Sustainable productivity should be an outcome of your development and wellbeing programmes

Series of a business executive in suit with battery indicator to show his energy level, from fully charged to drained and exhausted. Conceptual vector cartoon illustration isolated on grey background.

The evolution of organisations and how they view their employees

We believe, that more and more companies are evolving from a mechanistic value system and mode of functioning; in which employees are seen as indispensable cogs in the machine; into an organisation that values its employees as the most important resource it has. These organisations invest in and develop their employees.

It is motivated and engaged employees that truly drive an organisation’s performance.

Companies have a responsibility to support their employee’s well-being. Not surprisingly, employee well-being, engagement and productivity is heavily determined by the organisational environment; created by the organisation’s leadership.

If organisations want to thrive, they need to ensure they are providing the leadership, environment and tools to equip employees with what they need to thrive and be productive.

But a level of responsibility also falls on the employees them selves, to use what the organisation offers them, in addition to their capabilities and competencies, in a way that supports their well-being and productivity. We can support this by making the initiative, individually meaningful, whilst working with the employees capacity and capability to change.

Lastly, development and a certain way of behaving, cannot be forced upon an individual; instead it is about designing the environment, so that it promotes and catalyses what is needed to trigger development and the right behaviour.

This article is approximately a 11 minute read. For a short read, skip to the Summary section below.

Well-being and performance

There is a wealth of data on the impact that well-being programmes make.

In an article by HBR, Johnson & Johnson’s leaders estimated that well-being programmes had cumulatively saved the company $250 million on health care costs over a 10 year period. The return was $2.71 for every dollar spent.

Marcus Hunt reports that Unilever’s UK&I well-being programmes, achieved a return on investment of 1:>4.

Cawa Younosi, head of SAP’s HR team in Germany, considers that providing employees with the capability to decompress, impacts the bottom line. “The company estimates that a one percentage point increase in employee engagement translates into a rise of 50 million euro to 60 million euro (£43.7 million to £52.5 million) in operating profit, while a one percentage point increase in its business health culture index can add between 85 million euro to 95 million euro”.

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, UCLA, and Washington University in Saint Louis, Mo., found that wellness programme participation increased the average worker productivity by more than 5 percent.

Deloitte’s 2018 Global Human Capital Trends survey found that for respondents that had a well-being programme: “60 percent reported that it improves employee retention, and 61 percent said that it improves employee productivity and bottom-line business results”.

In October 2016, The Working Well global survey done by Xerox, reported that the areas where well-being programs are having the most impact are: engagement (86%), organisational image (82%), overall well-being (78%), recruitment and retention (76%) and productivity (76%).

Although even when considering the above, there is still significant room for improvement. Deloitte’s 2018 Global Human Capital Trends survey found that: “there is often a significant gap between what companies are offering and what employees value and expect”.

Managing Stress

In the modern workplace, the rate of change, complexity, ambiguity and uncertainty leaves many people in a hyper-activated and less productive state. New regulations, new technology and globalisation bring new challenges.

It is also thought that matters of stress drive the motivation for most well-being programmes across the world.

It is well founded that employees are experiencing more stress and anxiety in their jobs due to factors such as a shift from an industrial economy to a knowledge (always on and global) economy; changing working and social contexts; and rapidly changing technology.

Attitude to stress

Stress is an important part of growth and development; it can be positive and not necessarily harmful.

Stress can be seen as activation, during which our bodies use resources.

Mild, short term stress can be beneficial. We become more alert, our thinking rate increases, concentration improves and our motivation and performance is benefited.

The problem occurs when we experience long term stress with no intermittent recovery. Unbroken high stress and the resulting high alertness, breaks down our body and brain and can lead to disease and exhaustion.

Brain performance and behaviour

Brain science made simple

We find that providing people with a simple metaphor that helps them understand the key functions of their brain and how it impacts behaviour; helps them to not only understand how stress impacts their brain but also their behaviour, well-being and their productivity.

We use this model to provide people with a clear understanding of what causes their stress and how they can manage it; to not only improve their brain performance but also to increase their ability to behave in a way that increases their well-being and productivity.

Within groups of people this model facilitates a common language that they use to discuss their well-being and productivity in concrete, simple ways.

Embedding well-being initiatives into ways of working

People learn how to manage their stress / recovery balance towards something that is meaningful to them.

The image above illustrates our model for sustainable productivity.

To optimise our brain’s performance there are simple practices that we can use to increase our capacity of our executive brain (also known as the conscious / deliberate / cognitive functions).

This system in the brain provides functions such as analytical thinking (decision making, solving problems), creativity, focusing attention, self-control (stimulus and emotional), planning and ability to use language.

These executive functions enable us to behave effectively. If we are stressed, these functions are inhibited and we act from a place of survival and self-preservation.

For our brain’s executive functions to be fully online we need to meet our  physical and  social needs. When they are not met, this triggers stress and this stress inhibits the functioning of our executive brain.

See this series of four articles for more on understanding brain performance.

We embed well-being initiatives into talent and leadership development programmes. So while developing organisational competencies, employees develop habits that improve their mental and physical well-being.

Data — making it individual and assessing impact

People are often better at predicting or at least understanding the factors that cause their stress, but have much less awareness on what promotes their recovery.

For example in the “Forth study” mentioned above, people aged 35 to 44 were most likely to watch TV to relieve stress. Unfortunately, watching TV actually causes stress for most people.

Providing information via campaigns / company days / workshops can inspire and maybe spark some initial changes in some people, but for most the inspiration soon fizzles out, without any real change in behaviour.

