Wellbeing: A Bottom Line Issue for High Performing Organizations and for our Health Care System

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by Rick Ybarra

Ok, I’ll admit it. I read the Harvard Business Review. I am fascinated with business models, new concepts, innovations and the cutting edge in business science. I also see how these concepts and applications can easily transfer to our health care industry. Private businesses and markets are faced with multiple challenges; they seek new, innovative solutions to become (or maintain themselves) as high performing organizations. The health care profession is faced with the same types of challenges: delivering the highest quality services and fostering the new skill sets required to produce better health outcomes, greater patient satisfaction, and reduced cost. Business is applying new knowledge, technologies and principles to address their organizational concerns and we can learn some things from the private sector experience.

In an article posted in the May 2014 edition of the Harvard Business Review, IBM asked CEOs to identify the most important leadership traits needed today. Their answer: collaboration, communication, creativeness and flexibility. Not only does leadership require these skills; they are required from our workforce. Employees in today’s workplace need to be comfortable with change; learn as they go, and learn often from others’ experiences. Driving the need for these skills is the complexity of demands and challenges that organizations face and there is no better example than today’s health care system in transition. The aim is to provide the highest quality of services and foster an engaged and committed workforce to deliver those services.

Only recently are organizations recognizing the need to create an environment and culture in which these behaviors can thrive. “The most successful organizations are now turning their attention to employee wellbeing as a way to gain emotional, financial and competitive advantage,” notes Tom Rath, Gallup’s leader of workplace research and co-author of the bestselling book “Wellbeing.”

Wellbeing is systemic and holistic, integrating many dimensions, including the physical, cognitive and psychological needs of people. It’s also about building an organizational culture of wellbeing.

So how do you build a culture of wellbeing? CEO Jim Hackett of Steelcase states that in his experience the past 19 years, he has discovered that work is inherently a social endeavor, and that when you understand that the purpose and emotional health of high performing organizations centers around people who make up the organization, you can take performance to a much higher level. He concludes that creating places and spaces that provide for the wellbeing of people at work is critical for success. It’s that simple. And that powerful.

Not a surprise, right? We talk about fostering an organizational culture that promotes wellness and wellbeing. The time is now for action. We must not forget, first and foremost, that we are in the “people” and “relationship” business. No widgets being manufactured; it’s about the building of relationships and the delivery of the highest quality health and behavioral health services with a laser focus on people getting better. Yes, we have technologies or tools we use: psychopharmacology, assessment tools, evidenced-based practices, recovery orientation and the like, but people are the ones to put these tools into practice to help support persons with chronic physical health and behavioral health conditions. People helping people.

So I have no doubt you’ll be hearing and reading more about wellbeing as we venture down the path of systemic and organizational change in the new health care landscape. To achieve the Triple Aim, the people seeking health care will need the very best from those providing health care services, and employees delivering health care services will need the very best from leadership. Fostering these new skills will lead organizations to value the wellbeing of employees. Now that’s smart business and medicine!

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