Professional institutions are, to an extent, victims of our social history. The Industrial Revolution only happened 200 years ago, and in terms of how humans organise themselves in a societal sense, 200 years is not that long ago.
When we consider workplace wellness and culture from this perspective, Wellbeing GROW wellness expert Terry Robson mused, it is not necessarily surprising that some organisations are so slow on the uptake with good wellbeing practices.
“There were plenty of workers [back then] willing to do any job, to be a cog in the machine, and employers treated them as a commodity,” he explained.
“This is simplifying things, but many institutions have grown with that unconscious philosophical base for a couple of hundred years.”
It takes time for philosophies to evolve, but they are now evolving rapidly, he said.
“With the advent of the Information Age powered by the Digital Revolution, everything is changing,” he said.
“Every person has plenty to distract them and they also have access to a huge variety of information.
"The rights of the individual have never been more clearly accessible, and wellness is a fundamental human right.
“These days, if as a business you want employees to stay with you, you better be offering more than just a wage,” he explained.
It’s in this context that he argued for base level incentives for implementing wellness strategies across a workplace.
“Research tells us that for every $1 you spend on employee wellbeing, you get $6 back. That’s a 500 per cent return on investment,” he noted.
But, he ceded, if an organisation only implements such strategies because of an expected ROI, employees will be able to sense that insincerity and the effects will be undermined.
“A significant portion of the benefit of wellness programs comes from the relationship that is established between the workplace and the employee, and that relationship has to be grounded on genuine values,” he said.
When employees see their workplace genuinely supporting the wellness of not only themselves, but also other employees, they see and believe that people matter to those upstairs, Mr Robson surmised.
“Money is an ephemeral motivator but connection to others is a basic human need and drive,” he said.
“When people believe that their workplace values people, then they are more able to embrace and internalise the values of the organisation.”
Such internalisation leads to engagement with the various methods and aims of an organisation, he went on, to a far greater extent than one would expect external motivators to achieve.
“If you treat employees as a resource to be squeezed to the last drop, you get stressed, unwell employees who won’t be at their best,” he said.
“On top of that, a bad corporate culture leads to employees who are looking for their next job, the one that will fulfil them.”
Employee churn is especially damaging to both staff wellbeing and business productivity, he argued.
“Successful businesses are built on goals, purpose and vision. You can’t re-teach those things meaningfully to a parade of short-term employees,” he explained.
“To be successful, businesses require employees who share the corporate goals and have the knowledge and desire to help achieve them.”