Jon Coles Interview, Market Insight
Since the global pandemic begun, it’s been clear that organisations all around the world and their HR teams have been challenged in ways not seen before – an article from Personnel Today* stated that seventy-two percent of HR leaders said others’ understanding of the role of HR within their organisations had increased in the past 11 months, and 59% said that HR now played a more influential role in the company.
Having spoken with a broad range of HR professionals throughout this pandemic, there has been a number of consistent themes coming through whilst employees continue to work from home which are; employee wellbeing, mental health and culture. A global pandemic has highlighted that now more than ever employee wellbeing is critical to business success and it is clear that a consistent and well-defined company culture leads to greater employee retention and a happier workforce.
I had the chance to catch up with Grant King former MD, Global Head of HR for TD Securities about wellness and how this can link into mental health and culture in the workplace. Grant has enjoyed a fantastic career with TD where he spent time working in London, Toronto and Philadelphia across a number of senior global HR positions, he is therefore able to offer some terrific insight into the wellness journey that he went on with TD, as well as his own experiences around building a positive and high-performing workplace culture.
Grant, thanks again for your time, firstly what does wellbeing in the workplace mean to you?
Firstly, employee wellness is critical to business and organisational success. It impacts on a workplace’s culture, on its resources and productivity and, ultimately, its bottom line. One of the most critical things is ensuring that all colleagues understand the importance of employee wellness and properly engage with it as an issue, and to do that they must first understand what employee wellness means.
In my experience there are four critical interconnected areas: mental/emotional, physical, financial, and social wellbeing. The concept of wellbeing has grown considerably over the years with a focus on helping colleagues influence their own health, quality of life, mental/emotional wellbeing and, consequently, their performance at work.
How our colleagues are feeling, mentally, physically, socially, and financially, is more than an HR issue; it is, in fact, a fundamental foundation for business growth, stability, strength and sustainability.
During your time at TD you were responsible for building a wellness strategy for the Wholesale Bank, what were the key pillars for this strategy?
As I mentioned, we focused our strategy on four key pillars –
- Physical Wellbeing: Meaning understanding and managing our health, taking appropriate preventative measures, improving health status, managing chronic conditions.
- Financial Wellbeing: Meaning understanding and achieving how to be financially secure which meant having the financial literacy/knowledge and resources to manage financial commitments to meet fiscal/budgetary goals, protect against risks and save for contingencies or future needs
- Social Wellbeing: Meaning being connected and includes indicators such as social acceptance, beliefs in the potential of society, personal self-worth, and a sense of community; and
- Mental/Emotional Wellbeing: Meaning being able to flourish mentally/emotionally in which everyone realizes their own potential, can cope with the stresses in life, can work productively and is able to contribute to the community.
One of the first critical things we understood to be a gap was colleagues understanding of what exactly workplace wellbeing was. We designed a three-pronged approach around educating and building capabilities:
- Building Wellbeing Awareness – Empowering individuals with knowledge on workplace wellbeing.
- Boosting Individual Resiliency – Providing individuals with tools/resources to build psychological strength; and
- Building Systemic Resiliency – Indoctrinating and fostering a culture of resiliency
What were the key challenges and learnings you found whilst building a wellness strategy?
There are a couple of learnings that most people will be familiar with. The first for me is that most companies do not have to be convinced of the importance of a Wellness strategy. However, when it comes to implementing a wellness program, we need to remember it is not a “one and done” solution. It requires a culture shift, where the organisation begins to emphasise employee well-being—not just as a standalone program, but in all the policies, programs, procedures, and behaviours any company displays. A way to make that change is with the buy-in of the most senior executives, the C-suite and it needs to feed into an overarching business strategy concerned with staff engagement, retention, and performance.
The second reason wellbeing programs fail is that they are comprised of bolt-on programs or ad-hoc perks. When workplace wellness programs are stand-alone initiatives and are not integrated into a company’s culture or operations, it’s going to fail.
For our Wellness strategy to be a success it was a collective effort across all levels and functions of the organisation. Our strategy was proactive, holistic for the individual and company, and was being integrated into the company’s cultural norms. Three things we learned –
1. Being mindful of perks or bolt-on programs
Having offerings such as gym memberships and wellness webinars were great, but to create a culture of wellbeing, all offerings and programs needed to be built into the company’s culture and the employee lifecycle. Wellbeing should be part of how you make decisions, structure your team, and be felt meaningfully across the colleague lifecycle from onboarding to exit.
