A Healthy Workplace Culture is Key to Success in a Crazy, Digital, “VUCA” World

The digital age is exciting: It is gripping businesses to deliver new and thrilling innovations at a fast pace.

Whether new cutting-edge solutions for customers or personalized gamification for employee engagement, the digital transformation is resulting in far-reaching dynamic changes at all levels of society.

However, underneath this exciting and unparalleled shift lies the “VUCA” world. Once a military acronym, it has been adopted by the business world, which is increasingly characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. This highly dynamic, rapidly changing, sometimes confusing world can pose challenges to how we work.

But let’s not be threatened by the scary-sounding VUCA! It is not the enemy; in fact, it is a friendly reminder to keep a healthy distance, understand what really matters in the big picture of strategy, vision, and purpose, and to embrace change — while at the same time being a little nudge of confidence.

Culture of Care and Harming

I read with interest an insightful piece on Forbes, “If Culture Comes First, Performance Will Follow,”  in which it stated that organizations with an engaged culture have 30 percent higher customer satisfaction levels and 15 percent greater employee productivity. There are many studies in this area, and it always comes down to culture being the No. 1 factor to influence performance.

In a time of constant change in the VUCA world, both organizations and employees need to hone their agility skills in order to thrive and succeed. Organizations must question the status quo, be brave to leave old thinking patterns behind, and be eager to find new answers to new questions. This new approach, with its unprecedented speed and information can bring increasingly mental burdens for employees — for instance, daily dealings with unmanageable complexity, conflicting objectives and compatibility problems, not to mention individuals’ own feelings of anxiety, loss of control, and the perceived need to be available 24/7.

It is clear that it is primarily the culture of an organization — including the leadership culture — that fosters the factors that both promote and harm employee well-being. Therefore, shaping digital transformation for success requires an employee-centric culture based on mutual respect, encouragement, and support.

Think about it on a personal level: those feel-good work days seem to have that magic spark when we are bursting with more energy and everything seems possible, then there are those days when even the smallest request, or unexpected task, can spark off a personal derail of monumental proportions.

An Employer’s Responsibility?

Is it an employer’s responsibility? In short, yes. Employee experience, the fulfillment of need, expectation, and demand, determines engagement and turnover, motivation, and the extra mile. It is no longer enough to offer a healthy option in the cafeteria! Caring about the well-being of your workforce is not just a matter of social responsibility, it has become a business imperative.

Employers must provide an environment and culture in which people can show up as their true selves, have their needs met in the increasingly blurring border of work and private life, and have access to lifestyle choices. Why? Because — back to the point — it is the workplace that fosters the culture that can both promote and harm health.

It is in our human nature to give it our best and feel valued in an organization, so employers have the opportunity to capture the potential of individuals and teams through a high value-add culture of health and well-being.

Future of Successful Corporate Health and Well-Being Programs?

Forget the widespread but obsolete and narrow concept of “health.” More than offering gym memberships and free water, employers must extend the concept, as clearly outlined by the World Health Organization’s definition that health is “complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease.”

As an example, Deloitte shows in its Workplace Mental Health & Well-Being report that it is essential to look far beyond physical health at the workplace: 84 percent of employees have experienced physical, psychological, or behavioral symptoms of poor mental health where work was a contributing factor.

Having understood that, corporate health and well-being programs need to reach beyond health scans and gym memberships or reimbursements to take on a holistic approach. It is about designing a performance-enhancing strategy to lead the organization to stronger future success, integrating personal and organizational health.

In order for SAP to reach its strategic goals, we also need people to run at their best. SAP CEO Bill McDermott has said: “Now more than ever it’s critical to foster a happy, healthy company. When people can come to work in a place that supports a healthy and sustainable lifestyle — a place where they can be their authentic selves — there is no stopping SAP.”

How Can Companies Set Themselves Up for Success?

1. Get Leaders on Board
Ensure leaders understand health and well-being in the context of the workplace by demonstrating clear connection between a healthy culture and business performance. For instance, a McKinsey study found that the healthiest companies generated up to three times higher returns to shareholders. Encourage leaders to become role models because organizational culture and behaviors start at the top. Simply – embed well-being into the business strategy.

2. Measure and Assess
Conduct employee surveys to measure needs, engagement and satisfaction. Continuously evaluate and reassess that you are hitting the mark on your employee experience and expectations. Prove that results matter and leaders feel responsible that things change to the better.

3. Ensure offerings are relevant, simple and consumable
No scatter-gun approach! Take action according to your findings in the survey. Tailor them to your target groups. Integrate future work skills focus topics like empathy, problem-solving, and emotional intelligence to create a foundation for your employees to thrive and innovate in a digital world.

4. Integrate healthy and purpose-driven leadership into your regular learning curricula
Enable your leaders to understand their people’s needs by sharing personal stress-satisfaction scores.* Empower your leaders to support their employees to develop healthy distance and other skills necessary to deal with the VUCA complexities.

5. Increase awareness
A great program is only a great program if people know about it and sign up! Deliver personalized offerings which serve the needs of your employees while being scalable. Design a communications and marketing plan that will attract people to your program.

Have I Mentioned Measurement?

You can only manage what you can measure, so measurement is key to success. Besides assessing engagement, trust and confidence, from its employee surveys, SAP generates its Business Health Culture Index (BHCI), which is comprised of questions regarding leadership culture, a feeling of belonging, the ability to cope with stress, and work-life balance, as well as the subjective state of health. This figure is then used to calculate the impact on business results. From the 2017 results, it was calculated an increase of one percentage point corresponds to an increase in profits of €85 to 95 million.

With this step, the seemingly “soft” topic of well-being has clearly entered the world of documentable, predictable connections to business success. As such, targeted control and development are worth it in every respect.

Good News: It Doesn’t Require a Huge Effort

Make sure you are in touch with your employees by conducting employee surveys and supporting leaders to become role models of health and well-being. Together, we can turn “occupational health” into an end-to-end proactive business-imperative health management and talent management program.

If you’re interested in the evolving future of the digitalized and personalized approach we take within SAP to balance business and people needs in real time, check out the Well-Being at Work page.


Dr. Natalie Lotzmann is the chief medical officer and head of Global Health & Well-Being at SAP. Connect on LinkedIn | Twitter.

*The Stress-Satisfaction Scorecard is a management tool for leaders to utilize in their 1:1 meetings with employees. The tool helps managers and employees assess how stressed employees are in their current work situation and how satisfied they are with the work they do; and then to identify action to (re)gain balance for the employee.