Tom Rath: Creating Health, Well-being, and Sustainable Performance

For better or worse, we spend a significant portion of our lives at work--a reality that could contribute to shortening our lives--says Tom Rath, opening speaker of i4cp’s 2014 Conference.

Rath spoke about the importance of creating a culture of health and well-being (which is not just about making sure everyone is happy or even limited to physical health and wellness) and suggested that leaders need to rethink the impact of cultures that reward, celebrate and even mythologize overwork and lack of work/life balance--such as the manager who sends emails at 1 a.m. and then is back at it at 5 a.m.

Rath’s stance is that meaningful change throughout society requires mobilization and that this can most effectively be achieved by leveraging the power of the social network--and what’s a bigger social network than the workplace? Large employers have the capacity to effect change, and this starts with leaders who are committed to modeling positive behavior. There are plenty of reasons (supported by research) to do this, not the least of which is the fact that the relationship between employee health and well-being and business performance is rarely at odds; building a culture in which this is valued is a huge competitive advantage to recruitment, retention and performance.

Rath says that all too often organizations approach change initiatives as massive transformations, but effecting change can start small, with intentional choices, positive modeling on the part of leaders and influencers, and genuine concern for and investment in the well-being of employees. This isn’t about getting everyone to fill out a health risk assessment form--it’s about raising awareness of the linkages between employee well-being and engagement and productivity.

“If the primary focus of a health initiative is built around risk and heath risk assessments, it’s about as far away from a social network conversation that you can get,” Rath said. So how do you get an organization to talk about health and energy and well-being and performance? It needs to be talked about one team at a time, but first, says Rath, we have to figure out how to make health and well-being a performance conversation at the executive level. And, yes, as always, leaders must blaze the trail.

Lorrie Lykins
Lorrie is i4cp's Vice President of Research. A thought leader, speaker, and researcher on the topic of gender equity, Lorrie has decades of experience in human capital research. Lorrie’s work has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and other renowned publications.