As the head of Wisconsin-based Acuity Insurance, Ben Salzmann recognizes the importance of giving employees a voice — and listening to what they're saying.

“How can we expect employees to care about corporate well-being if their company doesn't care about their well-being?” asks Salzmann. “It's a mindset issue. CEOs and managers have to get outside themselves, because it isn't just about their success.”

Showing respect

He continues, “We're taught to utilize time management, pursue investment management, and track resource management. But we never look at appreciation management.

“Appreciate commitment, involvement, development and the human being,” Salzmann adds. “Managers need to praise their employees' efforts, and explain to executives how their workforce pulled together to succeed in necessary deliverables. Executives need to see the human effort expended, and they need to feel a responsibility to their colleagues. Then, suddenly, HR and middle management will have success in getting wellness programs approved and sponsored.”

More than just a number

For middle management and HR teams wanting to express a commitment to wellness programs, Salzmann says they should view employees as “real people.”

“If executives don't personally relate to their employees, their goal is to reduce health insurance premiums. If these same executives relate to their employees, their goal is the overall employee well-being and they're willing to invest more money in wellness programs, fitness centers, etc. This, in turn can reduce health insurance premiums.”

But wellness programs are too often not given enough consideration and emphasis. Says Salzmann: “Stock markets are tracked, strategic plans are devised, sales are pursued. Wellness programs are always viewed as a special interest feature, or a tangent to the corporation. Middle managers and HR need to engage executives, so that wellness is viewed as a core business activity.”

“Stock markets are tracked, strategic plans are devised, sales are pursued. Wellness programs are always viewed as a special interest feature…”

Why give back?

Having led a business ranked second on the Fortune’s 2016 list of “100 Best Companies to Work For,” Salzmann advises other business executives to focus on philanthropy if they want to lead a great company.

“It's a reaffirmation of our core morality and generosity,” he explains. “Involve employees in determining which charities should receive donations. Give the employee group the ability to vote on charitable donations through something as simple as SurveyMonkey. Find community charitable needs where the employees see instantaneous feedback."

Young professionals

It’s millennials in particular, Salzmann feels, demanding a more rounded workplace.

“They expect wellness programs, philanthropic efforts, growth opportunities and a corporate purpose or contribution in this world. When a company doesn't pursue wellness, these millennials won't rebel — they will just leave.”

REACHING OUT IS KEY: Creating a dialogue between you and your employees is vital. Make them feel involved and valued by reaching out and see how they're doing.

Practice what you preach

Salzmann says leading by example is extremely important.

“Involve executives in wellness programs. Talk them into joining the company's fitness program. Have them publish releases to employees via e-mail or voice messages extolling how they themselves are pursing wellness, and how important it is for each of their employees.

“Reach out to people, "Salzmann also advises. He mentions that employers should communicate with and involve employees directly, so they feel they're part of the process. Depending on the size of your organization, consider hosting a quarterly town hall, or simply meet with staffers for lunch, to get feedback.

Looking ahead

As for the future of employee well-being, Salzmann believes employers should examine their focus, and commit to inspiring employees to thrive in a competitive world. He adds that business leaders who remain inside themselves instead of looking for team solutions will never truly succeed.

“As soon as executives can relate to individuals within their company, a new form of magic occurs,” he says. “There is a much higher level of engagement from colleagues that propels the company to success.”