Research indicates less than 3% of Americans are sufficiently active, eat a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight and abstain from smoking. A key factor in the ability to achieve one’s health goals is whether those goals are supported by the people they’re closest to—at home and at work. Generally, organizational employee wellness programs are only partially successful because they expect the individual to bear the full responsibility of changing their behavior rather than in conjunction with a supportive environment.
For the past 20 years, workplace health pioneer and thought leader Richard Safeer, M.D. has assessed cultures, trained leaders, and conducted research on the intersection of individual and organizational behavior. He currently serves as the Chief Medical Director of Employee Health and Well-Being for Johns Hopkins Medicine. He is a regular conference speaker on building a culture of health and well-being and has published numerous journal articles on the topic. His full bio is below.
In his upcoming, groundbreaking book available on January 19, 2023, titled, A Cure for the Common Company: A Well-Being Prescription for a Happier, Healthier, and More Resilient Workforce (Wiley),Dr. Safeer becomes the first author to provide a step-by-step roadmap for creating a well-being culture that integrates science with practical solutions as demonstrated by the numerous real stories from successful companies.
Dr. Richard Safeer Bio
For the past 20 years, workplace health pioneer and thought leader Richard Safeer, M.D. has assessed cultures, trained leaders, and conducted and explored research on the intersection of individual and organizational behavior.
Dr. Safeer currently serves as the Chief Medical Director of Employee Health and Well-Being for Johns Hopkins Medicine where he leads the Healthy at Hopkins employee health and well-being strategy. He is a regular conference speaker on the topic of building a culture of health and well-being and has published numerous journal articles on the topic. He teaches in the Department of Health, Behavior and Society at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He also taught the inaugural graduate course, ‘Organizational Health,’ at American University.
In January 2023, in response to Americans’ health challenges today and based on his experiences driving employee health and well-being strategies, with publisher Wiley, Dr. Safeer will release A Cure for the Common ComAll Business. No Boundaries.
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At the end of the day, every company wants to be a great place to work. But not every company realizes their path to be a great place to work is through supporting the health and well being of their workforce.Kyle Roed:
This is the rebel HR Podcast, the podcast where we talk to HR innovators about all things people leadership. If you're looking for places to find about new ways to think about the world of work, this is the podcast for you. Please subscribe my favorite podcast listening platform today. And leave us a review revelon HR rebels Welcome back. revolutes. Our listeners this is going to be a fun one. Today with us we have Richard severe AMD, he is the author of the recently released book titled a cure for the common company, a well being prescription for a happier, healthier and more resilient workforce. A groundbreaking book available now where books are sold. Welcome, Rich. Oh, thankRichard Safeer:
you very much, Kyle,Kyle Roed:
extremely excited for the conversation today. And you know, one of the things I really want to dig into is, is well being in the workplace. But before we get into that, I want to ask you the question that I asked almost every author, what motivated you to go through all of the pain and suffering that's involved in writing a book specifically about well being at work?Richard Safeer:
Yeah, I think pain and suffering is an accurate description. But you know, the good thing is, when you're going into it, you don't realize what you're about to endure. So if, if you're new, you probably wouldn't start. Well, Kyle, I've been in this space for about 25 years. And as I look toward the last chapter of my career, I was thinking that I've learned a lot along the way. And I'm seeing a lot of interest now. And a lot of well intentioned people, but I'm also seeing a lot of mistakes. And so I figured, hey, let me put this into a book form, because then people can look at it and read it when they want, they can put it down and pick it back up. And it'll be my way of almost like a capstone concluding my contribution to the community.Kyle Roed:
Fascinating. Yeah, I, I know a lot goes into it. But you know, I think it's also really interesting that you're thinking about it as a capstone. So you've been in the in the profession for a number of years. What do you want that? What do you want that capstone to be? What do you what do you want the world to take away from kind of your your legacy and the work that you've done in oralRichard Safeer:
