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Enhancing workplace productivity and mitigating disability through a culture of wellbeing

May 29, 2015

Whether formally recognized or not, workplace disability takes a major toll on family and community life, personal wellbeing, and productivity and profits. It frequently takes the form of absenteeism, presenteeism, or workplace distress, and it is very pervasive in the workplace. Often, it is associated with a behavioral health condition, such as depression, anxiety, or substance use. One’s work is exceptionally important to personal identity. Hence, it is critical that we devise ways to address these workplace disability issues.

On May 27 and 28, workplace disability became the subject of an important, forward-looking Summit held at the illustrious Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia. The Productivity Summit: Improving Behavioral Health and Well-being in the Workplace was hosted by Pacific Resources and Sedgwick Claims Management Services, two national entities that address workplace disability, in collaboration with the Carter Center Mental Health Program. More than 40 experts from large corporations, ranging from Ford to Prudential to Glaxo Smith Kline, together with applied researchers and program implementers, came together in a novel dialogue to characterize how workplace productivity can be improved and workplace disability mitigated.

Participants quickly agreed that both organization wide and employee specific strategies will be necessary. Broad consensus was also reached that the approach should be strength-based, and build upon nascent and growing national awareness of the importance of a culture of wellbeing in communities, corporations, and care settings.

Fostering a culture of wellbeing is very important to improve employee health. The World Health Organization defines health as a complete state of physical, mental, and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease. In its essence, the culture of wellbeing is strength-based and focused on the key domains of life. Employees with strong wellbeing will be healthy employees.

At the corporate level, the theme will be development of a company-wide strategy that will pervade all components of the organization. This strategy will improve employee wellbeing through both short-term and long-term initiatives that, over time, will alter the culture of the entire company in the direction of a strength-based approach to wellbeing and health.

For employees who currently are healthy, person-level efforts will need to focus on maintaining and improving health and wellbeing. For employees who currently are ill, distressed, or stressed, person-level efforts will need to focus on restoring health and wellbeing.

In all efforts, accents will include elimination of stigma around behavioral health, strength-based versus deficit-based concepts and interventions, openness and learning, and key partnerships with community organizations. Further, best-practices will be shared among corporations in a learning community to facilitate the transformation for all participating companies.

A very lively dialogue was held to formulate this approach and to outline next steps. The discussion was energized by some excellent examples of companies that already have embraced the concept of a culture of wellbeing. Notable are the outstanding efforts of Glaxo Smith Kline and Johnson and Johnson.

A moment’s reflection will assure you that development of a culture of wellbeing is very “cutting edge”, whether in a corporation, a community, or a care setting. Our hats are off to John Bartlett from the Carter Center Mental Health Program, Patricia Purdy from Pacific Resources, Kimberly George from Sedgewick, and Ray Fabuis from HealthNEXT, for outstanding vision, courage, and leadership in opening the door to a culture of wellbeing in corporations. With great anticipation, we await next steps.

In future commentaries, I will provide updates on this very important work. We all can benefit from the results.

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