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How leaders can work towards organisational wellbeing

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Alessandra Benevolo, HR and country services director of Ipsen Italy, outlines why trust and respect are key to building organisational wellbeing

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I grew up in Ivrea, a little village in Italy where Olivetti, the famous typewriter manufacturer, was founded. As such, I benefitted from Adriano Olivetti’s social vision of doing business. I want to express to all professionals, from the board of directors to the CEOs to individual employees, the importance of organisational wellbeing in this year’s objectives. We don’t need a magic wand, illuminated entrepreneurs are still around today.

What do I consider to be organisational wellbeing? It is the sum of everything that professionals put in place; the pursuit of a social vision which is reflected in the entire context, including employees. The Italian system often tends to pigeonhole, to lead back to predefined paradigms, perhaps with the intention of simplifying. Even the actions, how companies pursue organisational wellbeing, are labelled, grouped into models and, it goes without saying, opposed.

A lot of literature has dealt with the differences between the Italian model and the American model. In the first one, the illuminated entrepreneur, the small-medium enterprise and the organisation’s social vision prevail, but in the second one, the entrepreneur and multinational are at the service of shareholders, with an exclusive economic-fiscal vision. I don’t find myself thinking by categories, especially applied to HR. Organisational wellbeing is exactly what it covers, people, and to people, rather than models, I prefer to associate values.

The first value that organisational wellbeing can encompass and increase is respect for people.

Another value is sustainability, which is talked about everywhere. For ONU, “the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs is [sustainability]”. There is also an index, DJSI Dow Jones Sustainability Index, that measures the performance of companies. We instinctively associate sustainability with business strategy and the impact on the environment. However, there is another sustainability, equally important, which is the approach towards professionals who work in organisations.

The illuminated entrepreneurs, who have a social vision for the company, have understood this very well and are acting consistently. Sustainability is generated through respect and respect builds trust. Trust is given to share and continue to learn; this process allows professionals to recognise themselves in the business results, to collaborate to achieve success together. Thus, the trust is nurtured and the virtuous circle restarts.

Let’s recap: entrepreneurs enlightened with a social vision have respect, which generates trust, as their fundamental behavioural criterion. Trust is a precious good that must be cultivated; it takes time, dedication and commitment to generate it, but it only takes a moment to lose it. As always, the formula is not unique and each organisation must design its own. In Ipsen Italy, we work on maximising the feedback leverage with all people managers, the leadership team included.

Being a successful and developing company, we don’t look at our work as “problems to be solved”, but rather to work “from good to great”. This is achieved by working with passion and to go beyond extrinsic motivational levers, e.g. monetary incentives, complementing them with intrinsic motivational levers, i.e. with the desire to continuously improve, for the enjoyment of it, as you would have with a hobby. In a context of intrinsic motivation, feedback naturally becomes a precious lever, which contributes to nourishing trust and consolidating respect.

Increasingly frequently, in our pandemic-hit era, organisational wellbeing is associated with the topic of mental health. In the workplace, this is a very sensitive area, as often the boundary between taking care of people and going into their private life is thin. I don’t believe that organisational wellbeing is equal to mental health. I believe that organisational wellbeing should include mental health, along with many other dimensions relating to people; work commitment and job satisfaction affect the level of energy, enthusiasm and morale, which in turn have direct repercussions on mental health, and therefore, the business.

Just like sustainability, organisational wellbeing is also very fashionable. Everyone talks about it, everyone pursues it, and conferences, laboratories, research, publications and more flourish. Everyone has their own formula. When I compare these formulas, I find myself making two considerations: the first one is that all the formulas look a bit alike. This isn’t a cause for alarm, indeed it strengthens me to follow a sort of common lead; the second one is that they have a common denominator: listening. Listening, for me, is the most important ingredient of all formulas, the ingredient that cannot be missing, because, if it is not there, the formula fails and organisational wellbeing is not achieved.

I believe that we should slow down and develop an authentic interest in everything around us, starting from the people; not only that, we must listen to the environment that surrounds us, read the context in which we find ourselves, pay more attention to the unspoken than to bombastic statements. After having listened and understood, we must accompany and be accompanied, so that the wellbeing of one becomes the organisational wellbeing of many.

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