Integral Musings | Towards a Holistic Vision

An Integral Approach to management and human development based on the spiritual vision of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother with an emphasis on its application to various domains of knowledge and life.

The Foundations Of Workplace Wellness: An Integral Approach–M.S. Srinivasan

(Published In Souvenir of The Noida Management Association)

The prevalence of acute stress and stress-related problems in the corporate world has forced corporate management to the need for a greater attention to employee wellbeing.  But most of the wellness practices of the corporate world are peripheral.  The concept of “Stress-management” is a limited approach to corporate health.  Similarly, some of the corporate wellness practices like in-house gyms, picnics or flexitime, though helpful, are cosmetic remedies which try to alleviate symptoms but do not heal the malady at its roots.  The long-term solution to the chronic problem of corporate stress lies in building a culture of integral wellness.  This article presents a conceptual and strategic framework for achieving such a total wellness in the corporate life.

Key Perspectives

Deficit of wellness; wellness and performance; collective dimension; exemplars of wellness; strategic implications.

  1. The Deficit of Wellness

The modern corporate world is suffering from a deficit of wellness, overflowing with wealth but empty of health.  Opinion Research of Princeton, New Jersey has found “largest incidents of heart attack or stroke occurs on Monday” because, according to a Gallup’s annual poll, “80% of employees dread returning to work on Monday mornings” (1)

In a poignant front-page story, a leading Indian business magazine reports “An alarming number of BPO workers are sinking into a world of crime, drugs and promiscuity.  It’s unprecedented workplace phenomenon that’s testing their employers”.  A revealing anecdote in this report is the story of a BPO employee, Arnab who becomes a drug addict and finally dies of a drug overdose.  According to his colleague and friend Partho the BPO management was well aware of Arnab’s addiction but decided not to interfere since he was a top performer! But why do they get into drugs? Partho answers: “There is so much pressure from the management to meet numbers and after getting abused so often by the bosses, you tend to make up your self-esteem by drinking or using drugs whenever you can”. (2)

What is the problem behind this world of stressed-out, unhappy workers?  One of the major factors behind this deficit of wellness in the corporate world is a too heavy emphasis on performance.  In a pragmatic, competitive and result-oriented institution like business, performance-orientation is a legitimate need.  But it must be a performance, which is worthy and sustainable.  What is the use of a peak performance that leads to loss of health, character and degeneration of the individual and communal life?   This is not rocket science but simple and elementary common sense.  But sometimes, individually and collectively, we don’t listen to our common sense and follow the path of non-sense blinded by the lure of short-term gains.  And to get back to the simplicity of our commonsense we need painful experiences, quotations from authorities, elaborate reasoning and citations from latest research!  The remedy to this deficit of wellness lies in a more systematic and strategic focuses on human wellbeing.  Just like Total Quality Management or Performance Management there must be a Total Wellness Management and it must be based on a holistic understanding of human wellbeing.

2.      The Four-fold Wellness

In a holistic perspective wellness may be defined as the inner and outer felicity, which an individual feels in the act of living, working and interacting in a community.  This experience of wellness, to be integral, has to embrace all the four dimensions of the human organism: Physical, Vital, Mental and Spiritual.  The physical is the material sheath or body or the material environment.  The vital is the source of our sensations, emotions, desire and the vital energy, anima, which animates our body and mind.  The mental is the source of our thoughts, perceptions, ideas, ideals and values.  The spiritual is the deepest and innermost source of our individuality.

The foundation of physical well-being is sufficient nutrition and regular exercise; a material environment which is gentle, pleasing and harmonious to senses; lots of fresh and clean air, sunlight and open space and contact with Nature; and a certain amount of outer peace, security and prosperity.

The sources of vital well being are a work or occupation which is in harmony with our nature, temperament and capacities; joy and freedom of action, creation, achievement, growth, play, exploration and contribution or service to the common good of all; inner and outer harmony and mutual goodwill among people; and a collective environment or a system of government which is kindly, understanding, considerate, fare and just.  Work-life balance is an important part of vital well being.  In a broader perspective work-life balance means right balance and integration of the value and aims of work, family and community and that of the individual and the organization.  In a video programme on “Ethics in Workplace”, Joanies Coila, a senior faculty member of Wharton School of Business, states that one of the major causes of the “Moral Crisis” facing America today is a too heavy emphasis on work and success in workplace at the expense of other equally important domains of life like family, community and religion.

