I often hear leaders and wellness professionals ask for products and services that will “get people to change” or will “get people motivated.” Here’s the thing: nothing will ever “get people to change” or “get people motivated.” Rather, people change themselves. The best we can do is to create the conditions in which people are more likely to motivate themselves.
So, what can we do? We can follow the lead of Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, who aptly titled his book “Let My People Go Surfing” – as opposed to “Get My People to Go Surfing.”
To transition from “get” to “let” – we must move away from our over-reliance on incentives and penalties. Currently, the average employee incentive has reached a whopping $742, up from $651 in 2016. It’s gotten so high, in fact, that employees are leaving money on the table, according to a recent study.
What the research overwhelmingly and repeatedly shows is that at best incentives will get people in the door, but they will never keep people there. Moreover, there’s evidence to suggest that incentives may perversely undermine the intrinsic motivation and willingness to sustain a behavior over time.
Shortly after delivering a training workshop, I received an email from one of the attendees (let’s call her “Anna”):
“I am looking for some of the studies that have been done on the correlation between happiness and wellness. I am presenting to our “C Suite” on Monday and wanted something to reference. “
I shared a few resources and followed up a couple of weeks later to see how it went. And, here’s what she said:
“Despite my efforts to come prepared with data, studies and big ideas, my presentation wasn’t well received. My “C Suite” was more worried about the bottom line than any impact we might be able to make. So, back to the drawing board. It was the most frustrating Monday meeting I’ve had in a while and honestly, took the wind out of my sails.”
Every August, I travel to a remote island in Maine for our family vacation. This annual ritual of disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with the natural world is what keeps me sane. How do you keep your sanity in an Always-On Culture?
Or, consider this: If you were to describe your life as a ladder, which step would you say that you are on (on a scale from 0-10)? How about in 5 years from now?
This is a measure that is often used to determine where people are on the spectrum from suffering to struggling to thriving. And, what scientists are seeing is that the number of Americans who are suffering right now is at record highs. As measured by Gallup, 5.6% are considered “suffering” on the Life Evaluation Index, the highest since the index’s inception in 2008.
Over and over again, we’re told “More self-care!” Yes, self-care is good, but team-care is even better.
Case in point: I once worked extensively with a medical department, helping them to tackle some work performance issues. Almost immediately, I observed how within a cesspool of dysfunction, backstabbing, tolerated toxicity and wasted energy that reigned across the department, there was one team that stood out. It was a bright spot. These team members were innovative. They provided outstanding patient care. They proactively supported one another. They always had each other’s backs.
This was a team that prioritized team-care, not just self-care.
Juneteenth, the recently established (but long overdue) federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery, is a reminder of the progress we have made as well as the work that is still to be done.
What’s one thing you might do in the workplace to mark this important holiday?
Engage in peer-to-peer conversations with your coworkers. Chipping away at systemic racism begins with talking about it – which can be daunting for many, especially if you’re a manager.
To make it a little less daunting, here are some suggestions.
March 9th, 2020. I was in Palm Springs, CA. Overnight, the shelves went from being stocked and “normal” to wiped clean. I recall how spooky it felt to be in a grocery store surrounded by bare aisles and an unmistakable feeling of panic as the world lurched into the unknown.
When did the pandemic become real for you? Was it relatively mundane, like seeing shelves wiped clean of basic supplies? Or, was it much more significant, like losing a loved one or contracting long Covid?
Each of us experienced a moment in which we crossed over from life-as-usual to world-turned-upside-down. What that moment looked like, of course, varied across a huge spectrum.
Now, the world is ready to move on. Just go into any airport to see how quickly most have shed their masks following Judge Mizelle’s elimination of the nationwide public transit mask mandate at the end of last month. Unfortunately, though, as we’ve all heard, “While we may be done with the pandemic, the pandemic is not done with us.”
The pandemic rages on.
Just this past weekend, we hit the unthinkable threshold of over 1 million Americans lost to COVID. Alongside Covid, however, there are pandemics within the pandemic. These may be with us for years to come. What are they and how can we reckon with them?
At first, news came out about the Great Resignation, with over 4 million leaving their job every month since June of 2021. Now, we’re hearing about the Great Regret, or people wishing they hadn’t left their old job for the new one. What’s the difference? Not much. Whether it’s leaving for the first time, regretting the next one, and then leaving once again (which many are planning to do), all of this is more accurately cast as the Great Renegotiation. (Thank you for sharing that pearl, Ryan Picarella!) Today’s employees are flexing their bargaining muscles, demanding continued flexibility, as well as a host of other conditions.
