Long before antibiotics and stethoscopes, holistic practitioners acknowledged the importance of emotional and spiritual wellbeing in achieving optimal health. In today’s stress-fueled world, we often turn to medicine not for prevention but for cures. As people return to medicine’s holistic roots to answer questions modern medicine has been unable to answer, what can businesses learn from holistic practices while supporting employee wellbeing? Is a holistic approach to corporate governance the antidote?
Learning From Past Mistakes
Enron remains the largest corporate scandal in US history. Undesirable practices had infected the corporation, eventually leading to its demise amid calls for stronger corporate governance. The scandal exposed that various elements of the corporate system were not functioning together in a complementary fashion. In fact, the weaknesses or limited effectiveness of each element undermined the others 1. The Enron scandal coupled with the Great Recession shone a spotlight on the failings of existing corporate governance measures 2.
Plato once said, “The part can never be well unless the whole is well”. Thus, holistic corporate governance too is the delicate balance of its individual parts—sociological, ethical and behavioral. These individual parts must be perfectly balanced to support the whole (in this case, the corporation); however, as we’ve seen in the past, traditional corporate governance and its focus on and prioritization of shareholder wealth may leave businesses susceptible to collapse.
The concept of holistic governance was introduced by the British scholar Perri in 1997 3. Holistic corporate governance does not simply focus on how a company prioritizes and shifts responsibilities between shareholders and stakeholders, it also takes into account the wellbeing of its employees, their enthusiasm and happiness, flexibility, work/life balance, engagement and sense of responsibility. Providing proper incentives and wellness programs to increase the sum of the corporation’s parts is just one key to unlocking success for both businesses and employees.
Employee Wellbeing & Engagement
The average person spends 90,000 hours at work over the course of their lifetime, so it seems only fair to suggest that workplace wellbeing is an important component of an individual’s health and wellness 4. Instead of looking at revenue to determine the health of a company, holistic governance looks at corporate wellbeing 5.
“The key reason you want to be focused on your employees' wellness and well-being is engagement.”
says Karen Williams, chief product officer at workforce management software company Halogen Software. “A 'well' organization has 'well' employees. Focusing on well-being has a significant impact on your employees, and that leads to better business outcomes for your company.” 6
One survey found that when employee turnover rates increased from 12% to 22%, their productivity dropped by 40% and the corporation’s financial performance dropped by 26%. Companies with happier employees also reported 81% higher customer satisfaction and 50% lower churn rates than their competitors with lower employee engagement 7. In other words, happier employees mean higher profits and greater customer satisfaction.
Take for example Delta Airlines: 87% of Delta’s employees say it’s a great place to work compared to the 59% of employees at typical US-based companies 8.
“Personal wellness is a key ingredient in the success of Delta's employee-centric culture,” said Vickie Strickland, Director of Health Strategy & Resources for Delta Air Lines. “It's an investment not only in the future of Delta, but in every Delta person and their families.” 8
Air travel has been one of the hardest hit industries during the global pandemic. Delta Air Lines reported a $12.4 billion loss for 2020 9. Although it managed to avoid involuntary furloughs, it was achievable only because more than 40,000 employees opted for unpaid leave at the company’s urging and 18,000 employees took buyouts or early retirement, cutting wage and benefits spending by $1 billion 10.
The airline hopes that its past and ongoing efforts will be further rewarded with loyalty and rapid recruitment when it is able to re-employ staff.
In contrast, not all companies emphasize stakeholder wellbeing over the bottom line. In October 2020, Walmart’s CEO Doug McMillion declared that businesses “should not just serve shareholders” but focus instead on the stakeholders, which “are the heart our business”. Despite this declaration, Walmart gave more than $10 billion USD to investors during the pandemic while laying off 1,200 corporate employees 11.
So, while large companies may be preaching the principles of a holistic governance, not all are practicing them. Giving shareholders precedence over stakeholders has negative effects for corporate morale in the long-term: Walmart reports a 92%-94% employee turnover rate, in stark contrast to Delta Air Line’s 2% 12.
Holistic Wellbeing: The Future?
Just as people have returned to holistic medicine to prevent and treat diseases that modern medicine alone can’t address, a holistic approach to corporate government could provide a resolution to problems that traditional corporate governance has failed to manage successfully.
The “wellness” of a corporation may be contingent on a holistic governance that supports employee wellness programs in the very broadest sense, but companies like Delta have only just begun to reap the benefits. Technology and new-age corporations should place emphasis on employee wellbeing as an ingredient to company success. In future, setting clear-cut and definable guidelines and targets to measure employee wellbeing will be a key step to creating a holistically well workforce. They are key indicators for the strength and resilience of the employees and their health and happiness and hence of the company itself!
Stephanie Andrews is a brand copywriter and traveling freelance journalist writing about wellness, culture and food across the Americas, Europe and the Middle East. With a background in neuroscience, she’s written for and worked within the medical, defense and biotech industries. She’s also a SAG-AFTRA stuntwoman for the film industry.
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