Work Smarter//

A Harvard Initiative to Innovate Corporate Health

Why companies are taking a holistic approach to understanding workforce well-being — and how it impacts the bottom line.

RedPixel/Shutterstock
RedPixel/Shutterstock

What does it mean to have a flourishing workforce and why does it matter? The Sustainability and Health Initiative for NetPositive Enterprise (SHINE) at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health is helping answer these very questions through applied research inside companies.  

The SHINE Well-being Survey collects real time information directly from employees across the globe and across the value chain — from supply chain factory workers through to the C-suite.

To date, over 20,000 employees and workers across the globe have taken the survey as a result of the alliances SHINE has formed with some of the world’s most recognizable brands — including Aetna, Johnson & Johnson, Kohler Co., Levi Strauss & Co., Owens Corning and Target.

With this cache of data, SHINE is paving the way for companies to understand and consider how the work environment and life experience affects flourishing inside and outside of work.   The survey measures physical health, emotional health, purpose, character strengths, social connectedness, and financial security, as well as assessing how caring the work climate is perceived to be.  SHINE is linking these measures with performance metrics to strengthen the business case for leaders — that the state of well-being of the workforce does have an effect on business outcomes.

The full view of experience paints a holistic picture of well-being outcomes and a window into understanding root causes, empowering organizations with the data corporate leaders need to determine which changes in their cultures and systems are necessary to create a thriving employee population.

According to Laura Kohler, SVP HR, Stewardship and Sustainability at Kohler Co.:

“The insights we gained from the SHINE Well-being Survey were instrumental in developing the updated well-being pillars our organization will focus on going forward, which include Meaning & Purpose, Physical, Mental/Emotional, and Financial Health.  We worked closely with the SHINE team at Harvard to identify areas of relative strength, by location and associate group. This work helps us better understand the practices leading to our results, which are being shared across our organization. The impact these programs will have on the overall well-being of our associates is promising, as we continue to evolve our culture and focus on well-being at Kohler.”  

Some of SHINE’s latest general findings across employee populations include:

  • Job control, supervisor support and coworker support are the strongest predictors of workers’ well-being
  • Trust, respect and fairness, along with work-life balance and capability of dealing with stressful and challenging situations, are stronger predictors of well-being than the physical work environment
  • Job control, supervisor support, coworker support and trust are among the strongest predictors of business outcomes
  • Well-being indicators are stronger predictors of business outcomes than simple physical health indicators

As part of the initiative’s mission, SHINE aims to make its Well-being Survey a universal tool and to create standardized and validated health metrics that companies can use to get an understanding of the state of health and well-being in their organizations.   

To this end, SHINE is putting its Well-being Survey on the blockchain as part of a recent award from the U.S. Department of State. This collaboration between SHINE, Levi Strauss & Co., New America, and ConSensys will allow for well-being data to be collected through the SHINE survey on the blockchain and consequently tracked and measured anonymously and securely. “Leveraging this new technology for the evaluation of the human condition is an exciting innovation with broad potential for positive impact on well-being worldwide,” says Dr. Eileen McNeely, director of the SHINE program and a professor in the Environmental Health Department at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Companies are realizing that cutting healthcare costs and creating wellness programs to incentivize employees to take care of themselves are steps in the right direction. However, a radical shift in the state of workforce well-being will require a more integrated, holistic, and culture-oriented approach to doing business. SHINE’s Well-being Survey is creating proof-points for this radical change to take shape.  Learn more here.

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