Why is Caring Important?
Caring is an integral component of basic human life. Individuals and groups of like-minded people understand and care for the values and situations of other individuals and groups. In an organizational environment and culture, this includes senior leaders, managers, and supervisors and all other employees.
Caring is demonstrated every day by expressing and accepting caring in our personal and professional relationships. For those of us in the health, wellness, and well-being fields, we communicate caring on a daily basis.
Have we Adequately Recognized the Impact of Caring on the Health of Individuals and Organizations?
For the most part, the outcome measures of health and wellness initiatives focused on some of the most difficult measures of success: sustained participation, behavioral change, time away from work, and environmental and cultural change.
In addition, these initiatives focused on the financial benefit to the organization[i] compared to how much was invested, financial return on investment; total value of the investment; avoidance of dollars spent on healthcare, absent and disability days; and lost time while at the worksite.
The above typical organizational outcome measures were in the category of lagging financial indicators while we relatively ignored the day to day leading human indicator measures. In summary, we focused on what we believed organizations and employees needed rather than the context of their situation and more importantly what they wanted.
This final factor alone would have been enough to predict less than optimal success. We forgot that most successful journeys begin with purpose, shared values, vision, mission; initial shared working strategies; and a shared process for determining appropriate results, including the value of caring.[ii]
Thus, the answer to the question for this section is, "No." Not all organizations or employees have expressed or recognized caring to the combined extent that they would qualify as a true caring organization. One of the major outcomes we propose is the Value of Caring (VOC).
This measure could be estimated in financial terms but perhaps, more importantly, we prefer VOC estimated in terms of demonstrated human and organizational values, feelings, and activities. How do employees know that you care?
We know it is an important component of human life but we often forget one of the simplest principles to show we care is to find out what people need, including the need to be valued, and then deliver on those needs. Getting started is a matter of asking.
How do we get to an Initial Measure of Caring?
Gathering insights from managers and employees is the beginning of building a winning wellness initiative and positive organizational health as a win-win philosophy. As a first step, we suggest the use of two questions where caring can be observed by surveying the perception of senior and mid-level managers and all other employees on "who cares" and "how is caring demonstrated?"
This observation requires an assessment of the overall response of the organization (management) and the employees. The top-down message of well-being also must be supported from the bottom-up in order to succeed. To do this, step back and find out if your employees feel that management cares.
A. Questions for the non-management employees: Do you feel senior leaders or other management level individuals' care about you? Yes or No?
If yes, how does management demonstrate their caring?
- Offer personal and professional development opportunities
- Provide and celebrate meaningful work opportunities
- Share meaningful results with employees
- Develop a shared values, purpose, mission, vision with employees
- Conduct onboarding and exit interviews, with an emphasis on retention
- Provide for promotion from within and develop clear career paths
- Provide for autonomy at the employee workstations and their work teams
- Provide for the physical, mental and social comfort for the employees
- Provide time-off for volunteer work in the community.
If no, you will need to delve further and ask employees what the employer could do to demonstrate caring. Many of the recommendations could be from the eight choices listed above. One way to infuse your wellness initiative with a caring organization is to ask employees if they were to create a wellness and caring workplace, what would be the key indicators.
You'll be surprised that often times, employees have the simplest low to no cost requests such as education on nutrition, space to do some light exercise or movement, or a quiet space for brief reflective thinking. You could create a simple survey with one-on-one conversations or focus groups in order to receive representative suggestions.
The most important next step, once you know the suggestions is to deliver on the identified suggestions. Take employee ideas and put them into action quickly, that's putting the value of caring into action.
B. Questions for the senior leadership and other management personnel: Do you feel the employees care about the organization? Yes or No?
If yes, how do employees demonstrate caring?
- Suggest performance improvement opportunities
- Suggest improved work strategies and tactics
- Suggest criteria recognizing superior leadership from supervisors, managers, directors, and senior level leaders.
- Actively support and participate in health, safety and quality programs and indicators
- Suggest peer-to-peer mentoring opportunities among employees
- Suggest award and recognition opportunities from peer employees and management personnel.
If no, ask management what the employees could do to demonstrate caring? Many of the recommendations could be from the six choices listed above. Clearly, it is important to understand management and employee perceptions and find out what they each can do to show they care.
