Let me paint a scenario of contradictions. Most of us know that the leading cause of death in America is heart disease, caused by obesity, stress, and other factors related to a sedentary lifestyle. Yet we are sitting, working longer hours than ever before. ‘Progressive’ companies are exploring ways to build and scale cultures that free people from the tethers of a traditional office-based environment. Yet we are connected 24-hours a day, seven days a week, enabling us to work anytime, anywhere – and we do. We have watches that measure every step we take, access to healthcare through a video chat on our phones, and applications that can count every calorie we eat. Yet when it comes to health, the United States is in a downward spiral.
Now more than ever, how employers account for the whole-life wellbeing of their people has great relevance. Workforce leaders have an opportunity to combat the current realities, create a healthy working culture, and build a competitive hiring position – almost entirely by working to get back to the basics. And it starts with listening to the people in the organization.
What Your Employees Want
On the list of priorities for job seekers, 57% people say that benefits and perks are among the top considerations. In negotiations related to promotions and pay increases, 79% ask for new or additional benefits before more money. And for both of those groups, the most desirable benefits directly reflect a concern with health, wellness, and work-life balance.
Better health, dental, and vision insurance top the list, with 88% of people saying that consider this benefit when choosing a job. It’s not a surprising statistic. It impacts every adult (and the children they support), and most are duly concerned. Neither is it surprising to note that a close second place consideration is flexibility.
Over the past couple decades, the U.S. has been in the midst of a dangerous trend that can be compared to karoshi—death from overwork. The increasing volume of employees asking for greater flexibility is a good sign. We’re trying to find new ways to integrate and manage high-stress, high-hour jobs. Yet even as ‘progressive’ companies (like Buffer) with flexible hours, remote offices, and unlimited vacation days become more the norm, there’s a sense that work/life balance is a myth.
Progressive companies spend money on gym memberships to ensure that they’re employers have access to exercise. And in our state of constant connectivity, there should be no stigma attached to an individual who takes time between 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. to exercise. Yet every office has that co-worker who wakes up at 4:00 a.m. to get to the gym or get a run in before the start of the workday. (The contradictions are not all that surprising. We’re still in transition from the structured Second Wave organizational model.)
Most people lack the confidence to take advantage of the offerings – perhaps because it’s clear that the ‘investment’ in a flexible, remote, or even ‘nomadic’ structure is still something companies are testing. They’re weighing the long-term ROI on their bottom line and their people as separate considerations. Therein lies a challenge for leaders – 80% of employees report that they are willing to trade salary for more vacation time, more work-from-home options, and unlimited vacation time. Work-life balance is clearly important – and it needs to reflect an organizational mindset that values the whole life of their people. 
Preventative Maintenance for People
When I first entered the Marine Corps, my platoon spent every Monday maintaining vehicles and weapons. They called this activity “preventative maintenance.” It’s a simple concept that most people do, whether or not they label it as such. It’s just more formalized in the military. The general idea is that the more you take care of something, the less it will break down.
How is this different for humans?
The short answer is that it isn’t different at all. With all the advances in healthcare and monitoring devices, one fundamental truth holds true – we need to be aware of our day-to-day and overall wellness, and we need to conduct preventative maintenance so we can last longer.
With that reality in mind, in this era of evolving work environments, the question is how a manager or employer can help in the effort. And – perhaps more importantly, why should they?
Employees are Your Most Precious Resource
The answer is simple. Your employees are your most precious resource. Employers need to begin inculcating the concept of preventative maintenance into our work culture. This effort isn’t about ‘rewarding’ employees with Fitbits, smart watches, or expensive gym memberships. It’s about fundamentally changing the work culture and genuinely allowing for a work-life balance. We’ve written extensively about social contracts in the workforce and about how human-to-human (H2H) engagement is essential to the lasting success of an organization.
Employers who are listening to their people will hear their desire to do the things necessary to take care of themselves so that they can feel good, function well, and work to their best. All of these personal commitments take time and resources, but the payoff is potentially very high for the employer who supplies access to those vital human offerings.
The effort starts with remembering that your employees are people – just like you. Most of them desire to perform preventative maintenance. Most value professional and personal balance – just like you. Rather than focusing on the tactics of a more workforce-friendly organization, start by articulating your values and put the structures and allowances in place to accomplish that commitment. And then allow your people to feel valued by giving them the latitude and trust to work and function in the ways they can perform best as people and employees.
It’s time for managers and employers to change the work model by getting back to the basics – the needs of their people.
 CDC statistics