“Do you think wellbeing is a fad?”
I was asked this recently and my instinctive response was “I hope not!”. Not given how much positive change I have seen come about through the recent focus on wellbeing.
But, thinking more about it, it’s a fair question. Wellbeing/wellness programs and initiatives have popped up like mushrooms all over workplaces – and in some quarters, this could feel a little like ‘jumping on the bandwagon’.
But my true response is a firm no – that like many other ‘themes’ of recent times (diversity, psychological safety, even engagement), wellbeing is an essential ingredient in creating a workplace culture where people do their best work, are creative and innovative, collaborate effectively and perform sustainably at a high level to meet organisational objectives.
There probably are people within organisations addressing wellbeing as a fad, perhaps implementing a few ‘lunch ‘n’ learns’, supporting a ‘get fit’ campaign and encouraging healthy eating at work.
Nothing wrong with any of that, but they are unlikely to achieve lasting change in behaviour. Or, for that matter, any of the desirable outcomes from seeing a real uplift in wellbeing – such as reduced absenteeism, increased engagement, innovation and retention, and sustainable high productivity and performance. (If you are yet to be convinced that these are the outcomes that investment in wellbeing can bring, then please ask and we can guide you to the evidence).
That’s because these programs, by and large, are not very ‘sticky’ – and, without fundamental shifts in how the leadership of the organisation engages with wellbeing, are doomed to under-achieve, if not fail.
For wellbeing to stick, and for organisations to see the benefits, it needs to be embedded in the expectations and behaviour of all leaders.
Wellbeing as a core leadership capability
We all know that initiatives in organisations have to be supported from the top to stand a chance of getting off the ground, surviving and achieving their objectives.
With wellbeing, we would like to see this go one stage further – indeed, we believe this is fundamental to realising the cultural shifts required to truly embed wellbeing.
It’s time to view wellbeing as an essential leadership capability.
Organisations expect leaders to have well-developed skills in people leadership, emotional intelligence, stakeholder relationships, strategic thinking, problem solving and so on. In this day and age, shouldn’t we also expect leaders to be capable at developing wellbeing? And by developing wellbeing, we mean:
- Attending to their own self-care,
- Attending and promoting ‘other-care’ for the people they lead,
- And being champions of wellbeing across their organisations.
Here is our attempt at a fuller definition of ‘enabling wellbeing’, and we offer this up as a gift to stimulate your minds on what might work in your own organisation:
“Making purposeful and well-informed choices to optimise wellbeing for self and others, role-modelling wellbeing as a priority, embedding reliable disciplines and influencing positive change in the system for others.”
How your organisation can enable wellbeing
To make wellbeing an essential skill, it needs to be documented within your organisation’s frameworks and integrated into performance reviews.
We propose you:
- Update your organisation’s leadership capability framework to include wellbeing as a clear and explicit expectation.
- Redesign or augment your leadership development initiatives to include leaders’ development of this capability as a core component of every leadership development program, at all levels of leadership.
- Build engagement in your wellbeing strategy to a point where you can set wellbeing KPIs as part of every leader’s performance targets.
- And finally, evaluate performance and reward leaders for their success in enabling wellbeing. After all, what gets measured, gets done.
The world is changing. Leaders are under more pressure to perform and respond to rapid organisational, social and technological change than ever before. The best of the best will understand, model and uphold positive wellbeing practices in the workplace.
Leaders who role-model and prioritise the wellbeing skills and behaviours taught to them will become an organisation’s most powerful enablers of improved employee wellbeing and all the possible benefits that come with it.
But it’s only strong leadership, behavioural and cultural change driven by wellbeing data that will deliver.
Karen Gillespie is has an MA (Hons) in Psychology, an MSc in Occupational Psychology and a Graduate Diploma in Wellness. She has completed a Practice Certificate in Sleep Psychology through the Australian Psychological Society.
Along with Audrey McGibbon, Karen created the GLWS wellbeing survey, which is used to provide a complete view of the factors affecting a business leader’s energy, resilience and wellbeing.