How serving in the military taught this leader the importance of employee well-being

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In the past, protecting employee well-being may have been seen as a luxury for a few lucky employees or a fuzzy topic for soft leaders who had nothing better to worry about – but things are changing. The U.S. military has recognized the importance of mental health since 2009 when its “resilience trainingprogram. Although business is slowing down, more than 90% of the leaders believe that promoting well-being improves performance.

As a former military leader, many of the greatest lessons I’ve learned about employee well-being come from my time in the military. Today I share them with you.

Related: How Military Service Made These Veterans Better Entrepreneurs

The military and mindfulness

The big M has become more popular in recent years, but not every organization finds it useful or comfortable talking about it. Most people certainly wouldn’t associate with the military.

But mindfulness is the ability to be fully present in the moment. And where could that skill be more important than in a survival environment where not being alert could put you and the rest of the team at risk?

The military teaches soldiers how to stay in the moment and make better decisions under pressure by encouraging mindfulness practices such as sitting with your thoughts for a few minutes each day. In addition to improving job performance, the military has found this training helps soldiers deal with the after-effects of a traumatic situation.

Standard employees may not deal with life-and-death situations, but they may have similar principles.

Mindfulness in the workplace comes down to developing the ability to deal with the emotions, tensions and conflicts that arise every day. You need to teach employees how to become more aware of the present moment and accept their feelings, thoughts and decision-making processes instead of being a slave to them. It’s the difference between feeling stressed and thinking “the world is on fire, I’m overwhelmed and I want to go home” and “I’m feeling the stress right now, but that’s okay, it’s just a feeling. I’ll take it let myself breathe a little and let it go.”

Thanks to the widespread awareness of mindfulness these days, it’s easier than ever to help your team learn to deal with what’s going on in their heads. For example, the Calm app is full of guided meditations, many of which are directly related to the workplace and last less than ten minutes (making it easy to fit them into schedules).

Why not offer everyone who works for you a free plan?

Related: Military service is the ultimate training ground for entrepreneurship (Infographic)

It’s all about the culture

You’d be hard-pressed to find an organization with a more cohesive culture than the military – those who have been in the military often describe it as a “brotherhood.” Everyone is united by their shared purpose of serving the country, authority is largely respected, and everyone knows they must work together to achieve their goals.

68% of veterans say they take pride in their service. How many people would say the same about a former employer?

You can try to emulate this idea of ​​a “brotherhood” by giving your employees a sense of purpose and connecting them to the larger mission of the company. Make your values ​​part of daily processes and discuss them with your employees.

The way you lead also makes a big difference. Instead of creating a dog-eat-dog or hustle-hard environment, lead with empathy, transparency, and trustworthiness. Are you really honest with your team and do your best to take care of them?

To show that you have everyone’s best interests at heart, create a flexible work environment and give everyone the chance to try new things, plus the flexibility to take it easy when they’re struggling. You may be able to use technology to help your team connect and get more out of their work, such as tools that enable remote working or provide education.

Don’t forget the financial side as well

It is a known fact that the US military takes care of its soldiers. Not only do most soldiers receive a pretty substantial salary, but they also have a range of other benefits. Among which:

  • Free college in public colleges.
  • A savings deposit program with 10% interest (for those in a combat zone).
  • Affordable housing.
  • Affordable life insurance.
  • Supplements for food and accommodation (in some cases).

Many private sector companies could learn from this. In the working world, employers often prefer solutions related to improving company culture and providing benefits of work, while employees simply prefer to earn more. The truth is somewhere in between: a positive work experience is more than a good salary, but without financial security you probably won’t get people to stick around or do their best work.

Who wants to take the guided meditations on Calm if they can’t even fill up their car?

Given the current environment of rising inflation, high interest rates and a rising cost of living, this is not something you should ignore. Do some market research to gauge how much other companies are giving employees to similar positions – and look at your budget to see if there’s any wiggle room to offer more.

Well-being is just the beginning

With the global corporate wellness market expected to reach $90 billion if you overlook this in 2026, you could fall behind. Working on the well-being of your team not only makes your employees happier, you also increase the likelihood that they will stick around, be more productive, and be committed enough to the organization to lead innovation.

Employee wellbeing isn’t as simple as implementing a single action, and a strategy that works for one company isn’t necessarily right for every organization. But if you try different approaches and are willing to tweak them until you know what works, you’ll be impressed with the results.