If there are barriers to caring, find out what they are so you can begin to incorporate caring into your wellness initiative. For example, if managers don't support participating in health and safety programs, find out why? Does it take too much time or are there activities like walking meetings that they would support, education, training, or other activities that they may suggest.
If employees don't support the health, wellness or well-being initiatives, find out why? What would it take to gain their support, participation and finally engagement? For both management and employees, provide opportunities to discuss barriers, perceptions and possible solutions to create a caring environment.
C. The total Value of Caring has an integral role in a Win-Win Philosophy. This can be observed by adhering to at least the following eight examples:
- Most good working relationships begin with good person-to-person relationships. This is true whether individuals are at the same level within the organization or at different levels.
- There are several places to begin and maintain win-win relationships such at the onboarding stage, active mentoring, and coaching throughout the employee's career.
- The win-win philosophy is "employees win when the organization wins and the organization wins when the employees win." This attitude promotes the shared values, purpose, goals, vision and results.
- Positive Organizational Health and the Win-Win Philosophy can be demonstrated by the organization encouraging supervisor-employee relationship-building opportunities.
- Encourage "surprise" opportunities to recognize great examples and successes.
- Encourage employee and management to share their respective context, needs, and wants.
- Encourage employees and management to share their values and expected results.
- Win-win human relationships also can be built by promoting management and employee involvement at work or in community activities.
- Provide for community and non-profit service days for all employees to engage
- Provide for family recognition and appreciation days
- Recognize model employer-employee cooperation and collaboration as community and non-profit volunteers
- Promote the voices of the employees and management in community town hall meetings and activities
- Create opportunities for collaboration and support through healthy activities at work.
A Case Study at HUB International: Putting the VOC into action
After several years of traditional wellness programming and top-down messaging about health risk, we realized we needed to freshen up our wellness initiative. We knew we could do more to engage and motivate employees. We knew we needed to expand our wellness program by creating an organizational environment to demonstrate not only a value of investment but also the value of caring.
- Visited locations across the U.S. to find out what each facility needs to sustain an environment of health and well-being long term. The number one thing our employees wanted a place to take a break and something healthy to do there. The result was a break space with balls, bands and light weights for many HUB locations.
- Established a network of wellness coordinators to work with employees and find out what they need at their locations and launch initiatives to support their individual cultures and environment
- Worked with management teams throughout hub to break down barriers to caring and support an open door to building a culture of health.
- As soon as we gathered ideas, we worked through wellness committees and coordinators to put the ideas into action.
The result was H3 - HUB Healthy Habits well-being strategy. Aimed at educating, activating and supporting (H3) employee engagement on a local level around total health and well-being, H3 encourages employees to put their ideas into action in their local work environment.
Since H3 began, we've seen that it takes about 21 months for a single risk among our staff to migrate to normal levels. H3 has brought us a real ROI as well - a 2:1 hard dollar return, with a medical trend of 2% on average for a five-year period.
But more importantly, the initiative has demonstrated to employees that their ideas are at the core of our initiative. By gathering employee ideas and putting them into action, we have successfully created more positive work environments.
There are many success stories and emails to our leadership teams thanking us for caring and supporting health and wellbeing at work. HUB was named one of the Healthiest 100 Workplaces in America in 2015 and 2016 by Healthiest Employers.
The successful Win-Win Philosophy typically begins with an enterprise philosophy or policy at the senior level as part of an organizational environment or culture initiative. However, when considering the day-to-day impact, the influence of the local environment and sub-culture is likely more impactful than the overall central influence.
When employees feel the organization is the best possible place for them to work; senior leaders feel the employees are the organization's most important resource; and, there is a respective sense of caring, we have the makings of a Win-Win Philosophy.
About the Authors
Dee W. Edington, Professor Emeritus Kinesiology, University of Michigan, CEO Edington Associates LLCOlga Reupert. Vice President Benefits and Compensation, HUB International[i] Edington, Dee W.. Zero Trends: Health as a Serious Economic Strategy. Published by Health Management Research Center, University of Michigan. 2009 (Currently available at Amazon Books).[ii] Edington, Dee W., Jennifer S. Pitts. Shared Values-Shared Results: Positive Organizational Health as a Win-Win Philosophy. 2016. Published by CreateSpace. (Currently available at Amazon Books).