From the Experts: Why Vitality?

We’ve all heard about the importance of wellbeing and mental health over the last few years, particularly during the pandemic. There are thousands of studies that show the need for organizations to put employees first. However, vitality is a word heard less often.

According to Meriam-Webster, vitality is a lively or energetic quality. Another definition is the power or ability of something to continue to live, be successful, etc. Simply put, it’s energy. And now it’s more important than ever because the flipside of vitality is lethargy and burnout. Employees need resources and support that help them thrive and survive when the going gets tough.

We asked our team of experts why they feel employee vitality is crucial for organizations, and what actions they can take to support them.


Answers From the Experts:


Lyn Turknett, Co-founder and Co-chair

Why is employee vitality especially crucial for organizations today?

We are all exhausted right now, and a reset is essential. Here are just two reasons for working to lessen distress and promote well-being:

1.) The current situation is unsustainable, and some of the ways organizations ordinarily work is promoting the great resignation and is especially inappropriate for younger workers.

Stress is high, uncertainty is high, and there is a crisis in mental health. Multiple surveys (Survey of HR Executives, Causes of workplace stress) are showing very high stress at all levels of the organization, and that means increasing vitality and well-being and lowering stress are simply critical. According to a summary of Gallup’s recent research on the workplace, US workers are the most stressed in the world, and younger workers expect their workplace to promote and increase well-being. The high levels of stress, along with the “great rethinking,” are driving the Great Resignation. The most valued employees – no matter what their level – are often most at risk. They take their jobs seriously, have worked very hard, and know that they have options.

2.) Companies are particularly at risk of losing leaders.

Promoting well-being and lowering stress is important at every level, but there needs to also be a focus on leader well-being. We were seeing anecdotally that leaders are feeling increased stress. Middle managers particularly feel pressure to perform and meet goals, but there are supply chain pressures and staff shortages. They can’t hire, and they are working with employees who are feeling stressed, unsure about returning to work, and worried, and those employees turn to their bosses for support. What we are seeing anecdotally is being backed up by data. Recent research out of New Zealand, published in the December 2021 issue of Consulting Psychology Journal, showed that while overall psychological distress is higher for front-line employees, and overall well-being is higher for leaders, workplace stress is the most important source of stress for leaders.


What actions can an organization take to support employee vitality?

The overarching answer to this question is simple: “how do we not make work the most anxious part of an already anxious world?” Organizations probably need to do a lot of rethinking, but here are a few things we can do now.

1. As organizations, and as individual leaders at whatever level, we can try to increase employee autonomy and voice. The desire for control and autonomy is basic to humans. We’ve known that for a very long time. And now we are realizing that increased voice and participation not only strengthen motivation at all levels; they also improve outcomes and increase speed. Agile ways of working and design thinking are effective partly because they are faster, partly because they make better use of all brains, and partly because they are more motivating. Even if we are not using those processes, as leaders we need to ask for opinions whenever we can and get input whenever possible.

2. Listen more. Being listened to decreases burnout and depression. It might also increase well-being right now in all of us. About five years ago a fellow committee member at church, who was a psychologist, came to a meeting and told us she’d just read that two hours of focused listening could lift depression in the elderly. That led to the “Stethoscope Project,” a project in which volunteer “listeners” were trained in listening and interview skills and then interviewed elderly members, often members who were no longer able to attend church. I think we could all apply that now. There’s also evidence that many people would rather quit than express dissatisfaction actively. Requiring that every leader, at all levels, set up one-on-ones with all team members, for the express purpose of listening would likely help. Just as with the Stethoscope Project, though, listening skills must be taught and learned.

3. Self-care needs to be taught and prioritized – for everyone – CEOs included. I have never liked the term “self-care.” It always seemed squishy and self-indulgent. Maybe there needs to be a new term, but I am convinced that the idea is critical, and in a time when stress, depression, and anxiety are high, organizations have a responsibility to help. There’s an article entitled Feeling the Burnout from the latest issue of Chief Executive, and the byline is “The past two years have been a breeding ground for anxiety, stress and crisis fatigue in the workplace – and CEOs are just as vulnerable as their people.” Many of the recommendations – Care For Yourself, Hold on to Purpose, Get Rebalanced, and Gather Good People – are good for all of us.


Bill Dickinson, Ph.D., Senior Consultant

Why is employee vitality especially crucial for organizations today?

Vitality is expressed in many forms. And, employees today are, overall, feeling spent from the associated unknowns related to COVID-19 and how to manage ourselves with work. In this case, we as leaders need to appreciate that one’s sense of fulfillment in their role, and with their company, is critical to vitality. Do we help them see their value proposition (why what they do is important to others and the company)? Do we ask what forms of additional support they could use, or a new skill they’d like to learn to stay fresh in their role? Do we provide a stretch opportunity because it honors their capabilities and contributes to a new need? Are we, as leaders, being transparent with how we are taking care of ourselves mentally, physically, and interpersonally?

Vitality, of course, is tied to their mental health and wellbeing; and, we as leaders need to model this commitment to ourselves and “check-in” on their needs or opportunities to stay engaged and invigorated. Is there a program or new benefit that can be offered to revitalize their sense of self? Finally, senior leaders have the privileged responsibility to make employee vitality and fulfillment a priority; is this happening, or not? It’s no secret that the stated and actualized priorities of senior leaders make a huge difference: role fulfillment, engagement, and vitality should be on that shortlist.


Melanie Polk, Senior Consultant

Why is employee vitality especially crucial for organizations today?

“The only thing you can count on is change.”

This simple quote has never been more resonant than today. Between the warp speed of change brought about by technological shifts, to the upheaval brought upon by the pandemic and geopolitical instability, it sometimes feels that we are on a loop-to-loop rollercoaster that never comes into the station to let us off. We are tired, on edge, and uncertain about what is next.

Given this, employee vitality is critical to stem the tide of burn-out and mental health challenges we are seeing in many corners of our society. Whether employees are feeling the effects personally or working through an issue with friends, families or colleagues, we all are impacted.

Organizations have an amazing opportunity to step in and make a real difference by taking bold steps to prioritize the physical and mental vitality of their employees. By having leaders take a stand for the ‘human capital’ in their organizations, we have a chance in making real progress to chip away at the impact of the past few years. If organizations do not prioritize this, they are in danger of losing the brain trust of their employees as they either sacrifice the quality of work output, take mental health sabbaticals, or potentially drop out of the workforce altogether.


What actions can an organization take to support employee vitality?

I believe organizations would be well-served to take an approach that we as coaches take with our clients, which is to ‘meet them where they are.’ Too often, organizations paint with a broad brush with training programs that may not meet the needs of its employees. While training programs are important, individualized development opportunities are a critical part of empowering employees to find an approach that works for them based on their values, needs, circumstances and motivations.

I have seen first-hand the power of instituting the 70-20-10 model of adult learning. Simply put, according to the 70-20-10 rule, you need to have 3 types of experience to learn and grow as a leader, following a ratio of:

  • 70% challenging experiences and assignments
  • 20% developmental relationships
  • 10% coursework and training

The underlying assumption of the 70-20-10 rule is that leadership can be learned and nurtured with the right approach.

By leadership, we don’t necessarily need to be in a position of authority or power to showcase leader. The world needs more fabulous leaders, and every interaction with another person is an opportunity to showcase leadership.


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