The foundation of mental well-being is peace, tranquility, understanding, clarity and benevolence in the emotional and mental consciousness.  The other important factors in vital and mental well-being are a certain amount of rest, relaxation and leisure and sufficient inner and outer space to pursue our higher evolution in the mental, moral, aesthetic and spiritual domains.  The sources of spiritual well-being is an inner awakening to the spiritual self within us and integrate our physical, vital and mental being around the spiritual source of our being.  And finally the foundation of this edifice of integral wellness is Truth, which means, sincerity, honesty and transparency in thought, feeling, will, action and relationship.

3.      The Collective Dimension

But the individual human organism is not a separate and isolated entity cut off from others and the rest of the world.  The psychology of the community or social psychology is still an infant science.  We are not aware how much our hearts and minds are mingled together with the hearts and minds of others with a strong mutual interaction and influence.  We constantly radiate energies at all levels-physical, vital, mental and spiritual-which interact with and influence the energies of others.  We constantly influence and are influenced by others, openly by the conscious reception or radiation of thoughts and feeling and also unconsciously by the thoughts and feelings of people in the mental atmosphere.  Our thought, feelings and desires are much more contagious than microbes.

 We are not aware how much our inner state of consciousness is shaped by the consciousness of others and that of the collectivity.  For example when we approach a person with a negative feeling for him, psychologically we are giving a punch to his inner nose.  If the other person is sufficiently sensitive he feels it, and there is a corresponding inner reaction; it induces a similar feeling in the other person.  Similarly with our desires, our wishes or intention which can induce a similar inner movement in others.  In other words, we transmit and communicate our inner condition, whatever it maybe, luminous or dark, health or sickness, to others.  Interestingly, this is now recognized in modern management thought.  According to two leading management thinkers, Boyatzis and Mckee, there is at present extensive research studies which show that our emotions are contagious and we can read each others emotions. (3)

This means for realizing collective harmony and well being, we have to put into practice the Biblical dictum “do unto others what you want others do unto you” not only in outer conduct but also in our thought and feelings.  In other words, mutual trust and goodwill in thought, feelings and actions has to be the core values for building collective well being.

So, creating the right psychological environment is an important strategic factor in realizing a sustainable corporate wellness.  The mental environment of the group has to be saturated with values, ideas, motifs and forces, which lead to sustainable well-being.  If the mental atmosphere of the group is full of forces of peace, harmony, understanding, goodwill and compassion then it has a soothing effect on the consciousness of its individual members and promotes wellness.  On the other hand if the culture and values of the organization lead to constant tension, anxiety, conflict and stress, then it will have an adverse effect on the wellness of people and no amount of superficial wellness practices like in-house gyms or picnics or flexitime can neutralize the negative atmosphere.

4. The Exemplars

We have briefly outlined the basic principles of integral corporate wellness.  Are there examples of societies or organizations, which have realized this ideal fully or partially? In our present imperfect human condition, no ideal can be perfectly realized.  There is always a discrepancy between the ideal, the actual conditions of the surrounding environment and the capacity to realize the ideal.  But there are some honest attempts and partial realizations, which can be a role model and inspiration for a more perfect and fuller realization in the future.  Here are two such examples.

 4.1 A Golden Leaf from Indian History

In the ancient world, some of the peak periods in the Vedic, epical and classical ages in the history of Indian civilization attained a certain level of collective well-being. They may not be perfect examples, but limited by the conditions of the age.  However, in these golden ages of Indian history, human society as a whole attained a certain amount of material, mental and moral well being.  The Chinese traveler, Fa-Hsien’s observation on the Gupta Empire in India indicates a healthy, peaceful, vigorous and prosperous society.  A team of American historians makes the following interesting remarks on the golden age of Gupta’s empire in India.

“Fa-Hsien who has no reason to bestow unlimited praise, described the government as just and beneficent.  Taxes were relatively light and capital punishment unknown.  He testifies to a generally high level of prosperity, social contentment and intellectual vitality when the nations of Western Europe were sinking into semi-barbarism.” (4)

There are two factors behind the achievement of these peak periods in Indian history.  First is the conception of human being as essentially a mental, moral and spiritual entity and an emphasis on developing this higher nature in man.  Second is the attempt to build a society based on the values of our higher nature, which mean our rational, moral, aesthetic and spiritual being.  This conception or achievement may not be unique or special to Indian civilization; it was perhaps a common factor in the peak moments in the history of all great civilizations, like for example, the age of Socrates, Plato and Periclus in Greece, the reign of Augustus Caesar in the Roman Empire, twelfth dynasty in Egypt.

