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Communication for Healthy, High Performing Work Cultures

Updated: Dec 7, 2020

By Matthew Dussome, National Client Relationship Coordinator, Wellness Works Canada

Health and performance strategies have received widespread support from researchers, wellness practitioners, and participating organizations for improving employee well-being, engagement, attendance, and productivity. For these strategies to result in significant and long-lasting benefits, it is of the utmost importance that they are developed by the individuals involved and tailored to specifically address their needs. To ensure that a health and performance strategy leads to its intended positive outcomes, specific and mindful communication must be at the forefront of its implementation. Communication is central not only for informing and engaging employees, but for shaping an organization’s culture in its entirety.


Prioritize Two-Way Communication

Effective two-way communication is a foundational element of a healthy, high-performing work culture. In simple terms, it is the exchange of information between (at least) two parties that results in a common understanding. While this may seem rudimentary or trivial, the importance of two-way communication should never be overlooked, especially considering how stressful and fast-paced life can be. For successful two-way communication, focus on delivering messages that your desired listener(s) can clearly understand and be sure to listen closely to their response. Not only will this help to get your points across, but it will indicate to your co-workers that their thoughts and opinions matter and that they are valued. These simple, but powerful steps can lead to improved employee satisfaction, productivity, and organizational unity.


Some practical strategies that can foster two-way communication include:

  • Have employee-led organizational meetings to address issues, find solutions, and even challenge current processes

  • Introduce suggestion boxes. Make sure all input is considered. Share with your co-workers which suggestions will be implemented and the reasons for them.

  • Conclude meetings with a debrief (Example questions: Did everyone get a chance to speak up? Is everyone clear on next steps?)


Establish an Environment of Trust

According to a 2019 article, a commonality that many healthy, high-performing organizations share is a culture built on trust. When working people genuinely believe they are respected and safe in their workplace, this can enhance their focus and confidence for completing their tasks. Cultures where trust is prevalent often have high levels of productivity, engagement, and creativity.


To have a successful health and performance strategy, authentic trust is necessary. As health and wellness is a personal matter, employees may find it uncomfortable to disclose such sensitive information with their co-workers and supervisors. Therefore, an environment of trust must be prevalent in your workplace for employees to feel comfortable sharing their current health and well-being.


Some viable ways to build trust in the workplace include:


Understanding and Addressing Employees’ Needs

To develop a successful health and performance strategy, it is critical to determine how health and wellness are currently viewed, communicated, and practiced in your organization. Using two-way communication, start conversations with your co-workers to understand their perspectives.


Some discussion points to consider include:

  • Are health and wellness related subjects discussed openly and often by staff members? If so, are they talked about in a positive manner?

  • What health and performance related issues are employees currently dealing with (e.g. stress, high workload)? What can be done to alleviate these struggles?

  • What health and wellness activities do employees already participate in? How can their current interests be supported and encouraged by the organization?


After developing an awareness of your staff members’ current views, struggles, and interests, use this information to shape your health and performance strategy. Introducing initiatives that are tailored to employees’ current needs and preferences is a central determinant in motivating employees to become involved.


Keep Messaging Simple, but Consistent

A common stressor for many working people is being exposed to an overabundance of information on a regular basis. This can contribute to exhaustion and decreased overall employee health. Employers and supervisors must be cognizant of this reality and aim to simplify how they communicate their health and performance strategies. This could include a weekly announcement, a few brief check-in meetings throughout the week, and a monthly newsletter of upcoming wellness events. Whatever strategies are chosen, they should occur consistently to ensure employees continue to be informed and included.


Utilize Formal and Informal Communication

In an organizational context, it is recommended that a combination of formal and informal communication approaches is used for effectively engaging employees and dispersing relevant information. Both forms of communication have power when used with intention. Formal communication (e.g. business meetings) is important for establishing clarity, structure, and a uniform message. This approach is often useful for those in leadership or supervisory positions to use their authority or expertise as a basis for providing insightful direction to other employees.


Informal communication should also be integrated within an organization. According to research studies, informal workplace discussions often create a relaxed atmosphere and can ease tensions that may arise during formalized occasions (e.g. official meetings in a conference room). In these circumstances, dialogues can appear more sincere and personable to co-workers, which will likely encourage greater interest and involvement. Additionally, having these conversations in the organization’s common areas will reinforce these feelings.


Recruit Wellness Ambassadors

Enlisting employees to become wellness champions or ambassadors in the workplace (either in a formal or informal position) is crucial for communicating health and wellness in the workplace and generating positive engagement among their co-workers. Similar to the previous section, employees often respond more positively to health-related conversations with their peers than they do to their organization’s messaging as they appear more genuine and supportive. This also allows the organization’s health and performance initiatives to be dispersed directly to staff members.


Give Incentives for Employee Participation

Introducing incentives and prizes can be a powerful strategy for motivating employees to partake in health and performance programs. This also could be an opportunity for employees to build rapport with each other, develop meaningful social connections, and have fun together at work. However, it is important to be mindful about when to use incentives, as certain employees may have unequal advantages that can increase their likelihood of winning.


Measure the Outcomes, Listen Closely, Make Improvements

To determine if your communication strategies are effectively engaging employees and resulting in positive health and performance related outcomes, it is critical to measure and evaluate them on a continuous basis. While reviewing program participation rates is a useful measure for evaluating success, consulting with employees directly is likely the best method for understanding the impact of the chosen communication strategies (and the health and performance programs themselves). Use the information and insights gathered to shape future wellness and communication directives to maximize employee well-being and organizational performance.


Summary

Health and performance initiatives are vital for every organization’s success. By practicing communication strategies that are intentional, respectful, and suitable for your workplace, this lays the groundwork for a prosperous company.


Best Practices

  • Practice two-way communication- be clear and direct with your messages, listen intently and empathically.

  • Know your employees and your organizational culture, tailor your strategies to meet their current needs and interests.

  • Keep communication choices simple, but consistent. Use both formal and informal communication for engaging employees.

  • Provide employees with opportunities to share their thoughts and opinions openly. Acknowledge their perspectives and work to accommodate them when possible.

  • Model trustworthiness through your words and actions.

  • Utilize peer influence for positive change by recruiting wellness ambassadors.

  • Measure the outcomes of your communication strategies and your health and performance strategy. Consult with employees to understand if they are benefiting from the programs and how they could be improved. Make alterations with this information in mind.


Further Resources

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