Kyle, I hope that our leaders, our human resource colleagues and organizations at large, will shift their thinking, that well being is not only on the individual well being is an organization wide effort. And really, were most effective when well being is a team sport. I use the word Capstone. And that's the first time I've actually used it. And the conversations I've been having about my book now for some time. And it seems fitting, there's over 300 references in the book, I've done a lot of reading over my career. And I've also been an active practitioner, and a leader in this space, you know, sleeves rolled up, like I'm doing the work, I'm not just sitting in an office telling everybody else how it should be, I'm actually doing the work. And so yeah, my conclusion is, well, being is a team sport, and we all need to be in this together, we can't just give a benefit or a program to our employee and think it's all going to work out well.Kyle Roed:
Absolutely, you know, it's one of those things in my career, that it's in human resources, it's always kind of fallen in the HR camp, you know, you're supposed to, you're supposed to have a wellness program. And but, you know, from my perspective, you know, I'm, I'm not a practitioner, I'm certainly not an MD or even close to it. In fact, it's funny, you know, I was, I was thinking as you were responding, I remember early in my career. You know, one of my leaders said, you know, this isn't life or death. I mean, we can, we can just kind of make this decision to move on. But in your case, it actually is, you know, a little bit higher table stakes. And I don't know that I want those table stakes, but But all kidding aside, you know, workplace well being is one of those things that's received a lot of attention lately, but I still think that, myself included, we're being asked to do these programs, but we don't really understand what those need to look like. And so as you look at kind of the traditional wellness approach, what are we missing as it relates to the workplaceRichard Safeer:
So I do want to reflect on the life or death comment. And I know you know, at first blush, it is kind of funny. And however, it's true. Think about where we spend most of our waking hours it is in the workplace. And so we expect to be happy and healthy and well, and we expect to be in good shape. When we retire, we better make sure that the workplace is part of our health agenda. And in fact, Jeffrey Pfeffer wrote a whole book, dying for a paycheck, which really spells out how many people actually die from from their jobs. Okay, that was just a little aside. Kyle, your question about where we are missing out right now is really around the culture in the workplace, and how we collectively create the circumstances for which we go through the day. And we can either be working towards a healthier and well culture in the workplace, or we can let things just fall where they may. And if that's the case, we're all probably going to continue to have unhealthy habits during the day, and carry a lot of stress with us. And that's just going to end up resulting in more diagnoses, medicines and surgery.Kyle Roed:
Absolutely, you know, I think it's a really, it's an important concept. And it's one that honestly, it wasn't until, you know, probably a few years, a number of years into my career where I realized, wow, this is really, you know, this is really impacting people's personal health, you know, their attitude at work or, or their interactions with their co workers, or the amount of time that somebody would would be off because of, you know, serious health condition, or migraines or something, and, and how that actually can tie back into the workplace culture. But we're kind of afraid to admit that, right? You know, it's like, well, especially in HR, it's like, well, it's not really work related, you know, there's so much so much tied up into, like, what I would call like, protectionism like, well, it's not, it's not workplace, it's personal, blah, blah, blah, but the lines get blurred. Right. So what do we do to you know, what, what are some of the things that we need to be thinking about us as to, you know, the aspect of what does our company culture really mean to our individual employees, health circumstances?Richard Safeer:
Well, I do think that the definition of well being needs to be explored a little bit further, not just within our human resource community. And by the way, Kyle, I do report to the Chief Human Resource Officer. So I do consider myself in the human resource pyramid. Yes. So not only do we need to be exploring well being within our group, but leaders broadly need to know that it's not just about the eating the apple a day, and not just about taking a steps challenger, I think you refer to the Biggest Loser. Yeah, those are all fine and in good, yet there. They don't make up the majority of our day, the majority of our day, we're working and so is the work we're doing are the people we're interacting with? Are they giving us pleasure? Are they causing us frustration? Are we stress is causing us to go eat that the leftover cake in the break room? So there's really a whole plethora of different ways we need to see well being that go beyond healthy eating and movement.Kyle Roed:
