Wellbeing – the untapped, hidden force driving better culture, conduct and performance

Audrey McGibbon introduced the leader’s panel (immediately after the keynote by Brian Heyworth), interviewing Luke Bayliss CEO of Sumo Salad, Michael Ferguson CFO of Downer Group and Berkeley Cox, Chief Executive Partner of King Wood Mallesons (KWM Australia).


During her introduction, Audrey shared some new data revealing the importance of leader-led wellbeing; these are summarised below alongside some of the key insights from her distinguished panellists.

As has been well documented, the 4th Industrial Revolution is characterised by omnipresent uncertainty, ubiquitous change and relentless disruption – for those in charge of running organisations it’s becoming an increasingly risky business.

One of the least well understood risks is the unprecedented level of pressure being experienced by the humans in the system. From the very top to the very bottom, there’s little doubt the nature of work and our workplaces are in transformation – they have been for a while and it looks set to continue.

Audrey says ‘it’s as if we’ve created a 21st Century human pressure-cooker’.

How many colleagues do you know for whom it has become the norm to ‘double hat’?  In the ‘always on’ era of ‘do less with more’, employees across all levels and sectors are increasingly expected not only to do their day jobs, but to lead or implement transformational change and (more recently) to also lift their game with significantly increased levels of compliance and risk reporting.

Last month, new data from GLWS wellbeing profiles of 2,720 leaders containing 330,000+ responses to questions about their wellbeing revealed a concerning picture:

  • Around 60% of senior professionals feel they are ‘sometimes, always or usually’ drowning in unnecessary admin or ‘red tape’ at work; stressed and anxious whilst at work and prone to high levels of self-doubt;
  • 75% feel pulled in too many different directions in their roles;
  • 80% say concentration is compromised by competing demands for their attention;
  • 63% describe being at risk of burnout;
  • 46% say politics at work detract from their wellbeing;
  • 28% go as far as saying they experience toxic relationships at work;
  • 23% almost never get adequate sleep and;
  • 5% feel they ‘never or rarely’ trust their boss.

Whilst this paints an alarming picture of the risks to leaders’ wellbeing (and we should be concerned by that for humanity’s sake), low wellbeing as driver of risk of behaviour and poor performance is what demands the attention of business leaders like Luke Bayliss, Michael Ferguson and Berkeley Cox.

What is pathway ahead?

In a PWC report ‘Preparing for tomorrow’s workforce today’  the top 10 organisational capabilities of the future include wellbeing and work-life balance. Without these, having the levels of inner agility, adaptability, innovation and empathy (the essential human skills of the future) becomes harder and harder. Without wellbeing, the workforce simply won’t be able to (or if we listen to young talent – even want to) perform over the longer term to the standards that are expected.

The pursuit of a professional culture characterised by leaders and their teams being motivated and able to maintain sustainable high performance is what will yield an uplift in the standards of ethical conduct and in stronger, better operations and performance.

Berkeley Cox is one such CEO with high levels of awareness and commitment to the necessity of an organisation’s leaders having high levels of wellbeing, in order to cast a positive shadow across the whole organisation, bringing higher levels of staff engagement, higher levels of psychological safety, higher levels of job satisfaction and higher levels of happiness in the workplace. These are the factors that manifest in a well-run organisation poised to meet all its objectives. Productivity and even share price have been shown to be higher in organisations with high levels of employee wellbeing. The most progressive or organisations are creating wellbeing ecosystems by putting in place specific leader-led wellbeing programs, with aligned practices and policies. Such initiatives start at the top, determining the wellbeing risks for senior leaders and educating and supporting them to help drive positive systemic change.

If you would like to more detail about how Berkeley and his team have been leading a strong focus on wellbeing across the whole of KWM, you can get their full case-study story here.

With low levels of leader and employee wellbeing the opposite occurs – there is a focus on short term results at the expense of sustainability, individuals suffer burnout, their behaviour deteriorates and the standards that people accept (or walk past) drop.

Michael Ferguson mindful of Downer’s 50,000+ employees invited us to reconsider the employee value proposition. How might we add value to employees’ wellbeing over the course of their employment lifetime, rather than ‘just’ adding value by increasing technical skills and relevant experience. Imagine a world where – as a direct result of their employment with an organisation, and not despite it – employees’ wellbeing is facilitated and enriched, where people in essence leave a company in better shape than when they joined it. Now there’s something to aim for.

How might life be different if every organisation committed to ensuring employee wellbeing was net additive not net dilutive at the end of the employment contract? What an employee value proposition that would be, and how easy would it be to attract the best talent were this true?

If you’re not lucky enough to have wellbeing built into the DNA of the organisation in the way Luke Bayliss has been committed to leading SumoSalad’s culture since its inception, then wellbeing needs to become an area of joint accountability whereby individuals are of course responsible for their choices and where the role of leaders, teams and the system in which they operate is also worked on.

‘To hold individuals wholly responsible for their wellbeing without due consideration of the organisation’s policies, the behaviour and expectations of leaders or the design of the workplace environment would be nothing short of unethical’ according to Audrey McGibbon who has written a blog on the topic of ‘changing the business plan

Or, as Wade Needham, Head of Safety, Environment and Wellbeing (Asia-Pacific) at Serco so neatly puts it – ‘it’s not just the apples in the barrel, we also need to look at the barrel itself’.

Marisa Bosotti

Principal Consultant, EEK & SENSE


About the author:

Marisa has a BPsych (Hons), in Industrial & Organisational Psychology and has worked with the founders of GLWS for many years. Her background in organisational psychology and love of relationship building roles makes her ideally suited to helping clients achieve their employee wellbeing goals.

GLWS Wellbeing

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