we also know that some issues are hard to talk about, especially when it comes to compensation, recognition, work-life balance, and workplace wellness. That’s why we also run weekly, anonymous surveys using the Officevibe platform, where our team answers targeted questions about these issues (and more). We can use this data to identify problems and resolve them before they reach a crisis point.
Encourage Peer-Based Recognition
Another example of an evidence-based approach that contributes to both wellness and output is peer-based employee recognition. Too many companies focus on top-down recognition, often in the form of bonuses, spot awards, or promotions. However, peer-to-peer recognition is even more powerful. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), peer recognition is 35.7% more likely to a positive impact than a manager-only recognition system. Further, the vast majority of companies that embrace peer recognition (74%) report that these systems help create a positive work environment, a culture of recognition, and improve performance. All of these elements can bolster workplace morale, engagement, and wellness.
LaFleur uses a platform called Bonus.ly to implement a scalable and fun peer-to-peer recognition and reward system. Each month, our employees get an allowance of Bonus.ly bucks. They can only use these credits to recognize their colleagues’ contributions and work. What they don’t use expires at the end of the month.
We have also linked Bonus.ly to our Slack implementation. When a team member gives a peer Bonus.ly bucks, the entire team sees their message of appreciation. Others can add to the bonus, share their appreciation, and gain a deeper understanding of everyone’s contributions to our agency.
Notably, Bonus.ly bucks have value. Our team has used their saved-up credits to buy themselves bikes, Apple watches, rowing machines, and hundreds of other items. From a management and leadership perspective, we love seeing each member of our team looking out for opportunities to praise and reward each other.
Adapting Our Wellness Programs During a Pandemic
Employee wellness has always been important to us at LaFleur, but with the onset of COVID-19, we lost access to some of the tools that we typically use to gauge how our team is doing. We cannot currently do in-person one-on-ones, and we no longer get to listen and observe the team in more social settings, like lunches and other on-site meetings.
As a result, we have made a concerted effort to identify new opportunities to help our employees. Our approach involves more purposeful one-on-ones, chats, and calls. We’ve become accustomed to weekly check-ins, where we have time to catch up with the team, but in group settings and individually.
We began to identify a major change in behavior through these informal conversations; we were moving less. Many of our employees lamented that gyms were no longer accessible, and outdoor activities had, in many cases, become unapproachable.
We know that employees who do not exercise are 50% more likely to have high presenteeism than more active employees. Presenteeism occurs when an employee is “at work,” but health issues and stress reduce their productivity. It can reduce your team’s output by a third, making it even more damaging than traditional absenteeism. And researchers believe that presenteeism costs many businesses two to three times than they spend on direct health care expenses.
After listening to our team, we identified an opportunity to positively impact both our team and our output. I asked Brad Koetsier and Melissa Agee at Coachman Training Systems to create a home-based fitness program for our team.
Once per week, me and my team log in to a video conference and participate in a body-weight-only training session. Melissa, our coach, helps us pace our movements and encourages the correct form. For those of us that can join in these sessions, it’s an opportunity to work together, take a break from our desks, and recommit to our wellness. We can also access pre-loaded workouts, including video tutorials, through Coachman Training System’s wellness platform.
Let’s Change the Corporate Wellness Narrative
In a time of increased economic uncertainty, dramatically shifting consumer trends, and wildly increased unemployment, competitive organizations need to focus on evidence-based systems and processes to keep their doors open and remain profitable. Intuitive thinking that is not supported by evidence can easily lead an organization right off a cliff.
This directly applies to leadership’s approach toward employee wellness. At LaFleur, we believe in the importance of the work that we do. Now more than ever, effective marketing on behalf of our clients is keeping their doors open. Our employees’ health and wellbeing are essential. Workplace wellness is good for our individual employees, it’s good for our company, and it’s good for our clients.
We take this responsibility very seriously, and I’d encourage you to do the same.
2012 SHRM/Globoforce employee recognition report. (2012, Winter). Society for Human Resource Management. Retrieved from https://go.globoforce.com/SHRM-winter-2012-report_announcement.html
Berry, L., Mirabito, A., Baun, W., (2010, December). What’s the hard return on employee wellness programs? Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2010/12/whats-the-hard-return-on-employee-wellness-programs
Burton, W. N., Morrison, A., & Wertheimer, A. I. (2003). Pharmaceuticals and worker productivity loss: a critical review of the literature. Journal of occupational and environmental medicine, 45(6), 610–621. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.jom.0000069244.06498.01
Hemp, P. (2004, October). Presenteeism: At Work—But Out of It. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2004/10/presenteeism-at-work-but-out-of-it
Pencavel, J. (2014, April). The productivity of working hours. IZA. Retrieved from http://ftp.iza.org/dp8129.pdf
Trends in employee recognition. (2013, June). WorldatWork. Retrieved from https://www.worldatwork.org/docs/research-and-surveys/survey-brief-trends-in-employee-recognition-2013.pdf