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SuccessConnect 2018 - well-being at work isn't fluffy; it's the future we should be pushing for

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed September 14, 2018
We ignore the issue of well-being at work at our own peril. SuccessConnect 2018 brought this conversation into focus. Here's the questions I posed to SAP, and the plans for SuccessFactors' Work-Life solution.

SAP's Kristi Sanders at SuccessConnect '18

Some may find the topic of "well-being at work" a tad fluffy. I certainly don't. From what I can tell, the stats are on my side:

  • Organizations with highly effective health and productivity programs report 11% higher revenue per employee, 1.8 fewer days absent per employee per year, and 28% greater shareholder returns. (Buffett National Wellness Survey)
  • Of employers offering wellness programs, 67% reported increased employee satisfaction, 66% reported increased productivity, 63% reported increased financial sustainability and growth, and 50% reported decreased absenteeism. (IFEBP)

And how about this one?

How do we avoid paying lip service to well-being?

However, the focus on employee well-being poses new problems. Heading into my SuccessConnect meeting with Kristi Sanders, who is the Global VP, Well-Being at Work at SAP SuccessFactors, I had questions on my mind:

  • Are we in danger of lip service to the happy notion of well-being, while smart-phone-enabled employees continue to burn out due to international time zone meeting absurdities, and late night email chains?
  • Is the tech we use to measure well-being invasive to employees? Does this data end up invading their privacy and putting them under unwanted surveillance?
  • And what about gig economy workers and freelancers, who don't have one employer that can make judgement calls and give them proper breaks and recovery time?

Why SuccessFactors got serious about Well-Being at Work

Sanders was the perfect foil for my questions, given she is addressing these issues every day. She's a long time SAP employee who took on this role when SuccessFactors decided to formalize Well-Being at Work into programs and products last October (2017).

I've written extensively about SuccessFactors' commitment to diversity and Business Beyond Bias. But up until SuccessConnect '18, I didn't know much about the Wellness-at-Work program. Sanders brought me up to speed:

I'm really passionate about this topic, so that's why I was really excited about the role. I think SuccessFactors recognized that something had to change in the way that people were working.

We were uniquely positioned to be able to help support that, given our reach in organizations, and the way that we are supporting that from a human capital standpoint in HR, and even in the SAP world in general - knowing that we touch so many businesses.

So what needs to change?

When I think about forty years ago, in corporate America, people left their work at work. They couldn't take it home. Maybe, occasionally we got a phone call at home, but that was a dire emergency... Today, we know you can't leave it.

Sanders honed in on the danger of the corporate treadmill:

We also have a global economy now, so it is 24/7 as well. I think we have created habits in our companies that are not for the greater good of the employee. They're for the greater good of the organization.

To change this, we all have to step it up:

I think there is an employee responsibility as well as an organizational responsibility to start looking at this. Creating boundaries, helping give space to employees so they can do that, and then having leadership role model the right behaviors so that they recognize it's okay.

Once we have the collective will, new tech can help us. If employees trust their employers enough to share potentially sensitive data on their activities and health, that information, properly respected and in some cases anonymized, can form the basis of sustainable work styles.

That vision helped to spark the SuccessFactors Well-Being projects. In partnership with Thrive Global, SuccessFactors starting developing products like SAP SuccessFactors Work-Life. But they soon realized it wasn't just about dedicated products, but embedding this mission across HCM, wherever employee experience is impacted:

That's what is going to help achieve a better experience at work and in the end, have better well-being overall.

Employers who take well-being seriously will win

But if we're talking about creating boundaries, what about our always-connected work life? When I take my work home, those boundaries blur again.

I asked Sanders: if we give employers our virtual time on evenings or weekends, don't our employers owe us the flexibility to take our dog to the vet or apply for a bank loan during business hours? It seems like plenty of employers take the flexibility only when it serves their interests.

Absolutely. I think the companies that can offer that flexibility to their employees are going to be the winners in the end.

