The Impossible Choice

worm s eye view shot of an airplane flying under blue sky

Should businesses invest in employee wellness and recovery, even at the cost of stakeholder returns? This choice is especially difficult for organizations that are suffering from employee burnout and high turnover, yet have suffered significant revenue declines and are barely surviving.

Most of the time, the answer I hear is “No, companies are not responsible and therefore should not invest.” However, I’ve heard another version of this line of reasoning: Are companies responsible for recent damage to their staff mental health especially through overworking them, burnout, and work-stress? And here I get a different answer “Yes they often are” or “They need to do better”. Why is that?

20 years ago this question would be perceived this question as non-sensical in North America. This is especially true in corporate cultures perceiving they employees as resources or assets. Yet 20 years go most companies were also not investing in corporate charity programs or diversity programs. We were so optimized to maximize profits and minimize expenses, our management practices didn’t have much space for carrying for their people. But with 77% reporting workplace burnout (Deloitte 2019) and 79% reporting a significant increase in work-related stress (APA 2021), companies & their managment practices, especially overworking, are absolutely having a negative impact on well-being of their employees. And there is of course a financial impact of employee burnout and stress in the workplace.

Would you rather invest proactively (preventing further damange) in employee well-being and thriving, or pay for in reactively and retro-actively (after damage was done) through staff turnover costs, loss of business knowledge, morale / motivation drop, and loss of productivity? Either way, you ARE paying for it. Yet impact of the two approaches is hugely different!

It’s interesting to note that many democratic European countries had and continue to have a much different approach to management and investing in their staff. Post-WWII and after the fall or communism in easter-European countries (especially the fall of Berlin wall), social responsibility became common in corporate cultures. Companies wanted to play a role in rebuilding societies, not just fill the stakeholders pockets. In other words…

… they dreamed a bigger dream!

Are companies responsible for [the costs of] improving the well-being of their employees? That’s fundamentally a wrong question. This is not a choice between the your balance sheet and teams mental health. That’s why this is an impossible choice. Both are dependent on each other.

The correct question is “Should my business invest in staff well-being to better support and advance my business outcomes?”

Helping your staff recover quickly post-covid is not an expense. This is a competitive investment. It’s a strategic opportunity not a financial trade-off.

If you are a transformation leader wrestling with this impossible choice… imagine you are the CEO of a large successful business in West Germany when the Berlin wall falls and the country is once more united and freed from communist oppression, in some cases families that haven’t seen each other for 50 years…

Seize this moment and dream a bigger dream!

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