Capacity

Physical needs like sleep, rest, nutrition and movement, are very individual. Likewise with social needs. The behaviour change that would make the biggest change for one person, could be completely different for another.

It is also important to determine as an individual, the strengths you already have in these areas and how utilising your strengths can help you develop where it is required.

There are simple, scalable, inexpensive and non invasive physical measurements (GDPR compliant) that provide individuals with the key physical factors that are enabling them (gainers) and the factors disabling them (drainers).

When merging this data with our simple model on brain performance, people quickly grasp a new language that helps them make the topic of their well-being and productivity more personal, concrete and easy to grasp.

Success Story

In one example of a Learning & Development program that we facilitated in a global company, the average recovery experienced during work time increased by 56-percent, reaching the optimal range for recovery at work (+30 minutes). Meanwhile, the average ‘moderate’ and ‘good’ physical activity experienced-per-day had increased by 33-percent.

This was a positive sign because both daytime recovery and improved physical activity have been shown to improve the capacity to be productive in the workplace.

Time management

There are also simple, scalable and automated ways to collect people analytics data (GDPR compliant) to determine how people spend their time and who they spend it with.

When you merge this with the physical capacity data you get a complete picture on your capacity, how you spend it and who you spend it with.

This time management data also helps support the identification of social and environmental factors that could be impacting the individuals well-being and productivity.

Cultural Transformation

When you aggregate the above people analytics data in an anonymous way, you are able to provide data-driven stories that not only support individual change but also pin point where to focus efforts on cultural or organisational change.

“Often times, facts can change the conversation from tired head-nodding to curiosity”

The Personalised Development Plan

As explained above, we support people in identifying the effective behaviours that increase their well-being and productivity. This is often the first focus area in a programme as these behaviours provide the individual with the capacity to be able to develop and change.

We also enable people to identify the effective behaviours that support their development of specific business competencies. For example in Leadership development, this could be the development of competencies like influence, managing conflict, dealing with ambiguity or providing feedback.

We support this development process by providing a personalised development plan that helps the individual to define the Milestone linked to measuring the development that they are aiming for. But they do not just aim for a destination, they define the related Habit that will enable them to reach the Milestone.

It is how the person behaves that is most important, as this new way of functioning will provide on going benefits, not just the achievement of one Milestone.

This development plan becomes a key part of the overall programme, being updated along the way (continuous development).

We also incorporate this into talent and leadership development programmes. So while developing organisational competencies, employees develop habits that improve their mental and physical well-being. A related success story can be found here.

Change competency

People need the capacity and capability to change.

No matter how aware people become of their effective behaviours and what is important; this does not guarantee a lasting change in behaviour. Behaviour change can be very uncomfortable.

The executive brain provides rational thinking and we tend to use it to analyse and come up with a rational reason to change. We can fully believe that we have a strong enough reason to change, but this is not enough for the whole brain to be motivated to make the change.

Parts of our brain will do what ever it takes, to resist the use of precious energy on making a change. But there are some simple approaches we can use to ensure that we approach the change in a way that is attractive for the whole brain.

We need to feel that the behaviour change is important, not just think it!

People therefore need the tools that can help them make the change smaller, easier and more attractive to their whole brain. At then end of the day, the part of the brain that automates our behaviour (into habits), only really cares about maximising pleasure and minimising pain.

Once we have identified the effective behaviour that we need to change or incorporate, we need to minimise the need to use the executive part of our brain, when implementing the behaviour (for example minimise the need for self-control). The executive brain is one of the most energy hungry parts of our body, it’s capacity is easily depleted and our brain wants to conserve energy as much as possible.

We have structured the personalised development plan to support a whole brain approach to behaviour change and to make the change as simple and as small as possible.

Blended Learning and Community Creation

Programmes can be run for groups of individuals, teams or for a whole organisation.

For groups and teams, the learning journey consists of a mixture of facilitated face-to-face learning, action learning, measurements, webinars, coaching and digital learning. The individuals are put into learning groups and interact on an ongoing basis through the digital platform (app and web access). Nudging, coaching and additional support can be provided via the digital platform.

Programmes can also be scaled with the use of the digital platform that hosts a mixture of on-demand learning modules, action learning assignments, webinars and community interaction.

Engagement

To ensure that the programme is making an impact and the participants are having fun, we can track participant engagement and identify which material and topics are being consumed and making an impact. We can also learn which resources are missing or needed as the programme progresses.

Summary

Employees are the most important resource that an organisations has. In a VUCA world, where change is a constant, it is the employees that change and not the organisation.

We believe in the necessity for organisations and their employees to join forces in enabling sustainable productivity. Organisations are living organisms not machines, which need the right conditions to thrive, not just survive.

By using a brain science, made simple approach, people can better understand how their brain functions and how their brain influences their behaviour, well-being and productivity. This approach also provides a simple way to understand stress and the impact that it has on the brain, well-being and productivity.

Using a data driven approach you can detect the effective behaviours, that are most important for an individual’s well-being and productivity. Combining this awareness with the capacity and capability to change (supported by their development plan), enables the individual to practice what matters most.

Over time, the effective behaviours, become automated habits, becoming a standard part of how the individual functions. The outcome is a lot less effort and resources required to achieve what matters most, whilst maintaining a high level of well-being.

Using aggregated, anonymous data you are also able to focus a cultural change effort on the right areas of the environment. This on-going data collection, also provides an objective measurement, of the impact that the effort has.

When providing a programme for a group, team or the whole organisation, you can build a cultural transformation that is driven both top down and bottom up. The effective behaviours are role modelled by the Leaders and the environment supports the efforts that the employees are making.

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