Yeah, it's that's what wellness was, when I started, you know, it was like, Hey, we're doing this CCDC you can lose the most weight challenge, right? And what would happen is you'd have like, like one person that would just like starve themselves to win like the the apple, you know, iPad or whatever. And then or, or the other thing, you know, that we would we would do is you know, like biometric screening, right? And you can you do a physical, you get a couple, you know, whatever sort of incentive you give, and then check the box good wellness program done. But what's interesting is, in my seat, I get to see this health care costs still continue to go up, isn't it, you know, claims experience still still is creeping up the workforce is still aging at as Saint at the same clip. And I don't know that we're necessarily hitting the root cause. So so as we think about, you know, the work we do the people we interact with the culture that we facilitate in your research and experience, what are the companies doing that are successful in creating these these types of well being cultures?Richard Safeer:
You know, in the, in the process of researching the book, I came to a conclusion that companies that are deemed a great place to work. They are the companies that are putting in place most, if not all, of the well being culture building blocks that I outlined in my book, Kyle, there's six building blocks that I share that when put into place, create the conditions that make it easier to support everyone's health and well being. So would you mind if I share those six building blocks, please? Okay, so I'm going to give everyone a phrase, its plan for success. If you can remember the phrase plan for success, you'll remember the six building blocks. So the P and plan is for peer support, how we are influenced both for good and bad by our co workers. The second building block starts with the letter L. The LM plan is for leadership engagement. And certainly, leaders have been mentioned over and over about their role in employee health and well being. I specifically talk about leadership engagement because they have to do more than just say it's important and assign a budget. The third building block is norms. The N plan is for norms, norms are the expected behavior. Listen, if your whole team keeps looking at emails, when they get home after dinner, that's the norm. That's the expectation, guess what the new person they're going to start looking at their their cell phone. So norms greatly influence our behavior. Now, moving on to the word success. The first essence success is for social climate. social climate is how we feel amongst our team and across our organization. Do we feel included? Do we feel like we're part of the team? Do we trust people were around? Is there a high level of collaboration, the fifth building block is the two seasons success, those two C's Stanford culture connection points. Those are the nudges, the influences that help determine whether or not we're going to make a healthy choice, or an unhealthy choice. So Kyle, if you and I walk into a meeting, and our boss puts down a plate of doughnuts, guess what we're eating? We're eating doughnuts. So there's a whole dozen different culture connection points. And then the sixth and last building block. The last s in success is for shared values, companies have values. If the values align with employee health and well being everybody wins, the employees will be more likely to feel like they're cared for. And the company will be more profitable. There's a whole book on this. It's called value driven organization by Richard Barrett. So all of those building blocks, in fact, are supported by by research.Kyle Roed:
Absolutely, you know, I think it's, well, first of all, I love, you know, breaking these really hard to understand concepts down into smaller pieces to try to understand, but every single one of those, it's just makes, it makes so much sense. And, again, that the acronym was planned for success, if you want to go through the rest of them, you know, by the book, we'll put a link in the podcast notes, but you know, a couple of them, I want to maybe talk about a little bit because I think so often, in human resources, we think that we are kind of, you know, we're influencers, but maybe we don't have direct authority, right? Or, or it's, oh, those leaders, you know, it's, it's, you know, something that we don't have control over. But as I think about those, those factors, we do have a lot of control over that in, in our function, you know, things like leadership engagement, right? who really owns the expectations of what a leader does, you know, the social climate, making sure that we have defined and shared our values and that those values are ever present throughout our organization at all levels. You know, those? Those are I mean, I just, I think I just did, like literally wrote my job description. Right, but they all impact well being in such a big way.Richard Safeer:
Yeah. The challenge, though, is to is to help other leaders recognize that and to give them the skills to deliverKyle Roed:
Yeah. So So what I'm hearing is this isn't this isn't a check the box wellness initiative, this is a culture Building Initiative, am I on the right track here?Richard Safeer:
