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Is Workplace Wellbeing More Than A Matter Of Opinion?

Written by: Nicola Wakeling, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


You may have noticed that the idea of Workplace Wellness means different things to everyone. Have you ever wondered why? Some think that its a way to repair harm, sort of like stress offsetting the work environment. Others think it's literally a waste of productive time. Others think it's necessary because it can help drive profits. What do you say?

But what if Workplace Wellbeing is becoming important to us because it's a natural response to tackling complexity and uncertainty? As part of the human psyche, imagine if the pull towards well-being within our work environment is not a ‘fix’ that we are being encouraged to make, but part of the natural emergence of our 'move forwards as a collective'.

But let’s start at the beginning with the evolving employee who we might call Jane. We are going to take Jane through a few different business models and see how her overall well-being might develop.

The Employee as a Minion

Jane starts work in a company with a clear business hierarchy. There is a Boss in her department and she is given instructions as to what she should do. It's a top down process, and other than conversation amongst her colleagues, it is difficult for Jane to suggest new ways of doing things, or contribute to the business in any other way than within the tasks she has been given. The driver within this business is authority. Profit is driven through co-operation within a compliant environment. Jane is lucky if the job suits her - mostly, limited regard is given to her own personal growth in this environment.

The Employee as a Resource

Then, years later, Jane decides to move to a more forward-thinking business - a new and different way of doing things where the boss increasingly gives more ‘space’ to employees to innovate within some parameters, where the results would bring a gain of some sort to the organisation. The ethos is ‘progress’ and so long as nothing unlawful happens, the star players win. Jane is rewarded for productivity, and she has ever increasing targets to smash. This focus is on the product that is being brought to market, with customers playing a small role in the strategic decision making process. Jane feels pressured to keep up and exceed performance and often the drive for more profit seems to be at odds with doing a good job for the customer or for balancing her workload. Teamwork is mostly centred around squeezing out some extra motivation. Profit is driven through doing whatever it takes to make the sale. The pay is good but Jane still doesn't have much of a voice.

The Employee as a Family Member

So after a few years, Jane moves on to a more forward thinking business (haven't we heard that before but we will come back to that later). This new company really understands that Jane would like to be looked after and listened to. There isn't a relentless drive for more ways to increase profits paying dividends, because this company recognises that there seems to have been a shift in the consumer themselves. Now the emphasis is beginning to anticipate what is important to the customer and to meet them in their needs and desires. Within the organisation itself, there is a recognition that every employee is also in some way, a customer. Listening to their point of view and giving employees a voice in the company is happening for the first time in Jane's career. Employee engagement and understanding the customer begins to drive strategy. Profit is driven from understanding and engagement. Jane feels part of a family and that she feels listened to. Interestingly she is still producing the same amount of work as she has always done. In this new company, she is more likely to stay late or work through her lunch break - there is a much greater feeling of inclusion for her here.

You may recognise that in each case, Jane felt that her next move was to a 'more forward thinking company'. We are really describing the 'evolution' of business through the years and each of these 'stages' still very much exist in our world right now and that will not change. Businesses rarely devolve to a previous level (although management change can drive the business in a different direction) and much of the change happening today within companies is driven through this evolutionary process.

The Employee As The System Driver

In our increasingly complex world, there is one final evolution that is busy emerging across some organisations. The rapid acceleration of technology has dissolved many of the physical constraints that were still present within the previous ‘level’ which leads to an even more complex environment. Now, if we are going to compete and survive long term within the business environment we are really going to need to be able to reap the benefit of the creativity and resilience of our entire team. Companies are awakening to the idea that to maximise and leverage within a VUCA environment, it requires a purposeful and intentional culture to create high performing, humane and resilient workplaces.

So Jane starts a new position in one of these companies and immediately notices that she is being asked her opinion and to share her considerable knowledge and experience. The company encourages her to try new things and learn from her mistakes and take time to deep dive into her own personal wealth of knowledge to come up with new ideas. There is a sense that she can employ herself without fear or negative consequences or self-image, status or career. Not only that, there is a genuine desire for her to look after herself in other ways that are beneficial. A recognition around workplace stress, access to learning about areas that haven't before been business related - for example, she could learn about meditation and there is even a 'creativity' room she can use within the building, and access to a coach to help her explore some of her ideas.

She can see in herself, the chance to unlock another level of creativity and flexibility, learning, engagement and performance. Profit is driven through deep resilience and reaching into each employee for the capacity to grow the organisation as a whole. She feels that she has gone way beyond feeling 'part of a family' here - she is now comfortable enough to explore areas of her own capabilities that she never thought would be possible. The payoff in her personal life seems to be present too.

The Neuroscience

It makes perfect sense as if you are trying to protect yourself, for instance from criticism, you will miss out on creativity. People have to be comfortable with making mistakes or suggesting ideas that might not work.

Within decision making, at a personal level, we have an idea of something we might do and then we ‘run’ it for the element of risk involved in that behaviour. Apply this process within a work environment where your idea may result in a loss of status, or other negative consequences and you might see how quickly it is that the idea becomes stifled.

Within an environment where learning and creativity are seen as desirable outcomes, there will be little resistance to moving forward into action. Seems fairly simple - the team either gets the idea or they don’t. However, most of us have heard an idea start as one concept and suddenly someone else adds in something else. Suddenly the thing ‘gets legs’ and something new has been created. It seems like the individuals response is enabled and in turn, can influence the ‘system’.

The organisation that promotes this culture is one which employees experience higher quality connections with their co-workers and vitality and in turn, overall happiness is likely to be higher. This will show up in job satisfaction scores and wellbeing of individual employees and for the organisation as a whole. Profit is driven by leveraging individuals within a ‘system’ which is generative, flexible and resilient.

Workplace Wellbeing Can Do All Of This?

Within Jane's first job, workplace wellbeing is going to be seen as an inconvenience. Its an activity that happens outside of work time. Within her second job, unless it shows a strong ROI it will be minimised to measurable and demonstrable steps. In her third job, it will become more important and woven into her daily workflow. At her last job, it is seen as part of the key strategic objectives and Janes personal development and happiness will be encouraged as a way to strengthen the business as a whole system. Those companies who really understand this, reap the rewards that come with it. But it depends where you are starting.

What The World Needs Now...

As a society we can see the complexities of our world are increasing exponentially and will likely continue to do so. Making Workplace Wellbeing something that is centre-stage in organisations will mean that resilience and creativity within a VAKOG environment becomes a transferrable asset or quality. What better evolution could there be for us as individuals, as families, as societies, as cultures, as a species, to be able to foster this approach towards learning, making mistakes, unlocking creativity and really working together in new ways. I say, it could make the world a better place for all, and that might just be what we are unconsciously expressing as this ‘way of being’ nudges ever more into our collective conscious.

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Nicola Wakeling, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Nicola Wakeling is an exceptional and passionate Therapist and Coach combining hypnosis, NLP, neuroscience, generative coaching and existential psychotherapy together into a fast-paced results driven practice. With years of SME experience and national award-winning businesses under her belt, she is passionate about optimising growth from within using all possible resources, even when they have to be discovered and unleashed first. Nicola is also a skills-based Mentor for Coaches.

She has a private practice both online and one to one in Buckinghamshire, UK



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