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Employee Wellbeing

What Does It Mean to Have a Healthy Workplace Culture?

Emily Wolfe

Committee Project Manager, Health Enhancement Research

Kathy Meacham Webb

Senior Director of Consulting Practice, Limeade

Engaged employees are at the heart of any successful business, and for employers, that increasingly means creating a workplace culture that supports multiple facets of employee well-being. But how is a “healthy culture” defined and what does it look like?

The answer to that question is often, “It depends on the employer.” However, new research identifies 24 key elements that consistently show up in workplaces with healthy cultures.

This study, which examined employers who have built successful workplace cultures, found several commonalities between the organizations and the program elements.

Unique needs, unique programs ​​​​​​​

Among other things, employers who have established a healthy culture show consistent consideration of employees’ diverse needs. They put resources in place to address those needs and they help foster supportive employee connections. According to these findings, workplace culture includes the recruitment and hiring of new employees, ongoing training opportunities and support from leadership at all levels of an organization.

The 24 elements identified in this study include concrete items such as a supportive built environment and organizational resources dedicated to well-being, as well as more subjective factors like peer support and an established sense of community. Other key elements include, but are not limited to:

  • External community connections and altruism
  • Traditions that reflect healthy behaviors
  • Policies and procedures that support employee well-being
  • Employee involvement and empowerment
  • Recognition and rewards
  • Shared values
  • Relationship development
  • Connections to the community

“In the past, some well-being programs were designed primarily around the physical aspects of health and clinical initiatives that could impact health care costs,” said Roshi Fisher, assistant vice president and health risk solutions consultant for Lockton. “Some employers did not get the results they anticipated and shifted to a more holistic view of health that integrated physical, mental, social and financial well-being along with enhancing the workplace environment to support healthier choices. As a result, a strong culture of health began developing within these organizations. Today, when you look at a highly successful well-being program, it will include many of these elements crucial to building a healthy workplace culture.”

For example, one employer may choose to implement a lunchtime walking group while another creates an office softball team, encouraging peer-to-peer interaction and physical activity. Meanwhile, a third employer may offer both options. Building a healthy culture requires an employer to understand the unique needs of its employees and create programs that support and inspire them.

Importance to millennials

Workplace culture is increasingly important, as new generations of employees look beyond dollars and cents to measure job satisfaction. Millennials, now the largest generational group in the workforce, are as interested in how an employer fits with their personality and values as they are in salary. That’s why an effective culture is a powerful tool for both attracting and retaining top talent.

There is also abundant evidence that workplace culture affects employee health, job satisfaction, employee retention and corporate performance.

The impact for employers who invest in workplace culture comes in many forms. Companies profiled in this study reported better participation in well-being programs, higher percentages of low-health-risk employees, improved employee satisfaction, and lower turnover.

“When employees feel valued by their employer and connected to the organization in a meaningful way, the results can be significant. Absenteeism and presenteeism decrease while engagement, productivity and morale increase,” said Fisher. “Employers who create a well-being program that encompasses the key elements of a healthy culture are likely to attract and retain talent, as such programs can be a strong differentiator among peers and competitors.”

There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to workplace well-being or culture. Factors from location, to company history, to desired outcomes will impact how an employer builds their workplace culture. But identifying and understanding the building blocks that form the strong foundation of a healthy workplace culture gives employers a clear starting point. And, as employers learn more about which building blocks meet their needs, they have an opportunity to create a workplace where employees can thrive.

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