Absolutely. There's nothing to check here. And this is an ongoing effort to shape and maintain a healthy workplace culture. And it will support whatever healthy habit you're looking for. And it will also support positive emotions in the workplace. But HR can't do it alone. I know that I can't do it alone at Johns Hopkins, that's part of the reason why I wrote a cure for the common company, it was to not only help human resources, because how many folks in our field of human resources have ever been trained in this area, and to also help our managers and directors, vice presidents and the CEO, everybody can be doing the same thing. And the more leaders who do their part, the more likely you'll get to a good wellbeing culture.Kyle Roed:
Yeah, absolutely. I think it's, you know, it's so easy for us in in human resources and just in leadership in general to say, well, we need to do something for wellness. So we did this, and now we're done. Right? You know, a good job, we rolled out the program, my benefits broker has this great program, we bought this, there's this website thing that now people click in on, they take this assessment, congratulations, you know, mission accomplished. But it's so much broader than that. You mentioned something that I think is, is interesting that, you know, in the process of researching the book, there was a correlation between the kind of the Great Place to Work companies and well being as, as you were digging through that, and kind of understanding why there was a correlation. What surprised you in some of your research?Richard Safeer:
You know, what, what surprised me, I guess, was that I didn't make the connection. earlier. I look at the top 100 companies, let's say that Fortune magazine deems best places to work, and I look at great place to work as a reference. But it wasn't until I was really digging into these different building blocks and started to pull out examples from different companies. And because there's a lot of stories in my, my book, Kyle, that I came to keep coming back to the same thing. Oh, well, this company was listed in this great place to work list. And I'm thinking, Well, would you look at this, at the end of the day, every company wants to be a great place to work, but not every company realizes their path to be a great place to work, is through supporting the health and well being of their workforce?Kyle Roed:
Yeah, absolutely. I think it's a, that's a powerful way to think about it, because it's different than, you know, what, what we would typically think, you know, it's it's like, I don't know, the way I was thinking about it before this conversation is, well, if it's a, you know, if it's a good place to work, one of the nice ripple effects is a culture of well being, or, or, or, you know, that, you know, healthier, happier employees. But it's, if you're thinking about it in the context of, well, if we focus on being a culture of well being than inherently, it becomes a great place to work. That's it. You know, I think that's an interesting nuance I hadn't really thought about until, until this conversation. So give me an example of a you know, maybe a story that you found really impactful, that that can maybe exemplify how this this culture can can really impact somebody's well being at work?Richard Safeer:
Well, there's a lot so the, I'll just tell you, the first one that pops to my mind has to do with Cisco Systems. And they're a great place to work. I think they've been number one for two years in a row. But what struck me is that they do a lot of things to support the health and well being of their workforce. But what struck me is a very low tech solution for a high tech company. Right? We're talking Cisco, the center of the Silicon Valley, darling child. There's a story about employee resource groups that I came across. And you know, these employee resource groups are really to put together employees with similar backgrounds or similar life circumstances to support each other and And a, an employee who was returning to work after maternity leave decided, hey, I need to figure out how I'm going to balance this, I need to talk to other moms who've done the same. And so she put together this employee resource group that were for new moms. And what struck me about that Kyle is one, it's a low tech solution in a high tech company. Number two, she worked at a company that she felt comfortable enough to take the initiative to create the resource that she needs, which tells me that that company is receptive to new ideas, and that there's a high level of trust for her to bring up her own personal health and well being needs to her manager and whatever other organizational leaders that needed to be involved to help her formulate that employee resource group.Kyle Roed:
Yeah, it's it's, it's, that is fascinating. But it's indicative, right? It's it's telling of the culture of the company, and I was going back to your, your plan for success. Okay. Peer support, check. Yeah, leadership engagement check, because a leader would have to support them to do this norms, check. social climate check. Yeah, culture connection, points, check, shared values, check. Right. So it's like, oh, wow, okay, we checked, we did check the boxes, but in a really positive way.Richard Safeer:
