Create a great place to work by taking care of your people

Why is looking after employees so important? We caught up with Chris Boyce, CEO of Virgin Pulse to find out why companies should look after their staff and how businesses are making sure their employees' wellbeing is made a priority...

Why should companies care about the well-being of their workforce?

Taking care of employees isn’t something only great companies do. It’s something all companies should do. Most companies spend more on the people components of their businesses than they do anything else. And in most cases, it’s your people who can directly influence and impact outcomes for your company.

This principle - taking care of your people - is at the heart of creating a great place to work, where people are appreciated, engaged, productive and thriving.

People want to work for companies that care about them. So to get and keep the very best, you’ve got to give them your best. And that means supporting them and their well-being well beyond the corporate walls.

We’re hearing a lot about employee burnout these days. Is it simply inevitable? Or are there things people and companies can do to prevent it?

Today’s world is demanding. We all have too many demands and too little time. Modern life abounds with conveniences, but it also brings along unintended consequences that leave us overwhelmed, depleted, and disengaged.

In response, we’re not working or living as well as we could be – eating poorly, skipping exercise, sleeping less, battling distractions from all our devices and competing priorities. Yet, too often the healthy habits we’ve neglected become our new normal, and that leads to burnout. But that doesn’t have to be the case. People can do a few small things to change all that. 

To change the problem, we’ve got to change our habits. Better habits replenish people and there’s a mountain of evidence linking daily lifestyle habits with long-term health and productivity benefits.

As employers, we have to care about the well-being of our people. We have to make sure they have the capability, enthusiasm, and energy they need for the work and that we’re not depleting them. Once those reserves are gone, they’re hard to get back. The workplace is a great place to help people build habits that matter. Habits spread like wildfire, so changing them in a place that has tremendous social support and context can extend the spread of these healthy habits beyond the workplace.

What challenges have you seen when it comes to getting employers to take care of their employees?

Something I’ve seen trip up companies is their inability to rely on and review non-traditional measures. Data and measurement are super important, but not many traditional measures adequately measure changes with your people, their attitudes or how much they’re thriving. That’s why we’ve created our Thrive Index.

Savvy employers realize that not everything that’s important can always be measured readily and easily with traditional measures. We’ve seen that with the companies we’ve worked with over the years. They know a healthy workforce is good for business. They get that if their people exercise, eat right, get enough sleep, and are able to focus on the things that really matter, then they’re better employees.

For a lot of companies, it’s easier to look at the single dimension of their balance sheet than the many dimensions of their people. Leading companies see the big picture and figure out how to measure and understand the impact of their efforts as they invest.

Get to know your people and find out what’s important to them.

What are some of the innovative things you’re seeing employers do to support employee well-being?

There are so many great examples! The all-star cast Virgin brought together for its next Disruptors debate are all stellar examples of companies that care about their people.

BP Canada’s doing some really cool things, too. They encourage their people to schedule vacation time in advance and reward them for doing so. Not only does it help the business to plan better, but it helps people ensure they’re taking breaks to rest and recharge.

Ochsner Health System’s another great example. They firmly believe in taking great care of their people so their people can provide the best care for their patients and communities. They’ve made huge cultural changes as a result – like eliminating all their deep fryers and making their campus completely smoke-free.

How do you maintain your own wellbeing? And how to you support you own staff in doing so?

We’re a Virgin company, so we really try to model Richard’s long-held belief that if you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of your business. That’s exactly what we help other companies do, so we’ve got to make sure we practice what we preach to be successful.

Our own staff use all the programs we make available to our clients, we have on-site gyms and free fitness classes, healthy snacks, occasional on-site massages, and much more in terms of health and well-being benefits. But the real key lies in the culture we’ve created. People know we want them – and need them – to be well, so we encourage them to do what’s going to work best for them and provide them with the flexibility, resources, and encouragement to do so.  

In terms of my own well-being, when I started with Virgin Pulse nearly a decade ago, I’d quit exercising one more time than I’d started. But I found early on that I could walk. It was easy, it was something I could sustain, it made me feel good, and it helped me handle stress better. When I became more active, I noticed productivity gains and emotional resilience gains along the way, which was really powerful.

After spending some time with Arianna Huffington, I learned just how much sleep was a missing element in my life. Over the last year, I’ve focused tremendously on improving my sleep and I really feel like my life is better for it.

I’ve learned so much from the great people in our company and I’ve made some great changes to my own eating habits as a result. Some things have worked well, some things haven’t. What I realized was that my well-being – and everyone’s well-being – is a continuous journey, not a destination, so I continue to work on improving and maintaining optimal health everyday.

What advice would you give to someone who's trying to create a healthy, productive workforce and a great place to work?

Be sure you walk the talk as a leader. Get to know your people and find out what’s important to them, what they feel like they need, and tailor your support and benefits accordingly within the context of your own culture. One-size-fits-all never works, so be sure to find a partner in the effort that’s right for you – you don’t have to go it alone! Show your employees by your own actions what’s valued and supported, communicate with them, and empower them to be their best – both on and off the job – to see your culture soar.

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