If you’re responsible for looking after people at work, I’m sure workplace wellbeing hasn’t been far from your mind over the last two years.
And as a wellbeing coach and workplace psychologist, I know it’s been an urgent priority for organisations everywhere, as they try to support their people through an incredibly challenging period.
I take an inclusive perspective on wellbeing, viewing it not simply as the absence of illness, but as the opportunity for people to be their best selves at work. It therefore encompasses psychological, physical and social wellbeing. The old adage of thriving, not just surviving is particularly appropriate here.
That said, positive organisation intention doesn’t always turn into positive results, so based on my experience as a wellbeing practitioner, here are four common mistakes to avoid:
Treating wellbeing like an event
While it can be useful to draw attention to workplace wellbeing with a special week in the year, your focus on wellbeing needs to extend beyond events and become an ongoing area of focus. As individuals, we don’t focus on our health for a single week, we keep an eye on it throughout the year. By all means organise a ‘wellbeing week’ – but ensure you keep the momentum going after all the lunchtime talks and yoga sessions are over.
Not following through
Related to wellbeing-as-event, a failure to follow through on promises made can simply lead to cynicism in the workplace. Organisational leaders need to walk the wellbeing talk in order to effect change and promises made when everyone’s watching need to be met even when it’s inconvenient. If leaders are failing to real-model effective wellbeing behaviours, then why should anyone else believe what the organisation says on the topic? If you say it’s important to effectively disconnect from work in the evenings, but this is followed by emails at all hours, what does this say to your employees?
Neglecting the essentials
It’s easy to be attracted to the new and innovative when it comes to wellbeing at work – we frequently want to be seen as working at the cutting edge. But ‘new’ doesn’t mean it works and a focus on fads can distract us from taking care of the essentials: good job design, helping people manage workloads, cultivating an appropriate management culture, managing change effectively. The UK’s Health and Safety Executive has an actionable list of important job factors like this, which you should ideally address before moving on to anything else. If not, their negative impact on employee wellbeing will undermine what you’re doing in other areas.
Adding features instead of removing bugs
To borrow an image from the world of software engineering, many initiatives to improve workplace wellbeing consist of adding new things: new processes, new events, new responsibilities and so on. Whereas you’re likely to get a much better result if you looked first to remove what’s not working – the organisational ‘bugs’. What stops people feeing good about work and being their best selves: endless video meetings, poor management behaviours, micro-management…the list goes on. So before adding new wellbeing focused activities, think what you could remove first.
Workplace wellbeing isn’t easy and requires an ongoing focus. But it’s essential for organisational leaders to have a joined-up perspective on this key element of the employee experience.
Richard MacKinnon is a Chartered Psychologist and Registered Coaching Psychologist based in London, with over 18 years experience as a practitioner. Richard’s coaching practice focuses on three broad areas: wellbeing, productivity and interpersonal effectiveness.
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Coaching psychologist specialising in wellbeing, productivity and professional effectiveness.