That is true. I do say the more culture, I'm sorry, the more building blocks you can use in your strategies, the more likely you are to be successful.Kyle Roed:
Absolutely. Yeah. You know, I think it's really, it's really interesting. You know, there's, there's been this movement lately. Right? When I started my career, it was it was kind of coming to the forefront this, this, this movement of like employee empowerment, right? Which initially, I looked at this, and I'm like, Oh, this is just like lazy leadership, like, they're just like, they don't know what to do. So they're like, well, we empower you to figure out this problem, because I don't know what to do. gratulations. But what you just described in that story was, it was true employee empowerment, where there there was, you know, a, some sort of a need, clearly, you know, as a new parent, there's nothing. There's nothing more stressful in many cases in your life than dealing with a newborn. And how does that fit the workplace? Now, especially if you're a brand new parent, you've never had children before? It's a whole new world. And then how do you how do you build those social connections at work? So that you can find those, you know, kind of that that social support? Yep. Within a workplace and it you know, for me, it just sounds it's just like a healthy society. Right? Yeah, that's right. That's really what what's happened there. And yeah, amazing that Cisco supported that right?Richard Safeer:
Now, think about many companies are giving some type of maternity benefit. But it might just stop there. Or they come back to work. And maybe there's a culture connection point. So they created a breastfeeding room to give women space. So that would be a culture connection point, it makes it easier for the employee to engage in a healthy behavior. You mentioned the peer support, because getting other women together who are in the similar situation. Yeah, I mean, this goes beyond just checking the benefit box.Kyle Roed:
Absolutely. Yeah, I think that it's really powerful. I think the other thing I wanted to touch on really briefly is there's there's been a heavy emphasis on mental health in the workplace. And obviously, you know, people, people going through some of the turmoil of the last few years. Pick one, you know, pick your pick the turmoil, I mean, there's there's plenty. But it's interesting that now, it's it's been much more prevalent, at least in the conversation in the workplace. So as it relates to mental health in the workplace. So were there any, any organizations that that had, you know, a program that we that you felt was maybe innovative or indicative of kind of a culture of mental well being in the workplace?Richard Safeer:
Well, what I found was that there are many leaders who are starting to disclose their own personal mental health challenges, which is a great step in the right direction, because when leaders make themselves vulnerable, and sharing that you have a mental health problem is definitely up there on the list of vulnerabilities. It makes it easier for other leaders and employees to also come forward and say, Yeah, I've got a problem. I need help. And leaders who do that I applaud them. It's not easy, and it definitely makes it easier for others to take a step forward. Word. So Kyle, I wouldn't say that there's any particular company that stands out in the sense of this is the number one company in mental health. I will say that most of if not all, the companies who are great places to work are taking it seriously. But I would look at it. Beyond just addressing stress and addressing depression, I would look at the flip side of emotions, and that is about being happy. And there are some companies who are intentionally going forward to create a happier and more fun experience for their employees. So I believe it's zoom communications, that has a fun team. I think they're called the fun team. And their job is to create fun for the workforce. And then Bupa, which I believe is a benefit consultant, consulting company, they have their own well being strategy or well being logo or theme or name, excuse me, their name is smile, which is great. Because we know the Smiling is good for us. There you go. Look, you just chuckled and smile got green, and I feel better because I made you smile. So we're really seeing a much broader approach to mental health and it's refreshing.Kyle Roed:
Yeah, I really appreciate it. You know, it's one of those things again, it was it's always kind of been under the surface. But now it's really kind of being called out and we are being called out as human resources to help. But I think really powerful, really powerful product. I love that like, like, let's focus on being happy having, like, that sounds a lot better than a lot of the stuff I deal with in my day. So I'm gonna write a note, I'm gonna put that on my to do list let's, let's figure out how to make people smile. I like it.Richard Safeer:
You know, here's, here's a way to make you smile. Because if you look at the cover of my book, you'll see there are three smiley faces. That is not an accident.Kyle Roed:
