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Q&A with Jen Fisher: The rise of the ‘Chief Well-being Officer’ and why it matters

Jen Fisher became Deloitte’s first Chief Well-being Officer in 2016.

Jen Fisher became Deloitte’s first Chief Well-being Officer in 2016. Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Julie Masiga
Communications Lead, Centre for Health and Healthcare, World Economic Forum
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  • Employee well-being is a priority for businesses.
  • Chief Well-being Officers (CWBOs) are responsible for creating a healthy and positive work culture by improving employees' physical, mental, and emotional health.
  • Wellness in the workplace increases productivity, retention, and overall business success.

The Chief Well-being Officer position is a relatively new role in organizations, first emerging in 2010. It came about in response to the growing awareness that employee well-being is important. While the concept of employee well-being has been around for decades, it wasn't until recently that companies started to invest in dedicated roles and programmes focused on creating work environments that support wellness.

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The emergence of the CWBO role reflects a growing recognition among companies that promoting employee well-being is not only the right thing to do, but also makes good business sense. By investing in their employees' health holistically, companies can create a more productive, engaged, and resilient workforce. Employees that feel seen, heard and supported by their employers are better able to weather challenges and succeed in the long term.

During the pandemic, the need for CWBOs became even more pronounced. With remote work, social isolation, and increased stress levels, companies became acutely aware of the need to invest in the wellness of their employees. Many appointed CWBOs to lead these efforts, while others integrated the role within their human resources departments.

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What is the Forum doing about keeping workers well?

CWBOs are also responsible for creating a healthy and positive work culture. Their role is to focus on improving employees' physical, mental, and emotional health. The ultimate goal is to create a more engaged workforce.

To gain more insight into the day in the life of a CWBO, I spoke to Jen Fisher who became Deloitte’s first Chief Well-being Officer in 2016. In her role, Jen has transformed Deloitte's health and wellness programme into a first-of-its-kind holistic and inclusive well-being strategy. She pioneered the conversation around mental health at work, which launched Deloitte’s Mental Health programme focused on creating positive and meaningful behaviour change for employees.

What's a typical day at work for you as a Chief Well-being Officer?

As the Chief Well-being Officer, I drive Deloitte’s strategy and innovation around well-being. It’s my job to empower all of our employees to be their best selves professionally and personally. Sometimes that means creating education programmes and resources to help our people learn the skills that will be critical in the future of work, like building relationships, managing change, and developing resilience.

Sometimes it’s working with our network of leaders and sponsors to create and embed well-being strategies tailored to the unique challenges they’re facing in their businesses. I also spend time talking to our people about why well-being is a strategic priority at Deloitte and helping them understand the important role they play in building a workplace culture focused on well-being. Additionally, I also spend time working on innovative initiatives focused on redesigning how we work in ways that support human sustainability.

How do CWBOs contribute to the broader landscape of today’s job market?

The research is clear that organizations that make well-being a priority perform better, more effectively attract and retain talent, and develop more resilient workforces. But I also see the role of the CWBO as vital to the purpose of an organization, as well as the greater good of society.

Work is a determinant of human well-being. It directly shapes the conditions of an individual’s well-being, and therefore the well-being of society at large. Organizations that are making public commitments to increasing workforce wellbeing by creating a CWBO role, are not only creating meaningful change for their employees, but they’re also making a positive impact in the communities that they work in.

There’s a long-held belief that to be high-performing, you need to sacrifice your well-being. My mission is to toss out this myth and change people’s mindsets.

Jen Fisher, Chief Well-being Officer, Deloitte

What impact do you hope to have on your industry or field?

In the professional services industry, you have a very high-performing workforce focused on solving clients’ toughest challenges. There’s a long-held belief that to be high-performing, you need to sacrifice your well-being. My mission is to toss out this myth and change people’s mindsets.

When someone can clearly see why well-being is so critical to our work and our lives, understand the role that they play in creating a positive workplace culture, and make behaviour changes to support that, then I feel like I have done my job.

Trying to grasp this in such a large organization isn’t easy, but I look at different inputs like our talent surveys, participation and feedback from our programs, and what we are hearing about our talent experience in the marketplace.

What does it take to be successful in this role?

It will depend on the organization and where they are in terms of their well-being maturity. Some organizations may be starting at a very foundational level where they’re focused on creating more holistic benefits and programs that expand outside of just the physical element. Some organizations may be more focused on culture change.

While at a basic level, every leader in this role is trying to create a more positive workplace experience for their people, what they focus on and how they do it will be different depending on the unique needs of the organization and its workforce.

What are some of your biggest challenges?

Measurement is something I’m very focused on currently. Measuring well-being is challenging because it’s hard to know whether worker well-being—actual well-being, not just employers’ investment in it—is high or low. While some organizations track program and benefit usage or survey employees about their stress levels, these typical metrics don’t get to the heart of what’s essential to any organization where workers thrive: a culture that supports well-being.

This is something I’m working on figuring out. We can’t rely on one single source of data, and we can’t rely on data from one single point in time either. If we want to better understand where the pain points are for our workforce, we need to look at many different sources, many times over the course of a year, including employee sentiment.

What are some of the most significant trends that are shaping the future of work?

As AI, or artificial intelligence, begins to take over routine repetitive work, the nature of the work that will remain will be highly cognitive, creative, and intellectual. Human skills like empathy, emotional intelligence, and resilience are not only the skills of the future, they’re also skills essential to well-being.

Ultimately, acquiring and implementing these skills will not only enable people to work better with automation and AI, but they’ll also make us better at collaborating and strengthening our human connections in the workplace. Providing our people with the education and resources to develop and hone these skills is a critical part of our well-being strategy.

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How can other organizations best incorporate this role into their strategy?

As mentioned, human skills are the skills of the future. They’re also skills essential to well-being. The Chief Well-being Officer will play a critical role in helping their people develop these skills. But CWBOs will also have work to do to help lead their organizations in evolving their workplace culture and redesigning work to support these skills and empower their people to do their best work.

What advice would you give to an aspiring CWBO?

I’ve been pleasantly surprised about the amount of outreach I’ve received from those that are passionate about well-being and looking to build a career in that area. I always encourage people to first look at where they are right now to see if there are opportunities to craft something that aligns with their passions in their current role and/or organization.

What are the most effective strategies for building resilience and adaptability at work?

I think building resilience and adaptability starts with self-care first. We can’t show up for our teams if we’re not taking care of our own well-being needs. Additionally, creating a more human-centred workplace means we need to focus on human connection. Social connection is critical to our well-being inside and outside the workplace. And as human skills become increasingly critical to the workforce, creating workplace cultures that prioritize relationships will also continue to be important.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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May 21, 2024

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