By making wellness a priority and leading with compassion, modern HR leaders are improving employee well-being and boosting morale.
Chief executive officer. Chief intelligence officer. Chief human resources officer. But chief wellbeing officer? That’s one you’ve probably never heard before.
Whether or not you’ve met – or even heard of – a chief wellbeing officer, they exist. And these leaders are revolutionizing the employee experience to change work for good.
Jen Fisher, Chief Well-Being Officer at Deloitte US, created this role after experiencing the kind of burnout that spells disaster for businesses of all sizes and in every industry.
Fisher says she never wanted another employee to break down like her again – and so, the chief well-being officer was born.
Fisher strives to make business leaders + employees aware of the connection between employees’ health and high performance. To do this, she’s busting myths and changing beliefs about burnout at Deloitte employee by employee.
What is a Chief Wellbeing Officer: CWO definition
Chief Wellbeing Officers – also known as Chief Wellness Officers – are responsible for overall employee wellbeing. They oversee the creation and maintenance of a culture that promotes advocacy, openness, and support within their organizations.
Wellbeing officers strategize and collaborate with other leaders across the business to provide oversight and implement change for the betterment of the workforce.
Breaking burnout requires work-life balance and leadership: Enter the Chief Wellbeing Officer
“If your workforce is burned out, then you are sub-optimizing everything – not only about their health and caring about your workforce – but sub-optimizing everything related to your bottom line,” Fisher says.
So, why do so many workplaces encourage employees to work overnight or come to the office on weekends?
These practices are sometimes deeply embedded within a company’s culture. Employees have come to see behaviors that blur the work-life balance as indicators of their job performance and dedication.
HR leaders like Fisher say that a culture of overworking reflects a failing of the organization. Burnout isn’t a marker of success.
“We’re all responsible for setting boundaries in our personal life to protect our well-being,” Fisher says “It’s so fascinating to me that we lock up our homes, we lock up our cars, we lock up our stuff – but when it comes to boundaries for our own personal well-being, we just give it away. You know: just come in, take it, and rob me.”
At the core of every successful employee health strategy is the concept of the boundary. As chief well-being officer, Fisher encourages employees to create the boundaries and take the steps that enable them to be more productive and healthy.
If an employee is going to be more satisfied and productive after taking a 2 p.m. yoga break, they should. Even if it means they won’t be available for an hour.
Self-care at work is hugely beneficial – in an always-on world, it's more important than ever to practice the things that protect our emotional and mental health.
Employee well-being: Examples matter
For employees to feel comfortable setting boundaries and adopting healthy working behaviors, leaders need to encourage it.
During a recent LinkedIn Live discussion, Enrique Rubio, Founder of Hacking HR – a global network of HR leaders and practitioners – recalled a story about a CEO who told his CHRO that he had to present in a meeting from his bathroom.
The bathroom, the CEO said, was the only place where he could present on a reliable internet connection and without interruptions from his children. The CHRO encouraged him to admit this to the rest of the organization.
In the thick of the pandemic, that call was full of employees who were facing many of the same challenges and needed to hear that leaders were struggling, too.
“That’s the one that thing I’ve learned about being very open and authentic. You’re typically never alone in what you’re feeling and experiencing. Other people are, too – they just might be afraid to say it,” Fisher says.
A positive employee experience helps drive the success of a company, from both a financial and social point of view.
What every chief well-being officer wants to know
Fisher describes herself as a huge sleep advocate. She says when you ask employees a pointed question about the quality of their sleep, it opens a larger dialogue about their quality of life and work.
Often, employees don’t realize they’re hurtling toward burnout until it’s too late. If an employee has the chance to say that they haven’t slept well in three weeks, that may be the moment they realize an ongoing project or new task is too much – and can take the steps to change before they crash.
Businesses that don’t face employee overwork head-on are headed for disaster. Rubio recalled the parable about the goose that laid the golden eggs. The farmers, unable to wait for the goose to lay more eggs, slaughtered it to get to the value faster.
“They kill the source of wealth and the possibilities that were presented in the long term. It’s the same thing when we think about the concept of burnout at work. If you’re squeezing everything out of somebody, that will only go for so long. There will be a point where not only are you perhaps destroying someone’s life, but at the same time, organizationally, are not going to draw any more value out of someone,” Rubio says.
A company culture that encourages healthy workplace habits and boundaries can also provide the business with serious value. Consider the healthcare costs and unplanned time-off that come with an employee’s mental and emotional collapse.
For Fisher, it’s no surprise that a well workforce experiences lower rates of absenteeism and higher levels of satisfaction and productivity – after all, kindness matters – even if (or especially if) it’s being kind to yourself.
The cost of overworking employees is simply too great to ignore, and the chief well-being officer is exactly the leader that businesses need to face the growing challenge.