All posts by Glen Gonzalez

About Glen Gonzalez

Glen is a Partner and Senior Consultant at Smith. Contact the author directly

Physical, Financial and ...

Communicating a holistic approach to well-being

Even before COVID-19, employees were struggling to navigate our “always-on” work-life world. Lockdowns and worksite closings have only made it worse. If burnout, stress, and illnesses are taking a toll on your organization, supporting your employees’ total well-being can have a real impact on their productivity, engagement, and loyalty. 

How organizations communicate their commitment to employee well-being is varied and unique — as it should be. If you’re trying to get your arms around the concept of total or holistic well-being, here are some questions you might want to consider.

What is “well-being”?

There’s not a generally agreed upon or scientific answer this to this question. But here’s a simple definition you can start with: Well-being is a positive and meaningful perception that one’s life is going well. Easy enough!

What is a “holistic model for well-being” when it comes to employee benefits and the workplace?

At Smith, we think it means designing an overall employee experience that helps employees manage the wide range of issues and concerns they face and ultimately feel more protected, secure, and cared for. Sound unwieldy?

What are the components of holistic well-being?

Because there are so many issues and concerns that can affect one’s well-being, it can be helpful to categorize them. Following are a gathering of various components of well-being, their basic definitions, and examples of employee benefits and programs within each. In our experience, it is unusual for any single employer to use all of these various components. It’s more common for an organization to consolidate these various categories into a smaller, memorable set of three, four, or five. 

Many factors lead to well-being in the workplace.
ComponentDefinitionBenefit Examples
CommunityConnectedness to and participation in one’s
community; good citizenship; availability of
support and strong, functioning social networks
Corporate matching gifts
Support for volunteerism
Time off for voting
Political action committees
Environmental  Good stewardship of natural resources;
respect for surroundings; making connections
between the physical environment
and personal health
Recycling programs
Healthy working environments
Ergonomic work stations
Waste reduction campaigns
FamilyHaving strong and positive marital,
parental, sibling, intergenerational,
and other familial ties
Paid parental leave
Family and medical leave
Adoption/surrogacy reimbursement
Reproductive assistance benefits
Pre-natal and parental coaching
Employee assistance program
Pet insurance
Back-up care
Dependent care flexible spending account
FinancialA sense of security that comes from
feeling one has enough money
to meet their personal and family needs
Retirement programs
Health savings account
Flexible spending accounts
Life and AD&D insurance
Disability insurance
Business travel accident insurance
Financial counseling/planning
Paid leave benefits
Voluntary insurance programs (critical illness, hospital indemnity, cancer)
Identity theft protection/insurance
Subsidized care options
Prepaid legal plans
Intellectual Cherishing mental growth and stimulation;
having an open mind about new ideas;
seeking ways to expand knowledge and skills;
engaging in creative mental activities;
exploring one’s own potential;
sharing one’s abilities within the community
Job rotation
Temporary assignments
Student loan benefit
MentalHaving thoughts, moods, and behaviors
that allow a person to realize their
own potential, cope with the normal
stresses of life, work productively, and
make a contribution to the community 
Employee assistance program 
Counseling/therapy benefits
Vacation, personal days, paid time off
Flexible work arrangements
Occupational  Making use of one’s skills and talents
to gain purpose, happiness, and
enrichment; ability to achieve a
healthy work-life balance,
manage workplace stress, and
build relationships with bosses
and coworkers; integrating a
commitment to one’s occupation
into a satisfying and rewarding lifestyle
Student loan benefit
Service awards
Rewards and recognition
Career support/development
Performance management 
PhysicalAbility to live a lifestyle that is
not hindered by illness or injury;
making behavior choices to
ensure health and avoid
preventable diseases and conditions
Prescription drug
Dental Vision
Fitness reimbursement
Wellness programs
SocialAbility to form satisfying
interpersonal relationships
Diversity and inclusion programs/policies
Employee affinity groups
Employee assistance program
Spiritual Ability to experience meaning
and purpose in life through
a connection to one’s self or a power greater than oneself
Bereavement leave
Flexible work arrangements

What is a possible approach to communicating your organization’s approach to holistic well-being?

Consider which sounds more compelling to an employee:

“We support your total well-being.”

— or —

“We support your total well-being, including your physical, financial, and personal health.”

The second statement makes the nebulous concept of well-being a little more clear and tangible. Used consistently, alongside actual benefits and programs, each label can trigger employees to think of the comprehensive nature of your offerings and their long-term value. 

Many organizations I’ve served use the labels above (e.g., financial) or one’s similar to them (e.g., money). Here are a few simple steps to finding the right terminology for your organization.

  1. List all your benefits programs, policies, and other offerings. Don’t overlook those ergonomic desks! 
  2. Sort the list by grouping similar items. For example, put health care programs together. Try to create enough distinct, meaningful groups; eliminate empty categories, consolidate nearly empty ones.
  3. Come up with a brief description of each group. 
  4. Give each group a generic name (for now).
  5. To find your final category names, refer to your organization’s brand identity and culture for inspiration. You don’t have to stick with the generic terms (like physical) and you probably want to avoid overly clever and vague terms (like vigor) but, ultimately, you want a clear and distinctive list that makes particular sense within your organization.

