OK, so culture is kind of this umbrella term to describe an organization’s behaviors, meaning, purpose, values, and cues that many of us find difficult to define in a pinch. I find power in that, because I’m all about making my own meaning and if something as vital to human life as culture is difficult to define, that means we can use whatever definition suits our needs. In the case of creating healthier workspaces and homes, culture is ultimately what will make or break your wellness practice. Ultimately, we want employees or our family members to feel like a wellness practice is something that’s being done FOR them, not TO them.
For a while, I wondered why long-term wellness practice came fairly easy to me, knowing that I put a lot of time, money, and effort into my practice. It was only through learning about how much culture drives behavior that I began to understand why something that took such a high priority in my life felt easy: I had built a culture for myself that facilitated and supported my wellness practice. Culture is a lot more than our environment. You can have the prettiest office space or all the nutritious foods in your pantry, but without building and nurturing the culture, it’s unlikely to get long-term engagement among employees or families. How can we create cultures that drive healthier behaviors for the long-term? I ask this for our families, individuals, and the workplace.
Bottom line: If you aren’t willing to make significant cultural changes after an audit, slapping a wellness program into your life or the life of your business is meaningless and likely a waste of time and money.
Purpose + Values
Let’s look at it from the business perspective. Many employers love to remind me that the main purpose for their company is to make money and that’s why employees show up day in and day out. I think in the moment, they may fear that my focus on workplace health will be a distraction or even a detour from their bottom line. True, at a baseline level, we all need to make money and that’s why we commit 40+ hours a week at a job. But if money is the baseline reason for us to have jobs, it’s certainly not the only aspect of work that keeps us coming back and putting in the extra effort to succeed and connect. If that were the case, we’d all change jobs constantly and be pretty miserable at work. There are deeper levels of purpose for our jobs. We connect with each other at work. We form friendships and work together for purposes beyond just making money by sharing our individual talents and passions. This allows us to wrap in purpose well beyond our unifying need for financial gain. Identifying your company’s purpose, or even a family’s purpose, is step one to building a culture. By the way, you can do this at any stage and not just at the start of a business. Even start ups aren’t starting from scratch when it comes to culture.
Create a mission statement and get specific with your company’s or family’s purpose based on deep values. You know I love lists so have your population create both individual and group-lead value lists and then narrow in on the top 5 most mentioned values. For example, AirBnB’s biggest value is to be the best host. They apply it to every level within their organization, not just the homeowners that work with them. When a job candidate comes in to interview, instead of having them awkwardly wait out front, they take them into a special room made up just for them, with a handwritten sign saying “Welcome, _______.” If that isn’t a nice value-based touch, I don’t know what is. It’s the little things day after day that count and stick in your long-term wellness practice. Your wellness practice can be a part of that purpose, because working towards healthier, happier human beings is possible in any organization.
What are some activities or practices you can create connecting your company or household to core values and your greater purpose?
What you water is what will grow is such a true statement, and we know that appreciated employees tend to stick around much longer than unappreciated employees. In fact, it’s one of the biggest reasons companies lose good employees. Sadly, formal recognition is usually saved for sales teams with travel and monetary rewards for hitting certain goals throughout the year. Recognition needs to happen across your entire organization and can obviously look different based on however you want to design this. Same for family recognition! I have a good friend who recognized his child for consistently meeting 10,000 steps a day for 1 year with a huge reward of a trip to Disney World. Other family members got to be part of the trip of course and overall celebration of living in alignment with the family’s wellness purpose. At the company level, service teams often get overlooked so let’s consider the 2 types of recognition for all layers of your organization:
Formal – This recognition follows strict patterns and can happen quarterly, monthly, or annually. These can be specific to certain groups and usually include deeper rewards, such as bonuses, trips, etc.
Informal – This recognition can be unique to either a division or the whole organization. Items like jerseys, trophies, or plaques can be passed around for individuals or teams that express or meet goals adhering to the organization’s values and purpose. This can be someone who organized a team 5K or helped out at a local shelter over the weekend. The visible “tokens,” like a trophy or shirt, act as cues per below.
Cues are the symbols in our environment that remind us of our purpose and our values. They help connect us to the larger picture when getting lost in the smaller details of day to day life. These can be things like posted mission statements, photographs of team or family fitness outings, newsletters, books around the office or home, etc. Pieces of the informal recognition ideas above can also act as cues since they’re visible reminders of our commitment to living in a culture centered around a wellness practice. A few of my daily cues are my meal plan lists on my refrigerator and my smartphone’s reminders to hit my movement goals along with the push notifications I allowed from a fitness app so I can see what others in my community are doing to move that day.
Obviously, there are thousands of ways to evaluate and build your culture to align with your deeper purpose and core values. It starts with a cultural audit, truth telling, looking at behaviors and deciding which ones adhere to or hurt purpose. Lastly, it requires digging into the values you’re proud to show up for. Wellness is so much more than our diets and movement. Wellness is putting our humanity first, and the bottom line second, which–I believe–can infuse more energy and longevity into any organization.