Lead Strong Episode 37: Wellbeing

This episode of Lead Strong saw hosts and Directors of Cappfinity’s Talent Practice, Celine Floyd and Stephanie Hopper join with Anna Vila Pouca, Group Talent Development Lead at Marks & Spencer and Jane-Clare Dennis, Group Head of Inclusion and Wellbeing at The British Standards Institute (BSI), to discuss wellbeing and the importance of investing in the whole person when developing leaders.

The Talent Practice interviewed several leaders earlier this year to understand their opinions of wellbeing in the workplace.  Wellbeing was found to be critical but controversial to implement, because although there was a lot of talk internally about a people agenda, there was also a struggle to implement it within each employee’s working hours.

A holistic approach that included the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual energy was desired, but putting this into practice often proved difficult.

How should a holistic approach to wellbeing be implemented?

The key thing is authenticity and how we connect with people in the organization.  Jane highlighted the relevance of Dr Martin Seligman’s PERMA Model of Wellbeing, which centers on the importance of positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and achievement in colleague workplace experience.

If you use the PERMA Model as a golden thread through everything you do, instead of relying on standalone pillar activities, like a wellbeing webinar for example, then that should positively influence the wellbeing impact you have as a leader with your team members. By asking questions like; Are they getting a sense of meaning from the type of work they’re doing, and do they have good relationships in the workplace when launching new initiatives, you can start to embed the model.

There still needs to be some pillars of activity, because typically you need to be delivering content services for people, but it’s about ensuring wellbeing is embedded as a consideration in absolutely everything you do.

A holistic approach to wellbeing also includes how the leader treats themselves.  They should be role modelling positive wellbeing behaviours like making time for exercise, if that’s what makes them happy, leaving the office at a reasonable time and taking their annual leave.  If employees see examples of leaders really taking care of themselves, it will follow through that they do the same thing and will help to create a positive wellbeing culture in the workplace.

Why do we sometimes struggle to implement a holistic approach to wellbeing?

As a leader, we sometimes focus too much on the outer facts, rather than what’s going on inside.  We fail to consider what a person might be telling themselves, what their mindset is or what frustrations they have.

Anna discussed the need to understand the root causes of poor wellbeing.  For example, having too higher targets that lead to over work will have a poor impact on wellbeing.  Signposting employees to wellbeing resources for better sleep or diet are of no use to them, because they do not address the underlying reason of why they’re not getting enough sleep or why they don’t have time to eat a nutritious meal.

We should recognise too that there are differences in what people need.  Healthy wellbeing may look like free yoga sessions and smoothies for one employee, whereas it might look like being able to go home, have a nice glass of wine and watch TV for another.  There is no one size fits all.

Is wellbeing in the workplace accessible for all?

There is an argument that many senior leaders will have more flexibility to plan and take time to do things like go for a run or take an extended lunch break.  Junior colleagues who are desk bound may not have that flexibility, they may have to clock in and out at a specific time, they will be bound by a specific structure and place for their working day.  So, there is already some disparity there.

Jane noted that a lot of the research around workplace wellbeing is very focused on only one demographic.  There’s a huge amount of snobbery in the research because much of it is based on the wellbeing experiences of white, middle-class American students.  We rarely go out and examine the wellbeing status of different socioeconomic backgrounds or ethnic minorities.

Global organizations are creating their wellbeing policies based on research in the West from a center based in the UK.  How relevant is this research on the workplace experience of a manufacturing colleague in China, for example? We should be gathering data specific to our workplace demographic.

We cannot fix wellbeing issues with webinars and allowing home working.  Leaders must listen to their employees, understand them, their challenges and how they want to work and then we need to ensure we are catering to them.

How can leaders respond to the wellbeing needs of Gen Z?

Gen Z will make up approximately 30% of the workforce by 2030.  This generation expects to be able to speak more freely about their wellbeing and for this to be a priority in the organization they work for.

Role modelling expected behaviours will be key for showing Gen Z the expectations around wellbeing from the get-go.  If leaders are showing up completely burnt out and making bad decisions, this will undo all the good work the organization is trying to do for wellbeing.  It’s about setting your wellbeing values and living by them to set the best example to employees.

It’s also important to move away from a ‘one size fits all’ approach.  As we’ve said, positive wellbeing for one person will look completely different to positive wellbeing for someone else.  Talk to your employees and really listen.  Leaders need to lean into an individualistic nature.

Finally, try to be an ally for others by breaking down bias.  If you’re a male manager, you should be able to stand up at 3:30pm, loudly depart the building and say you’re going to pick your children up from school without fear of reprisal.  Showing allyship for promoting the behaviours that other people feel shy talking about can make a hugely positive difference to your team’s wellbeing.

You can watch the full Lead Strong episode here.