Good Employee Health Leads to Improved Company Performance

There is a significant and costly difference between survival-based and performance-based thinking.

By Dr. Jack Groppel, Ph.D., Co-Founder, Human Performance Institute, and Vice President, Applied Science and Performance Training, Wellness & Prevention, Inc.

Historically, businesses have viewed employee wellness as a way to lower health-care costs. While cost savings are a real and tangible benefit of a healthier workforce, the rewards of wellness go far beyond reducing the price of employee benefits. If people feel good, they perform better. And if they perform at a higher level, so will your company. Despite the mounting scientific research that directly links good health with improved company performance, many of today’s top leaders still need convincing that good health is good business. So let’s present the evidence.

The Human Energy Crisis

Sedentary lifestyles have taken the business world hostage. Today, employees find themselves in non-stop and endless meetings—overscheduled and overcommitted. At the Human Performance Institute, a division of Wellness & Prevention, Inc., a Johnson and Johnson company and think tank for the study of human energy management, we call this type of behavior “linear,” in that there is no respite from the 24/7 speed of doing business. Juxtapose this static state with the oscillatory nature of human beings (think EKGs, sleep cycles, and blood glucose levels), and you’ll see that the breakneck pace of the corporate world is biologically incompatible with our basic human needs, laying the very foundation of the human energy crisis, which businesses around the world are currently in the throes of.

Over the last decade, energy has been defined as the fundamental currency of high performance. Individual, team, and organizational performance is grounded in the skillful management of energy. However, organizations often isolate their training curricula by focusing on improving an individual’s productivity versus addressing and integrating the management of their energy so their teams and organization can excel.

Survival Mode

As businesses continuously and relentlessly demand greater productivity, employees spend less time doing things that restore their energy—engaging with family and friends, participating in hobbies, getting physical exercise, or even sleeping. Instead, they continuously deplete their energy reserves. Less energetic employees mean less productive employees, creating a vicious cycle of dysfunctional, survival-based behaviors that can significantly hinder company performance, as evidenced in the chart below.


General Behavior

Survival-Based Behavior/Rationale

Performance-Based Behavior/Rationale

Problem Not Realized in Survival-Based Thinking


Little or no movement during a day to gain more time

Regular movement throughout the day to ignite the brain and body

Sitting impairs blood circulation, particularly to the muscles, and often can lead to feelings of fatigue; neurotransmitters in the brain are not as activated as possible


Omitting exercise to very little to gain more time, etc.

Exercise regularly because it matters

Physical energy capacity reduces dramatically

Eating Breakfast

Skipping breakfast to gain more time

Eating breakfast every day to fuel the brain with glucose

Body and brain go into survival mode, lowering metabolism; brain requires glucose


Go long periods of time without eating to gain time or thinking that you will lose weight

Strategic snacking to stabilize blood sugar to stay alert, focused and connected to what’s going on your life

Blood sugar goes into depressed state, and brain requires glucose


5-6 hours (or less) to gain more time and believing you don’t need more sleep

7-8 hours of sleep to achieve total biochemical recovery in the brain

Proteins are not completely synthesized in the brain, and neurochemicals are not completely restored, so the brain does NOT recover totally


Time Management

Overschedule oneself (or others overschedule you) in an attempt to get more done and to feel more productive

Have boundaries in place to protect one’s time and achieve optimum focus on all tasks/commitments

Impatience, lack of control, resentment develop


Critical spirit, defensive, irritable, impatient in an attempt to get more done and keep one’s ego safe

Positive, open, patient, optimistic knowing that leaders get things done more effectively this way

Alienates others to you, and, in fact, effective work output is not possible

Task focus

Multitask in an attempt to get everything done, perceiving that it is the ONLY way to do all the work

Laser-focused on all important tasks to achieve superior results

Life becomes a blur, mistakes are likely

Overall Job Outlook and Performance

Attitudinally, doing a job to get tasks done, be paid accordingly, etc.