I love it. I love it. Well, rich, it's just been an absolute pleasure. We are going to shift gears, we're gonna go into the rebel HR flash round. Are you ready? Yeah, I'm ready. All right, here we go. Question number one. Where does HR need to rebellRichard Safeer:
HR needs to stop thinking about well being as an individual endeavor and start thinking about well being as a team sport.Kyle Roed:
Absolutely. There's, there's so much truth in that. And I'm a strong believer that we set the tone. And we set the tone for our other leaders as well. So even if we're not in direct authority, we are heavy, heavy influencers. And I believe we own the culture. So you know, thinking differently about well being first. Yeah. And then the positive ripples that come from that. It just makes so much sense. Question number two, who should we be listening to?Richard Safeer:
In addition to me, Kyle, I assume that you want me to expand the audience here, I would seriously consider hiring someone with a health promotion degree. These folks are trained in the discussion that we're talking about today, you know, we're very quick to sign a contract with a vendor to help us. And yet, you know, they're their job is to sell you stuff, have someone on your side, have someone on your team who's trained to know how to use your dollars. And frankly, much of what I shared in a cure for the common company is free. It's just a matter of having the understanding, and maybe even this health promotion person on your team to lead you through there.Kyle Roed:
I love that approach. Here's the thing that I love about that. I guarantee you that a lot of people listening to this are going well, there's no way I have a budget for that. But here's the thing, I guarantee you that if you hire somebody with that background, there are other things that they can do in your organization. And they're gonna think a whole lot differently than you do. Unless you have a health promotion degree. Right. But they're like, Yeah, I guarantee that there are there are practical applications of their background that you can leverage for other areas of your business. So don't get too narrow minded and say, We can't do this. Think a little bit differently about asking how can we do this? And how can we get this diversity of thought into our organization?Richard Safeer:
Yeah, Kyle, you know, one of the dangers about employee health and well being is that everyone, you know, has their own experiences. So they think like, oh, well, you know, I run a marathon every quarter of the year. So, you know, I'll take care of this. I know how to be healthy. It's just human behaviors is a little bit more complicated than our own experiences.Kyle Roed:
Yeah. Well, to get personal, you know, it's a great example of, you know, I I was that person, you know, training for an Ironman do triathlons, you know, like physically extremely healthy. But guess what, that's not great for mental health, burnout, stress management, you know, it's like you just burning the candle at both ends, you don't get any sleep. You know, it's like, and I had to get to a point of near burnout before I figured that out. And thankfully, you know, had had some support, you know, in my personal life to help get myself through that. But it's, yeah, it is a different journey for everybody. And, and it's, it's much deeper than how heavy are you? How many apples do you eat? And how much water do you drink? Right? Yeah. Well,Richard Safeer:
I'm glad you found a better path.Kyle Roed:
Yeah, absolutely. And to anybody out there that thinks there's a stigma with therapy, it works. So check it out. And it's easier than ever to to get into it. So that's my personal pitch for the day. Last question, how can our listeners connect with you and get their hands on the book.Richard Safeer:
The book is sold wherever books are bought. So it's out there. And I'd love to see you on LinkedIn. If you would like to get training in this area, there is a website well being culture, I'm sorry, it's creating a wellbeing culture.com And you can get SHRM credits if you go through that online training.Kyle Roed:
Perfect. Love those free credits. The book again is titled a cure for the common company, a well being prescription for a happier, healthier and more resilient workforce. Rich, it's been an absolute pleasure. I sincerely appreciate you taking the time, energy and focus to put this book together. You're gonna be helping a lot of people so thanks for sharing this with our listeners today.Richard Safeer:
Thanks, Carl. I that's the goal is to help a lot of people around the world because most people are working.Kyle Roed:
Absolutely. Absolutely. Thanks again rich take care. All right. That does it for the rebel HR podcast. Big thank you to our guests. Follow us on Facebook at rebel HR podcast, Twitter, at rebel HR guy, or see our website at rebel human resources.com. The views and opinions expressed by rebel HR podcast are those the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any of the organizations that we represent. No animals were harmed during the filming of this podcast. Maybe