I sure hope so! Sanders also puts some of the responsibility on employees to set their own boundaries:

Then it's up to the employees to set the boundaries that don't make it a 24/7 job. I'm a perfect example of that. I work from home. I'm a remote worker. I fit in what I want to on a personal level, but that also gives me the flexibility then at night, if I want, to catch up on work, or if I need to take a break in the day to go do something. That's what keeps me at SAP.

Not all employers get it.

The worst is when we see companies right now that have the slew of well-being benefits but then, they're sending emails to their people at all hours. So you are like: “Okay, well, they're saying this is important, but they're doing this."

SAP wants to bring a better approach to their customers:

Our overall mission is to operationalize a culture of well-being and purpose for organizations. A result of that is the peak performance that we want individuals in organizations to realize.

We look at mind, body, connection, resources, and purpose. Those are our five individual pillars. Then when we think about organizational: do you have the right team structures in place? Do you have the company purpose aligned so that everybody understands it, and knows how to get behind it?

SAP's strategy here is not unlike their take on performance management I got into in the EY piece (Inside Ernst & Young's drive for a purposeful workplace). In other words - let's take advantage of monitoring tech to provide a feedback loop, one that allows for early (positive) interventions and better communication. Don't wait until a year-end debrief to discuss the problem:

It's a continuous feedback loop. It means the employee can say, “Hey - here are the things that I need help in." Knowing that I am working too much, these are things I can make them aware of through the technology that we've built.

On the other hand, it gives me as the employee, contact from Thrive Global that is allowing me to make those changes. Maybe it is losing ten pounds, maybe it's nutrition information. Maybe it's sleep issues.

The feedback loop goes both ways: the manager now has the data to move pro-actively.

It also allows the manager to do the same thing. Get that read of their people. Understand the sentiment of where they are. It also gives them recommendations and help.

Though the SuccessFactors Work-Life product is not part of the base SuccessFactors license, the flip side is that companies not running SuccessFactors can also purchase it. It's a cloud product that Sanders says "stands up very quickly." Looking ahead, she sees the analytics potential to predict behaviors that will impact future well-being, and intervene pro-actively.

My take - well-being requires grit, not platitudes

I'm not convinced that software can solve for well-being. But that's not what SuccessFactors is saying either. Yes, some of the views you hear on well-being at events are trite or preachy - particularly when it comes to celebrity keynotes.

The hard work comes when the stage lights dim. Sanders, her colleagues and partners seem to be taking this on with a real sense of mission. I liked that Sanders called out organizations to make well-being a real commitment, not a brochure.

I don't believe our bodies are built for international time zone phone shenanigans across all hours of the day or night. Sanders believes, and I agree, that data could help here by surfacing employees who are, for example, traveling a disproportionate amount in a given month or quarter.

Meeting for the sake of meeting takes on an even more troubling dimension when it thwarts sleep. Data can help to highlight a high meeting load for an employee, but excessive meetings are a culture problem also.

As for the gig economy worker, no easy answers there. I worry about teachers taking on extra part-time gigs to make ends meet. Who will look after the well-being of those beholden to multiple work masters? Sidenote: one thing I like best about millennials is that they don't take kindly to the corporate ruination of work/life balance. No better wake up call then young talent calling BS on you - or walking away.

It's too early to dig into customer use cases with SAP SuccessFactors Work-Life, but hopefully next year I'll be able to do that. I urge individuals not to wait for your employer to take these issues seriously. There is too much at stake.

I've been fortunate to have health crises that forced me to change my work/life approach - and yes, I do mean fortunate. I know others who hit a wall they couldn't come back from. Become an advocate for yourself before you hit that wall. Hopefully your employer will catch up - if not, time to find a better one.

End note: SAP has some free resources to check out, including a True Impact of Well-Being ebook, and, via their Thrive Global partnership, two "Are you thriving?" checkups, one for employers and one for employees.

Updated, 8:30am ET Saturday the 15th, with additional resource links and a few minor tweaks for reading clarity.

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