How To Safeguard A Healthy Corporate Culture Despite VUCA Challenges

Dr. Natalie Lotzmann

World Health Day, which is scheduled for April 7 this year, puts the topic of health at the center of public debate. This World Health Organization campaign focuses on providing people with universal health coverage, especially in developing and emerging countries. Right now, only around half of the world’s population has access to corresponding health services. In developed countries, meanwhile, health is often viewed as a given – a benefit one truly appreciates only when it’s taken away.

This applies to everyday work in the western world as well: As long as employees are in good physical and mental health, they typically don’t spend much time thinking about what the body and mind need. At companies whose most important assets include their employees’ ability to perform and innovate, health, well-being, and a corporate culture that supports these aims should actually be high priorities. After all, these aspects form part of the foundation of long-term success.

The challenges posed by VUCA

Due to the influence of digitalization and globalization, the modern working world presents tremendous challenges, the main categories of which can be identified in the acronym VUCA: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. These categories stem from the American military, which used them to describe the new reality that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Later, use of the term spread into other areas of strategic leadership and types of organizations, from education to business affairs.

But how are the changing working conditions of a world marked by VUCA affecting the health and well-being of employees? In everyday corporate settings, VUCA means that technological and organizational shifts are taking place more and more quickly; as a result, past value systems and best practices no longer offer much orientation today. Also, it’s virtually impossible to deal with the complexity at hand. Employees nevertheless need to make bold decisions, think on the fly, and adapt accordingly – all of which leads to increased levels of psychological strain. To succeed and stay healthy, it’s therefore crucial that they be mindful of themselves and their needs. This, in turn, makes a strong sense of personal responsibility essential.

Companies, for their part, also have a responsibility to promote their employees’ health and well-being, along with a positive corporate culture.  To that end, they need to establish an organizational framework that will enable them to offer a variety of health services, courses, and related information to their employees at every level. At the same time, there are strong interdependencies between a company’s culture and the health and well-being of its employees. This also happens to be where the key to success lies: In the VUCA world, a healthy corporate culture helps ensure long-term business prosperity.

Promoting a healthy corporate culture

How can companies establish and reinforce a healthy culture? The first step always involves taking stock of the current situation. The best means of doing so is an employee survey that contains questions on health, well-being, stress, and so on.

At SAP, we assess our Business Health Culture Index (BHCI) on a regular basis. The BHCI measures the general cultural conditions that are designed to enable an organization’s employees to stay healthy and balanced. It covers questions concerning how employees rate their personal well-being and the working conditions at SAP, including our leadership culture. The BHCI is an indicator of the extent to which SAP succeeds in offering employees a working environment that promotes health, supports their long-term employability, and motivates them to make an active contribution to our ambitious corporate goals.

The index enables us not only to identify areas where we can keep improving but to determine the effect such factors have on our overall financial results, as well. A one-percent change in the BHCI currently impacts SAP’s operating profit by €90-100 million – strong evidence of the huge significance of a healthy corporate culture.

Here, it’s important to point out that this culture relates to the entire company. British scientist Gerry Johnson appropriately describes it as a cultural web, or a network of internal structures and processes that both give rise to and reinforce an organization’s self-perception on an ongoing basis. Only when all the elements of a company are working toward the same goal – from the executives, HR specialists, and health managers down to each individual department and employee – will they together embody a healthy corporate culture that will lead to success both now and in the future.

7 recommendations for maintaining a healthy corporate culture in the VUCA world

  1. Conduct regular employee surveys to assess your company’s current culture and identify areas where it can improve
  1. Incorporate health and well-being into your company’s guiding vision and strategy
  1. Make sure that every area of your company understands and embodies this strategy
  1. Put together a set of measures designed to promote health and well-being and implement it throughout the company
  1. Make mindful leadership part of the soft-skill training your company provides to its managers (they serve as examples and can amplify the message you want to send)
  1. Give your company a clear idea of the impact that health management can have on its financial success
  1. Review and report on how well these measures are working on a regular basis

The importance of a corporate health management program

Companies with excellent health and well-being management know the decisive role their programs play in this regard. They bundle together health services, courses, informative events, and communication campaigns for the entire company. The offerings available range from health checkups and vaccinations to management training, consultations, support for sporting events, and subsidy programs for fitness trackers (along with campaigns meant to encourage employees to exercise more and live healthier lifestyles).

Studies have indicated that companies with programs like this perform better and have lower costs than others. One conducted by McKinsey, for example, found that the shareholders of companies with good health and well-being management (HWB) programs enjoy rates of return three times higher than those of organizations with less sophisticated HWB efforts (or none at all). Meanwhile, a Gallup study attributes 61% lower health-related costs to employees who feel comfortable at work compared to those who don’t.

A constructive management style has a significant impact on employees’ health and well-being. Moreover, a study by Reed, Goolsby & Johnston (2016) proved a significant positive correlation between a healthy corporate culture and customer loyalty.

This is why paying attention to such concerns is not only a social responsibility for managers; it’s an economic imperative. Access to tailored training opportunities can aid them in meeting these needs.

Take World Health Day (April 7) as a chance to reflect on the concept of health – including your own and that of your company’s culture.


Dr. Natalie Lotzmann

About Dr. Natalie Lotzmann

Dr. Natalie Lotzmann is the Chief Medical Officer, responsible for executing on SAP's Health Strategy globally. She is a seasoned thought leader in the field of linking health metrics to talent management and an innovative people strategy.