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Redefining Today’s Workplaces With Wellbeing in Mind

In a world still finding its way out of a pandemic, into a war, and around an exacerbated mental health crisis, isn’t it time for us to truly hold ourselves accountable for the wellbeing of people, planet, and community?

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Even for us glass-half-full kind of people, today’s headlines are not for the weak at heart. Finding the bright side takes work—one that I wake early for just to make sure I give myself time to screw my head on right before the rest of the world attempts to do so for me. 

I admit: the struggle is real, and I use every tool in my box of healthy tricks – from meditation to journaling to sweating it out—to champion this trillion-dollar business of wellness every day. Most of the time I win, some days I lose, but every day I work hard to find those endorphins that keep my stress at bay. I see it as my responsibility as a leader, as an advisor, and as a family member. It’s also how I develop resilience while proving to myself, time and time again, that this thing called wellness works.

On the bright side, the forces for good, for social impact, and for humanity at large, are as strong as they have ever been before. When I think about advances in precision medicine, the growing awareness about how stress impacts our minds and bodies, or even the empathy that’s begun to bloom in the workplace, I am inspired by the sheer potential for health, progress, and yes, even peace. Now we just need “the system” to catch up on a variety of fronts—hence the reason for my thoughts today—because it is here where we still have our work cut out for us.

Environmental Social Governance (ESG): What Does It Really Mean, Anyway?

One of the systems that bears the lowest hanging fruit for us all, is how we define Environmental Social Governance (ESG) in today’s working world.

Nasdaq defines ESG as “a broad set of environmental, social, and corporate governance considerations that may impact a company’s ability to execute its business strategy and create value over the long term.” And while most agree that these measures are generally qualitative criteria that a company holds itself to, they certainly carry financial implications; that is, how investors—particularly those with the desire to make a social impact—responsibly decide to invest and reinvest their money and/or to evaluate if a company is operating with a conscience.

From time to time, even organizations like the World Economic Forum (WEF) question the system, including the detail behind it, as they did last year in an article insisting that “ESG is Missing A Metric: R for Resilience.”  

Well, as you might expect, I am about to do the same.

My problem is with the “S” of ESG: It does not account for health and wellness or wellbeing

I believe it’s time we all revisit the SOCIAL criteria of ESG because it’s an existing, measurable framework, along with corporate social responsibility (CSR), that could enable us to get real about wellness and wellbeing in the workplace and our communities at large. And from where I’m standing, the “health & safety” measures more commonly associated with the “S” currently fall short. 

Now, this is where I must add a quick disclaimer: I am not an ESG expert by any means, but as a strategic advisor who helps companies of all kinds care for the wellbeing of people, planet, and community, I regularly review ESG plans. And I’m here to tell you: the system is imperfect and it’s not necessarily our fault.

The ”Health” of “Health & Safety”

The sub-category of “health and safety” generally refers to occupational safety and potential hazards that companies must protect workers against in both factory and office settings. More often than not, these criteria seem to be focused on the physical health of colleagues versus a more holistic attempt to positively impact or enhance their wellbeing in any meaningful way. For example, a common “health and safety” measure in U.S. office buildings is running drills to ensure that employees know how to exit the office building in case of a fire. While important, they rarely also include measures that proactively impact employee health like ensuring that the kitchenettes are stocked with healthy foods or that there’s an onsite gym available for use or walking paths on company grounds. 

Second, the “health” in “health and safety” seems to be based on a much more traditional, medical understanding of the term. That is, just like our healthcare system today (inclusive of health insurers, hospitals, and doctors) our interpretation of “health” is much more about catering to the sick versus helping to prevent disease, extend life, or enhance its overall quality. For example, again in the U.S., it’s common for colleagues to be incentivized with cash to provide personal health data to health insurers (weight, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, etc.) with the primary goal of assessing overall health risks and related costs to a company versus helping to prevent lifestyle health conditions or events for employees. 

This brings me to a fundamental question: where does wellness or wellbeing fall in ESG today? My assessment to date: it doesn’t. 

Workplace Wellness and Wellbeing

For simplicity’s sake, when it comes to the workplace, I define wellness as the individual lifestyle habits and behaviors that companies try to support with programs and facilities designed to positively impact the physical, mental, and emotional health of employees (usually where companies focus their well-intended efforts today). And I see wellbeing asthe desired outcome we all try to achieve, dependent upon both our habits and behaviors and overall state of health, as well as factors largely outside of employee control like company culture, diversity, and inclusiveness, or even the quality of physical workspaces (much less of a focus to date). Both are ultimately required to enable colleagues to thrive. 