Let’s Connect

Are you struggling with articulating a clear and compelling approach to total well-being? Do you have a unique approach of your own? Please share your story with us. If you’d like some help, let’s discuss it over a kale smoothie.

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Breaking Bias

Helping employees recognize and mitigate unconscious bias.

In 2019, a client sought Smith’s help in rolling out an unconscious bias workshop they had purchased from the NeuroLeadership Institute. (It’s a powerful and practical course and worth looking into.) Our job was to adapt materials to the client’s brand, promote the course and reinforce key learnings over time. In this post are some of the tips and insights we took away from that experience.

We’re Fighting an Unseen Adversary

Unconscious bias is just what it sounds like — bias that affects our decision making but is outside of our awareness. A key challenge was getting employees to realize unconscious bias is real and has real-world implications. In the workplace, these biases affect how we hire, assess talent, allocate development opportunities, staff projects, prioritize our time, and much more. 

Following are some examples we used in our communications to facilitate this realization among employees. Each highlights a different type of unconscious bias, making it easier to discuss and tackle it.

The YouTube Example

When YouTube launched its video upload app for iOS, nearly 10% of the videos uploaded by users were upside-down. The problem, though, wasn’t users; it was the app’s developers. The design team was almost exclusively right-handed and they created an app that worked best for themselves. They didn’t consider that, when held in the left hand, the phone’s screen would rotate 180 degrees. 

The Guardian Commercial

Above is a television commercial for The Guardian. Every time the video dips to black, hit pause, ask yourself what you think is happening or about to happen, and then resume playback. Watch it through to the end and consider what you got right or wrong and why. For best effect, keep the video muted. 

Two People on a Park Bench

Look at the photograph below and take 30 seconds to describe what you think is happening.

What is going on here?

Got it?

No matter what story you came up with, you did so with no information or context. Your brain filled in the gaps with your own world views and experience, and it did so almost immediately.  

Knowing Is Only Half the Battle

Unconscious biases are mental shortcuts. They can cause us to discount or ignore certain kinds of information while relying too heavily on others. To understand how powerful unconscious bias can be, consider this. The processing abilities of the unconscious mind are estimated at roughly 11 million pieces of information per second. In comparison, the conscious mind can process about 40 pieces per second. This is why it’s so important to first help employees recognize that unconscious bias exists and then give them tools and techniques to fight its grip on their decision making. Combining communication with workshops, guidelines, policies and other tactics is essential.

Personal Realization Is Key

Take a look at the image below. 

Did you spot the hidden baby?

Recognizing unconscious bias in ourselves is a little like finding the baby in that picture. To really deal with unconscious bias, you have to see it for yourself, but simply telling you it’s there isn’t always enough. That’s why our communication strategy for this client, sought first to do this:

With some thoughtful creativity, we can help our colleagues, our friends and our neighbors break our unconscious biases so we can work toward real change in our organizations — and in our world — with every decision every day. 

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Are your employees ready for the new normal at work?

A survey of employees’ covid-19 concerns could help you plan a smoother transition.

Political and business leaders are starting to talk about reopening the country for business. But, after months of being told to stay home and keep our distance from each other, how comfortable will we be re-entering the workplace? Will resuming more normal business operations be as simple as unlocking the doors and flipping a switch?

What concerns will your workforce have? Will they be eager to come back to work or reluctant? Should temporary changes to your work-from-home policies be made permanent? What previously overlooked benefits helped employees cope? 

A survey of your workforce could give you actual data to use in your decision making, leading to more effective outcomes and greater performance. 

“Surveys really have a dual benefit for organizations,” said Aaron Van Groningen, senior organizational development and training consultant at Hicks-Carter-Hicks, LLC, a boutique firm that specializes in using surveys and assessments to help organizations enhance performance. “First, direct feedback from employees allows decisions to be made using data rather than guesses and hunches. Second, surveys communicate to employees that their opinions are valuable and important to the organization, which is positively associated with organizational commitment.”

Should You Conduct a Survey?

By replacing guesswork with data, surveys can help organizations use their time, energy and money more efficiently. And who doesn’t want that right now? 

However, if your organization is not likely to heed the results of a survey, don’t do it. Asking your employees for their input and then appearing to ignore or disregard it could have a serious impact on their trust in the organization and their engagement.

What Should You Ask?

When crafting questions, consider how your organization responded to the pandemic and how your workers and workplaces were affected. Avoid infringing on employees’ privacy; steer clear of specific questions regarding personal health or circumstances. Also avoid asking employees to make comments they think will jeopardize their jobs, careers or income.

For some ideas, check out our brief “Return to Work” survey sample. Feel free to complete the survey or just peruse the questions.

If an employee survey is already part of your post-covid-19 return-to-work strategy, or if you’re looking for help designing and/or administering a survey, we’d love to hear from you.

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