What differentiates an exceptionally happy workplace from others? Workplace well-being is the current big buzzword. Mostly ignored in the past, workplace wellness is all the rage. But most leaders are doing it wrong.

In the name of employee happiness, and in response to insurance company demands, CEOs ensure that their corporations offer well-being initiatives with financial incentives. Complete this cholesterol screening, say, and you’ll get $100 added to your paycheck; participate in some number of wellness programs, and you’ll receive another bonus. In this quest to increase employee wellness, however, leaders are often unwittingly making things worse.  In fact, initial studies on wellness programs are showing they don’t lead to any visible results. Where do these well-intentioned leaders and their wellness programs go wrong?

Here's What's Wrong With Wellness Programs

At best, these initiatives are nothing more than lip service or PR. But at worst, they actually cause more stress. Having to jump through hoops, do cholesterol blood tests, and fill out well-being questionnaires is just one way that these programs can add yet more to-dos to an already full schedule.

As one employee shared with me, “I feel like my workplace wants me to take care of my wellness yet pressures me with such tight deadlines that I barely have time to eat lunch at my desk. I know it would be good for me to attend, but I also feel anxious when my manager and colleagues frown at me leaving my desk to go stretch. What’s more, at the end of the day I feel guilty because I didn’t take care of my well-being and attend the yoga class.” Well-being becomes not a needed break from the pressures of work but just one more job requirement.

Here's What Exceptional Leaders Know

When you look at the data, employers seem to be missing the point. It is not by obligating employees to participate in these kinds of classes or screenings that well-being will improve, nor is it by providing material perks; a revealing study showed that employees actually prefer a happier workplace to a fatter paycheck anyway.

So what leads to employee happiness? A workplace characterized by humanity. An organizational culture characterized by forgiveness, kindness, trust, respect, and inspiration. Hundreds of studies conducted by pioneers of positive organizational psychology, including Jane Dutton and Kim Cameron at the University of Michigan and Adam Grant at the University of Pennsylvania, demonstrate that a culture characterized by a positive work culture leads to improved employee loyalty, engagement, performance, creativity, and productivity. Given that about three-quarters of the U.S. workforce is disengaged at work — and the high cost of employee turnover — it’s about time organizations start paying attention to the data.

Read the full article "What the Best CEOs on Earth Do Better" at Psychology Today.