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Building Healthy Workplaces .… Building Learning Organizations

HR professionals have really come of age in most organizations. I find young people often daring to do things which we could only imagine. There is no dearth of talent, ideas and dash. But when it comes to putting a strategy to build a healthy workplace we find the same bright lot harried with what to do and what not do. Probably since the concept of Wellness has yet to mature, or it is still a ‘nice’ and not ‘need’ to have fare. Whatever the reasons are I thought I would write a piece that helps.
As we go about ‘prompting’ and ‘promoting’ wellness in organizations the distilled knowledge that we as an organization have acquired over these years is that “Building Healthy Workplaces” is about building learning organizations. And most of what is missing in most organizations  wanting to build healthy workplaces* is Peter Senge’s “Fifth Discipline”. Systems Thinking the fifth and the last discipline is what is most needed to bring about enduring changes in a workplace to make it sustainably healthy.
You already know that a learning organization is one which learns to innovate constantly by paying attention to all the five ‘component technologies’ – Personal Mastery, Mental Models, Shared Vision, Team Learning & Systems Thinking’. These disciplines are never mastered; the best organizations practice them continuously.
So how……..you might ask………. do these practices manifest specifically to make a workplace healthy? Let me attempt to answer.
Personal Mastery refers to the individual’s ability to clarify and deepen his vision on his self image as a healthy individual and achieve high levels of proficiency in pursuing this vision. This would mean offering opportunities to employees to acquire the right kind of knowledge, skills, and attitudes. A resident wellness coach, a nutritionist on call, a gym in the basement are some of things which help employees build Personal Mastery. But remember we all learn differently so one method of learning isn’t enough. So if you want to have people sit right (ergonomics) or move more a workshop or one session from an ergonomist is not going to help. You may need to put posters, run mystery audits, drive challenges to get the impact through to a large number of people.
Mental Models are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures of models that influence how we understand the concept of ‘wellness’ and how we take action. Organizations need strong empowering models for people to build the correct attitude to being healthy. With the glut of information often promoted by selfish commercial interests organizations need to make a conscious choice to either build or borrow models which are agnostic to the commercial interests of any wellness product or services provider in the market
No organization becomes great without goals, values, and missions that become shared throughout the organization.  Building Shared Vision is about having common pictures of the future. This fosters genuine commitment and enrollment rather than compliance. Does this not explain the common peeve that HR folks have about getting no participation in (well intended but often irrelevant) wellness initiatives that they take? It pays to build a vivid vision about what it means to be a healthy individual in a healthy workplace. In fact have your employees brainstorm and articulate a shared vision about your workplace being healthy – then promote it mad till imagining oneself doing healthy stuff seems normal.
Team Learning – this is all about the team being more successful than each individual on his own. Needless to say in areas like Personal Wellness social learning is most effective. However Team learning is not restricted to just individuals but also about  groups learning from one another. Its therefore a good idea for the HR team to sit with a representative team of the staff, resident wellness experts (if you look you will find people who are genuinely committed to wellness on a personal level) wellness partners and brainstorm on what could be done to achieve a wider and deeper impact with your wellness initiatives.
Now the fifth and the most imperative is Systems Thinking – this fifth discipline enables an organization to see patterns and learn from these to either reinforce initiatives or make changes. What does this mean? It would mean that as an organization you view the bouquet of initiatives with a lens which sees it as a whole. Imagine having a gym facility and keeping a vending machine outside it which dispenses cola and chips! It means having a Step Challenge and then giving donuts to the winner. It doesn’t add up – does it?
So when targets are achieved and a celebration is to happen will you still sponsor an eating drinking frenzy for your team? You see what I mean?!

In a nutshell… while you are using Peter Senge’s methods to work on making your organization more efficient and effective use the same fundamentals to build a healthy workplace too.

* The World Health Organization defines a healthy workplace as one where employees and managers collaborate to protect the safety, health, and well-being of all employees in the workplace. 

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