Better to develop a healthy culture rather than a culture of health

What’s the different between a culture of health and a healthy culture? This is not hair-splitting. Both concepts use the same words – culture, health – but how these words are put together has big implications for employee wellbeing and organizational performance.

A growing number of companies in Canada and the US are reframing their employee health and productivity goals in terms of creating a culture of health. According the July 12th issue of Benefits Canada, a culture of health “encourages employees to be healthy, minimize risk factors and choose appropriate health services.” In short, employers want a healthier workforce and lower health benefit costs – which have always been the business rationale for wellness programs. What’s different now is that the word culture ramps up the responsibility of employees to become fully aware of program options and health plan costs, using this information to make better health-related decisions. Which is fine as far as program cost-effectiveness goes, but it fails to address how corporate culture can help or hinder wellbeing and job performance.

Taking an organizational view of culture is more powerful because it gets at all the ways the shared values and beliefs in an organization contribute to not only employee health, but also support higher levels of performance.

A healthy culture will have higher strategic impact than a culture of health. First, the goals of improved individual wellbeing will be enabled through a shared understanding of the importance of each individual taking responsibility for their overall mental and physical health.

Second, the values that define a healthy culture help everyone to see how healthy employees are a pre-requisite for business success. And third, a healthy culture fosters a commitment from management to ensure that employees have the tools, resources and supports they need to be well and fully productive in their jobs.

Together, these three features of a healthy culture go beyond the popular wellness initiatives found in most large companies. Healthy culture thinking leads to actions by management that will giving employees meaningful input on their work arrangements, job design, and career development – key drivers of wellbeing and performance.

So think carefully about language use. Consider the employee communication and engagement implications of a healthy culture versus a culture of health. And draw your own conclusions about how a healthy culture can benefit your organization.