4.2 A Modern Corporate Attempt

A more living example in our modern corporate world is Tata Steel of India, which was described by an Indian management magazine as “the last bastion of the welfare state”! This humane Indian company always upheld the vision of its founder JRD Tata, who considered human well-being as much more important than all the bottom lines.  Tata Steel is a living embodiment of this benign business philosophy, which was lived and built in solid outlines in the industrial township of Tata Steel in Jamshedpur in India.  UN selected this industrial city of Tata Steel as a Global Compact City for its high quality of life.  Here is a testimony to the achievement of Tata Steel in corporate wellness by none other than Lakshmi Mittal, the steel tycoon and the founder of one of the largest steel conglomerates in the world:

“I visited the plant and the last time I did that was with Russi Mody.  But the plant this time was gleaming and far from what it used to be.  Greener and cleaner and a tribute to environment management.  You could have been in the mountains.  Such was the quality of air I inhaled! There was no belching smoke, no tired faces and so many more women workers, even on the shop floor.  This is true gender equality and not the kind that is often espoused at seminars organized by angry activists.  I met so many old friends.  Most of them have aged but not grown old. There was a spring in the air which came from a certain calmness which has always been the hallmark of Jamshedpur.” (5)

5.      The Strategic Implications

This brings us to the question how to implement this vision in the corporate life.  Here are some strategic initiative and principles for evolving corporate wellness policies and practices based on the integral vision of wellness which we have discussed earlier.

  • The first step is an attitudinal change.  The employee has to be viewed not as a knowledge-skill engine for achieving the bottomline or deadlines of the organization but as a living soul with a body, life and mind progressing towards a divine goal which includes the realization of her highest and total human potential.
  • There must be a balanced approach to performance and wellness or in otherwords an equal emphasis on performance as well as wellness.  The corporate world makes a systematic, scientific and planed attempt to achieve business goals like productivity, profit, quality, customer service or innovation.  But a similar attempt is lacking in the domain of human wellbeing.  If the corporate world want to create a more humane and healthy work-place there must be a similar systematic, scientific and planned attempt towards a continuous enhancement of human wellbeing in all the four dimensions which are discussed in this article.
  • The concept, principles and practice of total wellness have to become an integral part of the education and training programme for employees at all the levels of the corporate hierarchy.
  • The backbone of mental health is inner peace and equanimity.  Every employee has to be taught how to maintain and establish inner peace and equanimity under all circumstances.  The methods and practices of Indian yoga can be of great help in this task.
  • What is Peace to inner being, Security is to outer life.  A reckless hire-and-fire culture, with constant downsizing, where people live in perpetual anxiety over their jobs is inimical to wellness.   A reasonable job-security is essential for achieving sustained wellness in the corporate life.  If this is not entirely possible in the present fast changing business environment, the corporate world has to evolve a more compassionate and humane alternative to downsizing.  For example industry associations like NASSCOM or FICCI in India, networking with other institutions like placement services or NGO’s can evolve a social security net which can help employees who have lost their jobs due to downsizing find alternative employment or in upgrading their skills.
  • The managements of organizations have to make a conscious effort to create a human community based on the triune principles of French revolution: liberty, equality and fraternity which are the foundations of social sustainability and wellbeing.

 References:

  1. Secretan L.H.K (1996), Reclaiming Lost Ground (New Delhi, Response Books), pp.43.
  2. Pallavi .S, ‘BPO’s Young and Troubled, Business Today,’ July 15, 2007, pp.62-70.
  3. Boyotzis R and Mckee A (2005), Resonant Leadership, (Boston, Hayward Business Press), pp.51, 52, 23
  4. Burns E.M, Ralph P.L, Lerner R.E, Meacham S (1991) World Civilizations vol.1 (New Delhi, Goyl Publishers and Distributors), pp.305.
  5. Mittal, L, A Talk by Lakshmi Mittal on ‘Social Responsibility and Role of Corporate India,’ IIT Global Current Affairs Archives, iitglobalarchives.blogspot.com

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This entry was posted on May 29, 2012 by in Integral Management.