“The Hare and the Tortoise” is an age-old fable that we all know. But when was the last time you stopped to think about how its lesson applies to modern life?
If you haven’t given it much thought, you may be wondering what a tale like this has to do with you, your employees, the benefits your company offers, and well-being at work. Well, this fable helps explain the importance of balance, mindfulness, and the messages you share with your population.
Help Your People Achieve Balance
Although the hare is quick, he stops midway through the race to take a nap. This break ultimately costs him the race. Like the hare losing the race, employee burnout costs companies an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion in health-care spending every year. And while some employers still view employee burnout as an individual problem, it’s been scientifically proven to be an organizational one. Perhaps the hare was suffering from a lack of clarity in his role, something that can lead to burnout. Maybe he thought his job was to run the fastest; he didn’t realize his duty was far less taxing to achieve.
For the number nerds among us, the Arctic hare can run up to 37 mph. At 0.13 to 0.3 mph, the tortoise can’t run at all. It doesn’t matter that the hare is many times faster. All the hare needed to do to win was move a hair faster than the tortoise. And if he’d understood that, perhaps the race would have had a different outcome.
Similarly, your employees need clear expectations on what your company needs to win. Instead of rushing headlong into the race, encourage your employees to take the time they need to be successful. One way to achieve this is through mindfulness. Mindfulness is a great way to help your employees avoid speeding toward burnout. It’s been proven to decrease burnout and improve well-being in even the most stressed employees.
Review How Your Company Defines Success
In companies with high-achieving, competitive employees, the narrative is often about pushing, stretching, or growing toward bigger goals. Most companies think they want their employees to be the hare—the fastest ones in the race—and so their communications reflect that desire and are designed to motivate employees to work that way. But if your company wants to reduce employee stress, improve employee health, and avoid the high cost of burnout, your messages may need revising.
Instead of a move-as-fast-as-you-can message filled with urgency and the pressure of deadlines, consider one that provides support and a gentle nudge such as “take the time you need to succeed” and “ask for help, if needed, to get the job finished on time.” This type of framing is positive and encouraging, and it avoids contributing to the amount of anxiety felt by those on the receiving end. If it’s not an emergency, make sure your messaging isn’t making it feel like one.
Encourage Well-Being in Your Population
In addition to reviewing how your company defines success, you can help employees achieve balance by pointing them to the right benefits. Communicating about these benefits consistently and often is key to increasing participation and getting new behaviors to stick.
- Encourage leaders to model balance. Many times, people are resistant to making changes that can lead to healthier habits because they think those changes are in conflict with what the organization wants, or they worry that they’ll be viewed as less capable if they prioritize their health. Show your people that you’re serious about their health and well-being by getting leadership on board. Creating a message or video from the CEO sharing how he or she prioritizes self-care can be a powerful tool. Then take it one step further by educating local leaders and people managers about the behavior you want to see and by providing talking points that help them direct employees to the right resources for their physical and mental health needs.
- Reduce worry and anxiety by keeping employees in the loop. Instead of letting employees write their own stories about what’s going on behind the scenes, keep them connected with regular company updates. These can be as simple as, “Hi there, just checking in. Nothing has changed today; everything is the same as it was yesterday.” And that’s it. A message like that, although it contains no news, can be reassuring and nip anxiety in the bud. It gives employees permission to dismiss their worries and focus on what matters.
- Promote benefits, resources, and policies that help your people manage stress. If you regularly communicate with employees via a monthly email or weekly update, make sure you’re including information about how they can take a breather. Promoting benefits such as online mental health counseling, paid time off, virtual fitness classes, well-being resources, and the latest information about family leave policies can keep your people informed and put them at ease. Supporting employee well-being can lead to positive behavior change in the workplace and at home, too. Encourage meditation, yoga, and other stress-reducing activities to reduce the fight-or-flight reaction that triggers anxiety and that dreaded “emergency, emergency” feeling. Improved well-being means your people will be more ready to take in the moment, come up with creative solutions, and achieve better health outcomes.
- Make meditation part of your company’s culture. The race is long. To win, you need to set realistic expectations. Encourage employees to slow down and be mindful about their responsibilities by establishing practices that encourage meditation. Many CEOs practice meditation and mindfulness—including our own! At Segal Benz, we take a minute to breathe, focus, and center ourselves at the start of each weekly team meeting. It’s a short amount of time, but it makes a big impact. It normalizes mindfulness and encourages us to be aware of how we’re feeling and what we’re bringing to the meeting. We’re also encouraged to use resources like Wise@Work, an app that provides focused, guided meditation on topics such as starting your day right or handling feelings of being overwhelmed.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Instead of encouraging employees to be the hare, inspire them to be the tortoise. Too often, we’re so caught up in trying to be, or expecting others to be, the hare that we forget it’s the tortoise who actually wins the race. The tortoise takes his time, gets it right, and is at peace. Doesn’t that sound like the balance that we should all strive to achieve?
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