Being on a mission and feeling you are making a difference, regardless of what you do

Simply doing the job becomes a means to itself and a sense of purpose is lacking resulting in poor work output

Role of Humor/Laughter

Be constantly serious, attitude that business is not the place for fun

Be spontaneous in life; that it has ups and downs; enjoy the moment and a good laugh

Laughter is a major source of recapturing energy, calming stressful moments, and improving the biochemistry of the brain


As you can see from the above comparisons, there is a significant and costly difference between survival-based and performance-based thinking. In survival mode, employees are unable to cope with stress effectively and often exhibit negative behaviors, such as impatience, uncooperativeness, defensiveness, frustration, and hyper-criticality. They may resort to unhealthy “decompression” strategies that provide immediate, but unhealthy, gratification—recreational drugs, too much television, alcohol, comfort foods, or mind-numbing activities such as Web surfing or video games. These emotions and behaviors negatively affect teams and decrease the individual and collective ability to perform. So how can you help today’s overworked and overstressed workforce regain its grip on health and productivity? And how can you transform survival mode into performance mode? By using health to ignite the performance of each individual and your organization.

Health-Igniting Performance

Now I know what you might be saying. “I hear you. Better health contributes to better business, but my organization won’t change. They’re stuck in cubeville. Chained to their desks. At the mercy of their Blackberries.” Or, you might be saying, “I don’t know where to start.” The key to action is as simple as the solution itself. You must begin with the basics.

Every organization—even great sports teams—ultimately goes back to basics when individuals and teams aren’t performing at their best. At the end of the day, it’s retrospection and introspection that pave the path for success. It’s rewriting the story—your own story, your C-suite’s story, and the story of your organization. The prospect of starting anew may sound daunting, but it’s doable. And it’s been done many times before.

Rewriting Your Company Story

There are many solid examples of how change, beginning with a clear and meaningful mission, can happen on an individual level and also on a larger scale in cultures, communities, and societies. One such example of an individual story change is the highly successful businessman I worked with who recognized he was overweight and smoked when he got nervous. No matter what he tried, he could not exercise regularly or stop smoking. He built a fitness center in his home, hired more than 15 personal trainers, and bought almost every exercise DVD in existence. Despite the fact that his father had died at an early age, living longer was not an important enough mission to get him to exercise regularly—he recognized that regardless of what he did, he could still die at an early age. It was only when he pictured his young daughter graduating from high school and saying to her mom that she wished dad could have been there, that he stopped smoking, lost weight, and began exercising regularly. He has continued this action plan —still rooted in his own personal mission to be there for his daughter—for the last six years. And on top of improving his health, happiness, and lifestyle, his work performance has improved.

On a national level, environmental responsibility or “going green” is a powerful example of story change. The old story of society was one in which individuals behaved in thoughtless ways that were bad for the environment. At the beginning of the 20th century, foremost conservationists such as John Muir and President Theodore Roosevelt fought to save millions of acres of land through the creation of national parks, forests, and animal reserves. The Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1970 and charged with protecting human health and the environment. However, in the late 1970s, two colossal environmental disasters—the Three Mile Island nuclear core meltdown in Pennsylvania and the public health emergency created by 21,000 tons of chemical waste buried beneath the Love Canal neighborhood in New York—brought the importance of environmental protection to the awareness of the general public. Once people began to internalize the evidence of the harmful effects of these incidents, society as a whole realized that a change in story was not only necessary, but important in an epic way. Finally, environmental conservation matteredto the majority. And, so, we rewrote our national story based on a mission that strives for a cleaner and more sustainable environment. An action plan, aligned with this new story followed suit, which sparked society at large to change behaviors as necessary to achieve these goals. Children were taught about conservation in schools, and they brought this knowledge home to their parents, who began adopting these practices. Today, recycling is the norm, littering is not tolerated, and natural resources are better protected.

This example of meaningful change was successful because all of the elements of the change process were present: an identification of the mission, an honest assessment of the old story, the development of a new story that is aligned with the mission, and the action plan to bring about the necessary changes. Society became fully engaged in the new story, and as a result, set on a course to complete the mission. Imagine if your organization could rewrite its story and create a culture of better health, higher engagement, and improved performance. Where could that take you?

Leading the Change

Igniting the health and performance of your employees can start with you. As the gatekeeper of developmental programs, you can initiate your company’s story change process. All you have to do is start the conversation. Assess your current culture and think about the possibilities that healthier, more energized, more engaged employees could bring to your organization. Then take your vision for your new story to your leadership team. Present the facts about the biology of business performance. And make the case for making it your mission to create a culture of high performance that starts with the individual health of each employee. By connecting individuals to your company mission on a deep, personal level, you will help create a workforce committed to achieving your goals and set the stage for continued success.

Dr. Jack Groppel, Ph.D., is the co-founder of the Human Performance Institute and vice president of Applied Science and Performance Training at Wellness & Prevention, Inc. Author of “The Corporate Athlete” and an expert in fitness and nutrition, he also serves as adjunct professor of Management at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

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