The year 2020 was the perfect platform to really embrace the true realities of life, where change is the only constant, especially as it relates to the workforce. Our working patterns were forced to change, the boundaries between home and life became blurred, our reliances and support systems were shut down overnight, our ability to maintain our boundaries was tested, the list could go on. All of these elements combined sent the topic of workplace wellbeing to the top of organisational agendas, whilst placing a spotlight on the “newly” defined wellbeing leader role.
And whilst many would argue that this role had always been in existence in some form or another, the reality is that now there are so many more pressures on organisations to address wellbeing that it all requires a different tone, approach and mentality. For example, in the US the SEC has released a requirement for organisations to report on various wellbeing metrics and I can imagine that many other regions will not be far behind in adding requirements like this.
So what is the challenge? The challenge is that roles of this nature have been transformed and there is no roadmap or tell-all guide to assist those hiring for or coming into roles like this. There is also such a divide between the expectations and placement of those sitting in these roles – e.g. do they sit in HR or across the wider business? Do you place higher value on skills like project and stakeholder management or core human resource skills? Do you look for those with business or HR or Wellness backgrounds? The list of these types of questions are infinite and are the things that organisations and recruiters are grappling with as they scramble to fill roles of this nature.
But what happens if you are actually placed in one of these roles? And / or have been in a role like this for awhile? Where do you start? How do you proceed? How do you have / make an impact? How do you get heard?
When I originally landed the role of a wellbeing leader I was beyond excited. I finally found the role that married my passions and skillsets. But those feelings of excitement were temporary as a flood of overwhelm completely creeped in. All the questions above flooded my mind as a stream of vendors flooded my inbox. So what did I do? And what upon reflection are things I believe not only made me successful, but are the keys for anyone to make this role a success?
For me there are five key things – business acumen, industry immersion, network and stakeholder management, understanding your workforce and strategic thinking and communication.
- Business acumen
Wellbeing will seem to many as a “soft topic” – and I dislike saying that – but the reality is that is how many see it. The challenge then is to raise the awareness and importance of wellbeing whilst linking it to the overall organisation. Which means learning to speak the language. And what is core to that is being able to understand the following types of questions about your organisation:
- How does it interact with the market?
- What drives its bottom line and generates revenue?
- What are its outlays?
- What is the overall organisation strategy, vision and mission?
- What are the key measures of success and / or key performance indicators?
- What are the various levels and / or businesses across the organisation and the expectations set of these elements?
- What data is available across the organisation?
- What are other organisations alike doing across this agenda and / or its clients?
There are several more that could be added to the above, but what it illustrates is the importance of having this foundational knowledge. It is this knowledge that will equip you with the ability to develop and deliver on a strategy and vision that links to the overall organisation, brings together several components and isn’t just seen as a separate stand alone tick box.
- Industry Immersion
There isn’t one wellbeing leader I have met that isn’t an advocate of the overall space. We all are very passionate about what we do and the topic of wellbeing, which is great. Passion drives our motivation, but what also supports our success is not having tunnel vision.
Wellbeing isn’t just about mindfulness or mental health or physical health, it also isn’t about getting people to use the tools / resources that have worked for us individually. It is a $4.5 trillion dollar industry that has so many facets to it. And yes I agree that not every facet will be relevant for you in your role, but it is important to understand it, i.e. What are the latest trends, gadgets, movements in the industry? What brands should we be watching? How is the industry growing and being impacted by things like Covid_19?, etc.
Understanding the wider industry supports your knowledge base, teaches you about consumer behaviours and helps you understand the art of the possible. The key therefore then, is to get really curious about the industry and the space – go to as many events and networking opportunities, schedule coffee chats, read and subscribe to newsletters and article platforms, listen to podcasts, etc. It will seem overwhelming, so start little by little, perhaps by blocking your diary an hour or two a week to build that industry knowledge.
- Network and Stakeholder Management
Let’s face it, to be a wellbeing leader, often means driving numerous things – be it website design, communications strategy, campaigns, board papers, opinion pieces, pastoral care, communicating trends, knowing / understanding external offerings, sitting on external boards, contributing to wider discussions and strategic planning and the list continues. There are a lot of pieces to the wellbeing leader puzzle, which therefore makes it so easy to get bogged down in the day to day, without thinking about your wider support network that are critical for your success.
Your network is two fold:
- Internal stakeholders, i.e. leadership teams, business leaders, heads of businesses / operations, functional leaders / heads, business partners, heads of similar / linked agendas such as diversity & inclusion, learning and development, communications, benefits teams, etc.
- External stakeholders, i.e. network of other wellbeing leaders, external boards, campaigns and organisations, vendors, advocates, thought leaders, mentors, etc.
It is important at the outset (and as you continue on), to get to know your network, understand who they are, what they need from you, how you can bring them on board and leverage them, etc. I made it my job to get to know everyone and anyone including the offshore team that managed the backend of our intranet. All of these relationships help in your success because they allow you the ability to lean on others for support, better prioritise, refine and understand your approach to things, and provide you with an outlet to grow and develop. Remember the number one rule of business is network, network, network – so start scheduling those coffee / green juice / tea zoom chats.
- Understanding your Workforce
We all show up to work everyday. But what and how that work looks and feels is different for each of us. The permutations of what our individual days look like is vast and if there is anything we have learned from COVID_19 it is just that. Therefore, a key success factor for any wellbeing leader is to really understand your workforce in its entirety. As leaders in this space, you need to be able to understand what it looks and feels like to come to work each day as an employee in every single area of the business. This helps not only in designing a strategy that is relevant and that speaks to your audience but it also helps you to understand the daily challenges and the potential areas of the business you could really help to transform and change from an underlying policy and operations perspective. Further, campaigns, courses, events, etc., are all great elements to a strategy but they to will only work if they are relevant to your audience and are accessible in a way that works for them.
By understanding the employee personas that exist in your organisation you are able to put out things that have greater impact and change across not only the organisation but in individuals lives.