When you think of business strategy, what’s the first word to cross your mind? It’s probably not ‘wellbeing’. The archetypal business mindset is one of rapid progress and strict, unwavering parameters – not one that allows space for vulnerability and individuality, but that thrives on pragmatic insensitivity and homogeneity.
But, increasingly, this mindset has proved itself to be misguided. A Mental Health Foundation study in 2018 revealed that 74% of workers have felt so stressed or overwhelmed in the workplace that they have been unable to cope.
The workplace is changing with the needs of the individuals within it, as more and more workers find themselves at odds with the working life of the past, and look within themselves for the working life of the future.
“Many people feel they have to wear a mask at work. Work is a place where they’re no longer themselves. Employers have missed a trick here.”
There is, it seems, a gap between what employees need in order to feel able to be their complete selves at work – a model that allows for vulnerability and individuality in the workplace – and the established models of efficient working.
Lucy Whitehall, a Positive Psychologist and wellbeing expert with CABA , argues that, while the vulnerability model might seem counterintuitive in business, it is in fact the rigid model that we’re accustomed to that is counter-productive to business success.
“A lot of people get their validation, their meaning and purpose, through their work. If they were enabled to be themselves to come up with great ideas, to explore all opportunities, then those organisations could be leveraging a whole lot more talent, creativity and innovation.”
“But unfortunately, what often happens is that in an organisation’s quest for speed, profit and productivity, they lose sight of what they could gain from people if they were more supportive as them of them as individuals.”
Crucially, Lucy believes, this opportunity to transform the potential of employees lies with the wellbeing strategies that organisations implement to support them.
“Wellbeing is tied up with all of this”, Lucy says, “Much more than being solely about mental or physical wellbeing, it’s holistic. There’s much more talk now about financial wellbeing, and about diversity in the way that we treat each other and the language that we use around each other. This is all part of bringing that whole self, that human, to work.”
Lucy’s experience in treating and coaching chartered accountants with CABA has brought her into contact with challenges inherent to that profession, but that have also revealed secrets of wellbeing in organisations of every kind.
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Chartered accountants are required to keep up with a constantly evolving set of guidelines in order to remain in their profession, in addition to dealing with the pressure of being responsible for another person’s financial wellbeing.
“There are very few organisations now that don’t have a large element of people who are client facing, whether they are on the phone, virtually, or face to face with them in person.”
“However, I think there is something unique about the accountancy profession, because an awful lot of what they’ll be talking about will inevitably be a taboo for a lot of people, which is their finances. We probably can talk more openly about anxiety and depression than we can about how much is in our bank accounts.”
While this pressure may be unique, the treating of it holds the key to wellbeing strategies on a wider scale.
“We are trying to help people develop their own bespoke strategy that allows them to manage their wellbeing in a way that is realistic for them.”
“This is about the individuality of how people stay well. It’s probably one of the reasons that organisations find it tough to have company-wide wellbeing strategies, because it really is a case of one-size definitely doesn’t fit all.”
Initially, it might seem naïve to suppose that large organisations could implement such a wellbeing strategy. The secret is in how organisations perceive wellbeing and subsequently try to address it.
“Where many organisations have gone wrong is feeling constrained to having to cover all of wellbeing with an expensive, one-system solution.”
“Whereas, if they addressed simple things, it might take time, but it would be much more impactful for much longer.”
With falling productivity and increased burnout and fatigue among workers, it is becoming increasingly clear that wellbeing is not an isolated concept or an afterthought – it is integral to business success to ensure that employees have the space to be vulnerable, and to be themselves in the workplace.
“I always recommend keeping it simple”, says Lucy. “It doesn’t have to be complicated, and it doesn’t have to cost a lot.
“This includes sustainable things like teaching people to talk and listen to each other, so that managers and employees understand what’s going on, and they’ve got the time to spend with their team.”
“Organisations should look at what they’re already doing, because they’re probably doing more than they realise, but they’re just not calling it wellbeing. They should also think about what they mean by wellbeing – there isn’t just one definition of it. Look at your absence, recruitment, selection, and retention data, and ask your people what wellbeing actually means to them, too.”
Fundamentally, Lucy believes that there is a perceptual shift that needs to occur, one that includes the entire business.
“It shouldn’t just be driven by HR. I’m a firm believer that it should be owned by everybody, which means everyone in the organisation gets an opportunity to feed into that, to be asked and listened to.
To attain business success, says Lucy, a wellbeing strategy must become an intrinsic part of business strategy.
“Your business strategy should include or be very highly connected to your wellbeing strategy. All of your policies should have a golden thread of keeping your people well running entirely through them. Keep it simple – and be brave.”