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The importance of a Chief Wellness Officer in the workplace

| Oct. 4, 2022

After an exceptionally tough time in the industry, wellness at work has never been more critical. We were eager to delve into this topic and the role of the average Chief Wellness Officer in the workplace. To find out what this entails, we approached some of our global partners to get their insight into the role and its importance. We met with Steven B. McKinney, Kestria South Korea; Celine Chabee, Kestria Canada; Mathias Friedrichs, Kestria Germany and Michelle Bedford-Shaw, Kestria South Africa, to discuss the scope and benefits.

What is the role of a Chief Wellness Officer in the workplace from your point of view, and what skills does the role require?

Steven B. McKinney

President, Kestria South Korea

'It's times like these we take stock of who we are and what we have become compared with who we want to be. A comprehensive look at the well-being of our colleagues and associates in the workplace is necessary. Scanning our organization's hybrid workplace strategy, compensation strategy, and fringe benefits plans is no longer enough.

It is crucial to consider the organization's overall health to compete now and in the future. This organization's wellness checkup requires a grasp of our organization's professional, financial, physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Many studies have proven that healthy, happy, and fully engaged employees are more productive. More productive employees equate directly to the profitability of the company. To achieve these results, we need a CWO. 

Culture is one of the first things we review with my multinational company clients. It used to be that people ignored corporate culture. But in recent years, many companies have provided cross-cultural training to their expatriate employees when assigned to a different country and new culture.'

Celine Chabee

Partner, Kestria Canada & USA:

'CWOs are tasked with creating an enterprise-wide culture of wellness. To do this in a complex, hierarchical or cross-functional environment requires a blend of medical expertise, strategic and visionary thinking skills and an exceptional leader with excellent listening skills, strong empathy and sensitivity to others.

Wellness is not just a one-size-fits-all solution to be implemented with a mix of gym discounts, yoga classes, mindfulness training and social activities. All these things are helpful but must be addressed systematically and linked to the company’s DNA and be part of a real vision within a changing society. This type of position must be associated with at least a 3-to-5-year plan to avoid pulling the plug too quickly and losing any associated credibility and attractiveness.

Integrating Wellbeing AND Firm Performance: The CWO is responsible for creating and maintaining a system-wide culture of well-being by working to develop and maintain this culture and ethos. This means integrating each employee's professional, personal, physical, and even financial well-being and embedding this into the larger business strategy.

Employee wellbeing has typically been the province of the overstretched HR team, a department that desperately wants to do more but often finds itself constricted by time and workload. HR teams have a great deal to offer when it comes to transforming workplace culture, and the ideal future setup would be CHROs (Chief HR Officers) and CWOs working in unison.

A CWO can drive existing services further, leverage and open the door to other services, spur meaningful innovation, and provide an evidence-based approach to meet wellness needs.'

Mathias Friedrichs

Managing Director, Kestria Germany:

'The role of the Chief Wellness Officer is to create a healthy work environment and culture. Well-being is one of the critical requirements of employees these days – they expect employers to care for their employees and to provide a work environment and company culture that support the employees' health and positive attitude. Companies not interested in their employees' well-being risk losing their key people. 

The skills of a chief wellness officer are to understand the factors which influence the well-being of employees and to understand what motivates the employees. Companies want to reduce burn-out and increase employee retention – well-being is essential to retention. Chief wellness officers need to know and understand the employees of a company – expectations, attitudes, behaviours, goals etc.'

Michelle Bedford-Shaw

Executive Consultant, Kestria South Africa & USA:

'The role of the Chief Wellness or Chief Wellbeing Officer is growing in popularity as more countries and companies take stock of the impact of burnout, mental health challenges and employee attrition in a stressed and fractured global workforce. 

At a macro level, the role is responsible for wellness advocacy, looking after mental, physical and emotional wellbeing across all levels and functions in a corporate environment. At a micro level, the incumbent would promote, amongst other things, exercise, health screenings and counselling in a work context or make these available as an employee benefit.

The challenges are rife, chief among them designing programs that suit all teams. What suits a millennial may be inappropriate for an end-of-career executive, and there are different ways to implement strategies to ensure maximum uptake.

So, in addition to being the creative strategist that proposes and designs one-off wellness events or allocates a budget for mental health interventions, the Chief Wellness Officer needs to ensure seamless implementation and sustained employee engagement, with holistic and long-term solutions being the key to true wellness.'

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