2. Being proactive and not reactive
A reactive approach to workplace wellness is based on responding to events after they have happened. However, these approaches often fell short, since during the time it took to implement a solution colleagues may already be sick or burnt out and ultimately left. Being proactive allows companies to focus on preventing problems from arising. While no company can predict everything about the future, understanding the trajectory of your company, utilising data, and understanding the drivers of wellbeing can help ensure you design a strategy that builds strong physical, mental, financial and social states in your colleagues from the start.
3. Knowing our culture
Some companies have great holistic wellness programs that accommodate all parts of wellbeing, but they lack the cultural support to be successful. Cultural norms need to be understood and need to support wellbeing strategies and be role modelled by all employees. Leadership plays a key role in demonstrating desired behaviours and new program adoption. This was critical for us as an organisation.
Remember if your company’s colleagues are its greatest assets then a true wellness strategy is a meaningful way of investing in those assets and should be built into your business strategy.
Why is it so important for an organisation to get their wellness strategy right?
With the rise of technology and AI, work is becoming more fluid, adaptable, and collaborative, and it requires constant learning. As work tasks are increasingly borne by computers and machines, human beings are adding value by complementing and harnessing technologies and by being creative, innovative, empathetic, and adaptable. We all need to be in a good state of physical, mental, and emotional wellness, feeling socially connected and financially secure to be able to bring these qualities to work each day.
In order to survive and thrive in the future, companies globally will need to harness the potential of wellness by aligning work environments and cultures with colleagues’ personal values, motivations, and wellness needs.
This will mean looking at the individual and encouraging them to make healthy lifestyle choices in a changing world, with the purpose of benefiting them and the culture in which they work. Most of all, it is about enabling individuals to make better choices about their own health, to take control of it, for their own benefit because the costs to both the company and colleague are considerable; and the benefits of attracting and retaining talent, and improving productivity, are clear.
We all know that a happier and diverse workforce leads to better outcomes – What do you see as the future for wellbeing in the workplace and how should this be linked into building a positive and high-performing workplace culture?
In my opinion the COVID-19 pandemic is fast-tracking one of the biggest business transformations in decades. It is a health crisis, but for most companies it is also an incredible opportunity to transform. It is forcing us all to rethink the way we do business and dust-off policies for security, business continuity and remote workers and it is also placing employee wellbeing at the centre of the business model.
As we continue to go through the pandemic, I am sure we will start to see:
- Governments becoming more aggressive about mandating wellness in the workplace.
- Wellness at work will now be a movement that will gain significant momentum across the world for the foreseeable future.
- Workplace wellness programs – as we know them today – will disappear or certainly be enhanced.
- Individuals will take more responsibility for their own wellness in the context of work.
- Companies will adopt a culture of wellness as the default, not the exception, if they want to attract and retain good people; and
- As we are seeing with Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) practices - the healthiest workplaces will be a destination where people go to improve their own wellness.
I also think that wellness at work will be viewed through a much wider lens no matter the industry or country we work in, the size of our organisation, or the resources available. Three areas stick out for me that we will need to think more about are:
The Physical Environment
This is an obvious one and many companies are already well one their way. Forward-looking companies are already infusing wellness-enhancing features into buildings and workspaces and are using workplace design to encourage healthy behaviours, collaboration, and creativity among workers. This will be even more important as we look at the future of work post the pandemic.
This will mean moving beyond wellness programs to address the most pressing wellness needs of our colleagues, whether it is work-life balance or managing personal finances. It will be more personal, and companies will need to recognise and address the huge impact that workplace culture and stress can have on our personal wellbeing and health behaviours. When we find meaning, purpose, and impact through our work, our individual wellness is enhanced, and we become better employees.
Social & Community
Our social interactions and relationships at work – with co-workers, clients, leaders, and the community – have a profound impact on our own wellness and that of others. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on our social wellness and so it will be critical to ensure that we are focused on friendships and trust at work to not only increase our productivity, but to improve our personal wellbeing. Leaders and managers will have an outsized role in establishing this through a strong workplace culture. Everyone will have a role to play.
Despite the growth of workplace wellness programs, wellness at work is still in its exceedingly early stages. Given how much of our time and livelihoods are shaped by our work, infusing our working environments with wellness will be beneficial not only to companies and workers, but also to our families and communities.
* Personnel Today: Perception of the value of HR improved during the pandemic