Sep 8 2011

Book Short: Wellness Redefined

Book Short: Wellness Redefined

Well Being: The 5 Essential Elements, by Tom Rath and Jim Harter from the Gallup organization, is a solid read and incredibly short. It’s one of those books that’s really a long article stretched and bound. But it goes beyond the basics of what I expected, which was something like “having healthy employees cuts down on absenteeism” and has a couple great elements of food for thought for leaders looking to build cutting edge and uber-productive organizations. It comes out of the same general body of research as four other very strong books I’ve written about over time — First, Break all the Rules, Now, Discover Your Strengths, 12: The Great Elements of Managing (book, review), and Go Put Your Strengths to Work (book, review).

The authors define well being as having five separate components:  career well being, social well being, physical well being, financial well being, and community well being. Ok, that makes sense, but the three most interesting points the book made from my perspective were:

  1. Well being isn’t just about one of these five elements – it’s about all five, and how they interact together, and how the workplace can support all of them
  2. Achieving long-term objectives around well being requires finding short-term incentives that drive the same behavior in more obvious and immediate ways, as most long-term well being drivers require short term sacrifice. So figure out how to make eating a salad better for you not just years from now but TODAY (you’ll have more energy after lunch than if you eat that cheeseburger), for example
  3. Financial well being isn’t something a lot of companies focus on, and maybe it should be. Particularly in our industry we hire knowledge workers and assume therefore that they’re smart and educated about everything…but maybe there are ways that the company can support financial well being that aren’t necessarily obvious

The book is full of stats from the underlying research, most of which show that most people are shockingly unhappy, and that most workplaces dont do enough to support employee wellness. The book also notes, as is the case with most things, that promoting well being among employees requires more than just setting up programs. Doing it right requires constant vigilance, measurement, and follow up. At Return Path, we do a bunch of programs along the lines suggested by the book (but can and should do more!), but we’ve never been rigorous with follow up. Good food for thought.

Note there is also a free whitepaper on the economics of well being that you can download here.  The white paper is ok…but not nearly as interesting as the book, and note that it does not substitute for the book.  Thanks to my colleague Cathy Hawley for this book!