The importance of wellbeing

I remember thirty years ago, trying to explain to one of my fellow management team members at a large and well known computer company about the need to focus on employee wellbeing. “So now I’ve not only got to make them productive, I’ve got to make them happy too!!” was his response.

Things have moved on and most people now agree that wellbeing and great performance are inextricably connected. A plethora of initiatives to improve employee wellbeing have been implemented, from gym membership to yoga, relaxation rooms and meditation to ‘at the desk’ massages, from employee satisfaction surveys to confidential counselling services.

Have they been successful?

Overall it seems that employee engagement is going down rather than up. And work related stress is going up rather than down, so probably not.

Clearly there are some companies considered by their employees as great places to work. Is it because they have better wellbeing initiatives or better massages?

Whilst I believe wellbeing initiatives are commendable and in all cases well intentioned, even the most ardent supporters would agree that their impact has been disappointing.

Why is this?

Well the first and most obvious is uptake. If the initiative does not appeal, then the employee will not take it up. Meditation does not appeal to everyone and no amount of “it’ll be good for you” seems to persuade them otherwise. Initiatives generally therefore work for some people and not others

The second is longevity. An initiative will work for a while and then lose it’s appeal and impact. It’s taken for granted and then people start searching for the next ‘silver bullet’

The third factor, and by far the most important is that quite simply we have all been looking in the wrong place for our source of wellbeing. Many employees have seen it as the organisations job (or the governments) to engage them and look after their wellbeing. Many organisation leaders have taken on that responsibility and with great effort and the best intentions have implemented wellbeing initiatives.

Our source of wellbeing comes from within. It is independent of our circumstances – how much we earn, our job title, our health, how people behave towards us or the quality of the massage. That doesn’t mean we may not want to change our circumstances, but when we do so, it is from a state of calm, peace and wellbeing, which makes our actions much more effective.

Illustrating this point beautifully, I recently spoke to a senior executive who had resigned from his role due to ‘not being able to get things done’, ‘destructive internal politics’, ‘a lousy boss’. He was serving out his notice period and strangely, he told me that he had become a whirlwind of activity – closing projects that were going nowhere, investing in new, more critical initiatives, having performance conversations (good and bad) he should have had months ago and in doing so was earning the respect of his colleagues, boss and subordinates. He was really enjoying work, though nothing had changed apart from his own mindset, motivation and engagement.

He saw that the dissatisfaction that had led to his resignation was not down to the people around him or the situation he was in, but the way he thought about it.

The barriers he saw to getting things done were not real, but generated by him in his own mind.

So often the biggest barriers to our wellbeing are creations of our own thinking and no number of wellbeing initiatives will help us in the long run.

Simply seeing, really seeing, that our experience of life is created through our thinking is enough to set a train of events in action that are truly transformative.

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