In the time of a world turned upside down, the most existential time to date in our lifetime, people are stepping back to consider what matters most. In Thrive, Arianna Huffington urged her readers to redefine what success really means, offering up the metaphor of a stool needing three legs to stand. The stool cannot stand on the two legs of money and status alone; a third one is needed, one that encompasses wisdom, well-being, and wonder. Well, it looks like people followed your advice, Arianna! In droves.
So, what do employees want?
Unlike the Field of Dreams, if you build it, they will not necessarily come. Whether it’s an app, a prescription, a wellness program, or a New Year’s resolution, getting ourselves to do the things we “should” do and want to do to improve our health and well-being is really hard. Closing the “knowing and doing” gap can feel impossible. And, if you’re in the business of inspiring others to engage with their health and well-being, you probably feel like you can never win.
Engagement with workplace well-being is notoriously difficult. The good news is that when employees actually do participate, they achieve positive results. A recent Gartner survey, for example, found that participating employees had 23% higher levels of mental health, 17% higher levels of physical health and 23% were getting a better night’s sleep. In turn, these individual improvements translated into bottomline results for the organization, namely, higher performance and retention rates.
The bad news is that these results only hold true for those employees who are participating - and over 60% continue to opt out, according to this same study.
Engagement. How do we do it? This is the billion-dollar question that a trillion-dollar industry has been trying to unravel.
Whether you're a self-starter trying to reach your fitness goals or a well-being activator working with others, here are a few ways we can increase engagement and reduce the knowing and doing gap:
Have you ever watched one of those reality shows where contestants battle it out for immunity? Immunity is granted to those who are the first to reach the rest stop, have the highest design score, or whose meal is deemed the judges' favorite. They’re the best, right?
The winners are not necessarily the best, the fastest, or the most talented. In many cases, the winners have an inside track on how to play the game, circumvent the rules, or bypass the challenges. They hold unearned advantages.
Immunity is like privilege; it is granted only to those invited to play, understand the rules, or are equipped to override challenges. Those with privilege have a leg up – and often times don’t even know it.
So, let’s bring this to you. Do you have privilege? Are there advantages that you hold that have given you a leg up, paving the way to success?
Privilege, or the “p-word,” has gotten a lot of play lately - especially as it shapes the extent to which an individual can – or can’t – achieve the American Dream. Scholars like Harvard economist Raj Chetty have challenged the notion that meritocracy prevails, and with effort, any individual can achieve the American Dream.
Instead, his research (and that of many others) have uncovered systems that make access to the American Dream difficult, or in some cases, impossible. Where we live, the family we’re born into, the school we went to, our gender, our race, our sexual orientation, and many other factors play a role in the extent to which we are likely to achieve our version of the American Dream. Hard data gathered by Chetty’s research team, in the form of “opportunity maps,” shows that for many, the American Dream is nothing more than that – a dream, aka, a “myth.”
So, let’s bring all of this to wellness. Just as the American Dream is a myth, is the same true when it comes to the pursuit of better health and well-being?
Evidence suggests yes.
How many times have you heard messages like “You just need more grit! Lean in! Or, girl, wash your face!” To a fault, the overriding narrative in wellness has been centered around individual actions. Build a positive mindset. Get more resilient. Set SMART goals. Form tiny habits. Find the right digital device. Take mini-breaks. Eat whole foods. Do the work that you love. Follow your passion. Be your full authentic self. Get out into nature.
Each of these tips, while usually well intended, invoke a whole host of assumptions. The extent to which we can put each tip into action is dependent upon Wellness Privilege.
In a 1987 speech, Ronald Reagan famously stood before the Berlin Wall, the most powerful symbol of the Cold War, and demanded: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” This simple line turned out to be the defining moment in the ultimate unraveling of the Soviet Bloc.
You, too, can create a defining moment in your organization by calling out: “Tear down these silos!”
OK, perhaps not quite as dramatic as that, but dismantling silos is definitely an important step in ensuring the success of your movement.
So, how do you effectively do so?
Start by channeling Leonardo da Vinci, master of all polymaths and the ultimate Renaissance Man. Da Vinci rightly understood that great solutions, ideas and inventions happen by combining multiple disciplines.
Translation in the world of workplace wellness: Reach across department divides and bring together diverse minds and skill sets.
Here’s the thing: a da Vinci approach will lead to a greater infusion of well-being across the organization. It promises more synergy and integration. The more you can coordinate your efforts with others from different disciplines, the more you can foster greater impact within your organization - just the way da Vinci would have done it.
Here are three ways you can do exactly that: