Renee Moorefield, Ph.D., is chief executive officer of Wisdom Works Group, a social enterprise she cofounded in 1999. Moorefield is also executive director for Be Well Lead Well®, Wisdom Works’s purpose-driven brand. Below, she will discuss some tips for improving employee wellbeing.
Renee Moorefield, Ph.D.
Chief Executive Officer, Wisdom Works Group
In 2022, what are some key initiatives every company should take on to improve employee wellbeing?
One is to start with a holistic assessment of employee thriving and stress resilience to really understand your population. This isn’t just about physical health. This is really about their state of wellbeing in this period of their life and work, which is a much bigger conversation. They can do it through focus groups, surveys, conversations—what’s most important is to genuinely ask and genuinely listen to the responses. Research shows that C-suites think their employees are doing a lot better than they are. Generally, many employees are struggling—they’re overwhelmed, they’re stressed, they’re lonely. Despite all the benefits of remote work, people also miss being part of a team, connecting, and having that face-to-face interaction. On the other hand, many people are thriving—they have actually found a whole new way of living and working, so you just can’t assume that one size fits all for employees.
Second, make employee thriving a new standard for measuring the success of the organization. We’re successful as a company if we make a profit, but using the organization to support people’s capacity to thrive is a new standard, and it is starting to happen.
Third is to help employees build new awareness and skills for working in more complex situations including remotely, in person, and hybrid. The goal is to help them figure out how to balance their own lives and work effectively while feeling connected to their work team. We know that our biological rhythm is to work in 90 minutes and we need to take micro breaks throughout the day, for example, so that kind of balance needs to be encouraged.
Fourth, and maybe the most important, is to develop leaders. The role of leader is to steward the conditions for all people to thrive. It’s one of the most powerful and positive ways to scale a culture of thriving and employee wellbeing globally.
Technology is incredible for scaling new awareness about wellbeing. The dark side is we can forget that this is a human conversation. So we can’t just do a pulse check through technology and think we know how people are doing. We have to engage in conversation and really listen to peopel. You have to understand your role as a facilitator of human potential. The role of leadership is a linchpin in that sort of distributed network, so the organization can only innovate, grow, and evolve to the extent that its leaders are innovating, growing, and evolving. Leadership is going to is going to expand or erode the consciousness of the organization.
What is the importance of employee feedback in generating effective and long-term positive change in corporate culture?
Organizations can have wonderful value and vision statements, which are very important tools. But what’s the actual experience of being here? That’s where feedback is so important. And if it’s truly listened to and utilized, it can be the fuel for improving the culture, the work practices, and the attractiveness of an organization. The latest Ogilvy report found that a significant percentage of consumers want to know that the organizations they purchase from care about the wellbeing of their employees and customers. I’ve been tracking this for 30 years, but now we’re at a tipping point when consumers are watching. Younger consumers in particular are so much more sophisticated. Employee feedback provides very grounded information to support the learning and evolution of an organization.
What are some key strategies or tools leaders can implement to promote better work/life balance and reduce employee burnout?
What I would not do is to go directly to a solution looking for a problem to solve. I wouldn’t implement a wellness program when you don’t really know what your employees might be struggling with.
There are three levels to consider. At the organizational level, it’s about having a clear vision and purpose that is meaningful and inspiring and clear operating principles and values that are live in the organization, not just on a wall somewhere, as well as a more collaborative and participative culture. It’s also figuring out how we can give people autonomy in their roles to make decisions without micromanaging them, especially in a more decentralized, agile world. People are still saying yes to everything on their plate, at work and at home. So it’s helping people figure out healthier ways to manage their boundaries.
The team level is where most people have their actual experience of the organization, which is where the organizational culture and values get expressed. If I have a concern that I need to bring up, it’s safe to do so. Power equity is about truly hearing and valuing all voices. What we call micro practices set the tone for people working together. It’s a way to use the avenue of wellbeing to make teams more cohesive.
The third level is personal. Job autonomy is a huge one. Self-esteem at work is a very important factor as well. Having some flexibility of when you work and where you work is important. It’s also about helping people understand freedom within a framework—it’s having personal freedom but staying connected to the larger framework of the team vision and purpose, which many companies lost during the pandemic.
People generally want to contribute to something bigger than themselves. And so that’s the framework piece. People want to have meaningful work and feel like they make a difference. They want to be a part of something greater than themselves and feel connected to others. Those are all huge wellbeing factors.
What is your best advice for corporate leaders looking to create a positive impact within their companies and beyond?
The conversation about wellbeing isn’t just about employees. It’s about being an attractive organization and a positive force in the world. Thirty years ago, we were also talking about this, but the science hadn’t caught up. Thriving is a differentiator for attracting and retaining employees, but also attracting and retaining leaders. Wellbeing matters for the sustainability of an organization.
In addition, while leaders should be totally focused on the wellbeing and development of employees, they also have to take care of themselves. One thing that came out of one of our studies is that the leadership role often ends up being a crisis management role and leaders are often personified as superheroes. Leaders have to get the support they need too to show up well, because the effectiveness of their organization, their employees, and their own lives depends on it.
Employees are watching, and if their leader is doing a breath practice, or going to a pottery group or a book club, people get inspired by that.