Shared values: The Next Step in Corporate Wellness

Walk the talk of shared values, from the C-suite to the factory floor

By Dee Edington and Deborah McKeever Sep 10, 2014

Despite recent growth in the stock market, an insidious process is taking hold in corporate America that should worry shareholders: Companies are having trouble retaining their top talent. Employees increasingly expect to feel important on the job, a complex desire that encompasses much more than “total compensation.” Employers must adapt by enacting a shared values approach that ensures employees feel vital, engaged, impactful and productive.

Businesses that want to thrive, rather than simply survive, must attract, retain and develop talent. But they’re finding that harder and harder to do. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that 2.5 million Americans voluntarily left their jobs in May 2014, up from 2.2 million in May 2013. Of the 18 percent of workers who recently told CareerBuilder they’re dissatisfied at work, 65 percent said they don’t feel valued by their company.

Empowered, valued and Supported

Further research suggests that when employees don’t feel valued, they tend to become more stressed and less in control, resulting in emotional exhaustion and an increased desire to leave the company.

The conflict boils down to a corporate version of the chicken-egg paradox. Do successful companies breed valued employees, or do valued employees breed successful companies? The latter philosophy was embodied in the early 20thcentury, when Henry Ford suggested that companies would be successful when employees were successful.

But sometime between 1913 and 2014, that view shifted, and companies began to focus their values nearly exclusively on shareholders, assuming that corporate success must come before—and, at times, even at the expense of—employees’ fulfillment.

Today’s workers—raised in a culture that values meaning and purpose as much as if not more than financial success, and empowered by an improving job market—are pushing back. Employees want a sense that they’re doing something significant with their work, and to feel that their employers care about them as people more than cogs in the machine.​


Workers want to feel that their employers

care about them as people—rather than

viewing them as cogs in the machine.


If employees do not feel empowered, valued or supported, they will underperform or simply leave their current company in search of these goals elsewhere. The Millennial generation—those currently ages 18 to 34—is an ambitious and purposeful one. The Kauffman Foundation reports that 54 percent of Millennials want to start their own business someday.

A Credible Vision

While financial terms are still important, other employer-initiated cultural and environmental policies and programs also carry tremendous weight in employees’ decision to stay or go. For example, RAND Health reports that 92 percent of employers with 200 or more employees reported offering workplace wellness programs in 2009. Most encouraged specific behavioral changes, such as exercising more, reducing smoking and losing weight.

Other research has shown that such programs can lead to improvements in diet, physical activity, smoking, alcohol use, stress, physiological markers and health care costs.

The concept makes sense for companies because healthy, happy employees are more productive and cost less to insure. Yet RAND also found that employee participation remains limited; typically less than 20 percent of eligible employees participate in wellness interventions.

Why are current wellness programs falling short? In our experience working with leading companies over many decades, the majority of companies neglect to develop a unifying and credible vision that elevates wellness programs from simple perks into part of a broader corporate mission that emphasizes employee health and success.

Sharing a Commitment

“Wellness” is not just healthier behaviors, clinical values and medical costs. Today’s employees frankly expect more, even when they can’t clearly articulate it. If they don’t feel valued, employees will leave or, perhaps even worse, remain and give less than they can. This in turn leads the “chicken” of low expectations at work to further negatively impact the “egg” of corporate earnings and competitiveness.

A clearly articulated and honored “shared values” approach, in which management, shareholders and employees have a common vision that includes personally and corporately aligned goals, is the cornerstone of the true and sustainable “health” of a company and its employees. When leadership actions, corporate policies and work environment all communicate the value of the employee and their talents, individuals and companies not only survive but also thrive.

In the end, companies are most valuable when they prioritize employees’ needs over shareholders’ needs. They do so by casting a compelling vision, and articulating and walking the talk of shared values from the C-suite to the factory floor.

Recruitment and retention efforts without passion and performance won’t create U.S. companies or organizations that are globally competitive. Success for employees, employers and shareholders begins with ensuring that employees are truly “vital”—enthusiastic, engaged and committed because they know and feel that what they do is important and valued.

Dee Edington, Ph.D., is the founder of the business consultancy Edington Associates and the author of Zero Trends: Health as a Serious Economic Strategy (Health Management Research Center, 2013). Deborah McKeever is president and COO of EHE International, a global health and lifestyle management firm. ​


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