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WORKSPAN
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR |

Jumping into the Well-Being & Benefits Volcano


As we put together this Well-Being & Benefits Issue, I was reminded of the 1990 movie "Joe Versus the Volcano." The movie tells the story of Joe, played by the always-amazing Tom Hanks. Joe is the epitome of an unwell, disengaged employee. He often calls in sick and when he’s in the office, he suffers under the flickering glare of fluorescent lighting, all while being shoved into a nearly windowless, dark gray room. His boss incessantly yells at him, which does little to improve Joe’s mental status.

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Stephanie N. Rotondo
Managing Editor of Workspan magazine. She can be reached at srotondo@worldatwork.org

Soon after Joe learns he is dying — of a brain cloud, whatever that is — he meets an odd billionaire, played by the affable Lloyd Bridges. The billionaire offers Joe the opportunity of a lifetime: Take an all-expenses paid trip aboard a fancy sailboat to a beautiful remote island in the South Pacific. Once there, all he has to do is jump into a volcano, saving the island and its inhabitants — along with the billionaire’s bottom line. Easy-peasy.

What happens next is something every employer should note: Upon deciding to take up Bridges’ offer and leave his old going-nowhere job, Joe starts to feel better! He’s engaged in his task! He has purpose! His well-being improves so dramatically that his closest friends don’t recognize him anymore. And why? Because he found an employer that provided him with benefits and perks — not to mention purpose — that he needed. And because of that, he became more productive and engaged, and his well-being reflected that.

The effects of poor mental health can be drastic, not just for the 1.2 billion people globally that experience these problems, but for their employers as well. In fact, well-being afflictions cost businesses in the United States as much as $2.2 trillion each year. (See “Breaking the Stigma” and "Power to the People.")

While no one is suggesting employers offer their employees lavish, expensive trips to improve their well-being, the movie does highlight how nontraditional benefits and perks can turn a disengaged employee into an engaged employee. (For examples of such perks, see “Producing a Healthier Workforce” and “Switching Off the Always-On Culture.”)

And let’s not forget how financial well-being can factor into the mental health equation. (See “Financial Playbook.”)

We are in a time where the staid benefits of yesterday’s workplace are no longer enough. As employers want more and more of their employees’ time and attention, they need to recognize when their employees need help — and be willing to provide said help. Forward-thinking companies will not shy away from trying the latest benefit or perk if they think it can add value for their employees. And employees will respond by being a more positive presence in the office, being more productive and more loyal.