How Google, Facebook employees get a brain boost

Emotional health and well-being, concepts once considered the realm of psychotherapy, have become business mantras that even large corporations are taking seriously. From tech giants like Google, Twitter and Facebook to "traditional" health insurance companies like Aetna, employees are being introduced to concepts like resilience, character strengths and meditation through their workplaces more than ever before. And for good reason.

On the face of it, the realm of emotional health, well-being and happiness may seem soft, vague or downright meaningless to business executives. It's only when we take a look at the mounting scientific evidence to the measurable benefits it offers, that we can appreciate the huge potential it holds in the workplace.

Nixon Peabody’s Washington, DC office
Source: Eric Laignel
Nixon Peabody’s Washington, DC office

Regardless of the type of business your company engages in, a working environment that's conducive to better emotional health is good for your bottom line. Here's why:

1) Healthcare costs go down

A topic of increasing concern, healthcare costs have been rising rapidly in recent years. Promotion of well-being in the workforce has been identified as one of the most cost-effective routes to reining it in:

With 1 in 5 Americans experiencing a mental illness in any given year (at a $140 billion annual cost), the need for preventive measures that can boost mental resilience is at an all-time high. There's evidence that practices such as meditation and positive psychology exercises—which build the skills of emotional fitness—can prevent these conditions from appearing and help treat them when and if they occur.

The implications of better emotional health do not amount to neck-and-up benefits alone: Numerous studies have shown that people with high levels of well-being enjoy many physical health benefits as well. This includes better sleep, reduced levels of pain, an improved immune system, better cardiovascular function and overall increased lifespan.

Furthermore, medical-behavioral integration of care (e.g: providing emotional assistance to people suffering from chronic illness) can save up to $48 billion annually, according to a report from Milliman.

2) Productivity goes up

The notion that happier employees are more productive may sound straightforward, and indeed has been validated by the research: well-being and a strong sense of purpose have been shown to drive higher productivity, better problem solving, collaboration with others and even increased creativity.

But are there ways a workplace could directly tie employees' well-being to increased productivity?

In a study conducted by Adam Grant and a team of researchers, they tested the effect of having call center workers interact with scholarship students who were the recipients of the school's fundraising largess so they could experience the impact of their work firsthand.

The result? Those short interactions drove weekly fundraising amounts more than 2.5 times higher. Promoting well-being can therefore be achieved through means that are organic to how your business operates, as opposed to extrinsic activities that may miss important synergies with your goals.

3) Staff turnover goes down

Perhaps not surprisingly, well-being has also been shown to improve the stability of your company's workforce: higher levels of well-being were found to moderate the relation between job satisfaction and job separation, meaning that low job satisfaction was correlated with less job separation when well-being was high.

A key ingredient in well-being – meaning and purpose – is especially important for maintaining a stable workforce, as a large-scale study of 32,000 employees by Towers Watson showed. Employees who find meaning in their jobs were more than three times as likely to stay with the organization—the highest single impact of any variable in their survey.

4) It encourages better business decisions

Another important aspect of meaning and purpose that can impact business decisions actually flows in the opposite direction: management teams who track their team's sense of meaning and purpose at work can use it not only as a predictor of productivity, but as a sign of approval or disapproval of the direction the organization is headed towards. Business leaders may well strive to achieve a vision only few of their staff can grasp, but a team that feels strongly they are rowing in the wrong direction rarely wins the race.

5) Profitability goes up.

Perhaps the ultimate question regarding well-being and the workplace is whether cultivating a more positive workplace drives actual business results, and indeed, growth and profitability.

Well, you guessed it—multiple studies that analyzed the effects of a positive working environment and employee engagement confirm that the impact of creating a culture of well-being in the organization does improve business outcomes, from customer satisfaction to growth and profitability.

Over the last decade, in areas such as physical health and nutrition, we've already seen the integration of businesses evolve on the entire range from helping people make healthy lifestyle choices (e.g. subsidizing gym memberships for the workforce) to full-fledged medical coverage. We are only now embarking on the equivalent journey in the emotional health space—and it looks to be an exciting and transformative one.

Commentary by Tomer Ben-Kiki, co-founder and CEO of Happify, an a website and app that offers science based activities and games for emotional well-being, stress reduction and resilience. Follow him on Twitter @TomerBenKiki.

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