In my experience, several motivating factors have inspired companies to consider offering wellness programs in the first place, including:

  • The rising costs of healthcare (i.e., companies believe that by offering wellness programs they will increase overall population health, therefore reducing the cost of healthcare over time)
  • A desire to compete for top talent (i.e., a total rewards and benefits package that includes a variety of wellness benefits such as a free gym membership or discounts on meditation apps with the hope that they will be appealing to future hires)
  • A desire to improve the amenities or design of a building (i.e., from air quality to lighting given the growing understanding of physical environments on human performance)  
  • A need to address absenteeism, reductions in productivity, and/or low morale (including present-day concerns around burnout or even attrition, all worsened of course, by the pandemic)

The reality is, only the most enlightened leaders are beginning to understand the relationship between a company’s operating culture and colleague wellbeing or the success of the wellness programs they offer today. While some have even hired chief wellness officers to oversee program design and delivery or chief medical officers to oversee “health & safety” (still from a dated, medical perspective of “health”) few to none have been empowered to consider both culture and programs all at once (the ideal role of a chief wellbeing officer, in my humble opinion).

In fact, millions of dollars are still wasted on wellness programs so leaders can “check the box” versus “check the pulse” of today’s unhealthy or unhappy work forces. And most do not see the connective tissue that could and should exist from caring for the wellness and wellbeing of people (individuals, leaders, colleagues, consumers) to the wellbeing of planet and community (ESG). It’s one of the reasons my company worked to define the concept of an Ecosystem of Wellbeing™ because, like it or not, it’s all connected. 

So, I believe it’s high time we look at this well world differently and, as luck would have it, I’m not alone in my thinking. 

A Little Step for Business Could Be a Big “W” for Mankind

At the start of this month, just as I was getting my thoughts here on paper, the International Well Building Institute released its “12 Competencies for Measuring Health & Wellbeing for Human & Social Capital.” They, too, believe it’s time for organizations to, “rethink the ways in which health and wellbeing strategies can help drive their organizational culture, strategy, and ESG reporting.” This is encouraging to both see and hear. Let’s hope this development is one of many that helps to change the dialogue, evolve archaic systems, and enable us to incentivize, implement, and measure the impact of health, wellness, and wellbeing much more holistically. 

Either way, it’s time that companies, communities and, frankly, anyone who has read this far, find a way to add a big, “W” to our ESG programs and equivalent frameworks. Whether you call it “Health & Wellness,” or “Health, Safety & Wellbeing,” or boldly give it a category all unto itself (Wellbeing, perhaps?), we should hold ourselves accountable to not just surviving but thriving in the workplace, which would mean another kind of “W” – a WIN – for us all.

*This article is an excerpt from Redefining the ABCs of ESG with Wellbeing in Mind.

About The Author
Mia Kyricos

Mia is a globally respected thought leader with 25-plus years of cultivating wellness, hospitality, lifestyle, and travel brands across 100-plus countries. As founder and president of Kyricos & Associates, a strategic advisory and referral firm, Mia provides brand strategy, business development, and operational insight enabling public and private entities to thrive in the $4.5 global wellness economy. Most recently, she was SVP & global head of wellbeing at Hyatt, setting a new hospitality industry standard as the leader and curator of the company’s global wellbeing strategy, spanning commercial health and wellness-related products, services, and partnerships, as well as colleague wellbeing worldwide. Prior to Hyatt, she was chief brand officer of SpaFinder Wellness, Inc., where she led the company’s brand evolution, positioning SpaFinder as the global authority on wellness providers and resources. Mia also served as vice president of EXOS, where she oversaw and expanded the workplace wellness start-up division operating on Fortune 500 corporate campuses. Prior to EXOS, she was director of global spa brands at Starwood Hotels & Resorts, where she led the creation of six international spa brands and managed the Starwood Spa Collection – a consortium of 60 wellness travel destinations across 26 countries. Named 2019’s Leading Woman in Wellness and Cornell University’s Alumna of the Year, Mia’s work and expertise has been featured in business and trade publications including The New York TimesLA TimesCNNSmart MoneyHotel BusinessTravel WeeklyLodgingReal SimpleMarket Watch, and more. She holds a master of management in Hospitality Administration (MMH) from Cornell University, and a BA in international relations from Wheaton College in Massachusetts. Mia has served the boards of the Global Wellness Summit and the University of California Irvine and currently sits on the advisory boards of Cornell University, Wellness for Cancer, and the Global Wellness Institute (GWI), a 501 (c)(3) non-profit educational foundation she helped found. 

www.kyricos.com