Workplace Wellbeing: Beyond the fruit bowl & off the yoga mat.

workplace wellbeing fruit yoga spiritual

Wellness is the new black

Workplace Wellbeing is big business worldwide and getting bigger.  Here in New Zealand (and no doubt other places) there is ever-increasing legislative imperatives for employers to take employee wellbeing seriously.

Sadly, there are also stories of large investments with little benefit. There are even worse stories of alarming ethics e.g. linking employee wellbeing actions with rewards.

What might be going wrong?  I have some (somewhat educated, but as yet not fully proven) hunches about what might be behind some of the failure stories hitting the headlines.

Firstly many wellbeing programs focus on the employee’s physical and mental wellbeing: the (in)famous fruit bowl, lunchtime yoga, step challenge, and ROUK? training.

Such initiatives are important.  I for one am all for a free piece of fruit and lunchtime stretch.

So why then might such good intentions by employers not quite be going to plan?

What’s wrong?

There are a couple of directly related challenges.  Firstly, behaviour change is hard. Dam hard.  And it mostly fails.

A second issue is those that need the fruit or exercise most, seem to be the least likely to get involved.  These programs end up preaching to (and funding) the converted.  Why don’t the less naturally healthy tend to opt-in as much?

I suspect a combination of embarrassment and values.  What overweight, older, employee wants to join their slim young colleagues while donning ‘activewear?  Re: values – some people don’t value health as much as others.  Trying to get people to make changes for things they value is hard enough, when they don’t value health it is a fools’ errand.

What is missing?

What I want to talk about now has nothing to do with the details of such programmes.  I want to discuss what is missing from them.

Programs focusing on specific wellbeing behaviours may be necessary but not sufficient.

What do I mean by that?  If you are sick, sad, or unwell it is hard to bring your best self to work.  Conversely, if you are vibrant, happy, and healthy you might bring your best self to work, or you might still leave her at home, or on the sports field.

I am sorry to say, employers … but yes you need more if you want employee wellbeing to translate into employee performance (and ultimately business performance).

You need to consider…


Aaah leadership, so important, so easy to do so very badly.  Hands up who has had mostly leaders they respect admire and wish to go that extra mile for?

Person <-> Job Fit

Are your people doing jobs that call to them?  Ones that use their skills and align with what they value? You can read more about getting this stuff right here.

At the very least are your staff in a pleasant enough environment that they value and appreciate for its ability to support their other interests (like that ultra-marathon they are doing next month).

Culture Matters

If you are doing a job that calls to you, under a boss you are comfortable with you might be able to bring your best self to the role.  But what if the culture is one of distrust? Of underhand tactics?  What then?  A poor culture (likewise for a poor leader) is actually shown to be detrimental to employee performance.

But, Waaaaah!

But and I hear you yelling: How on earth do we do all this? How can we do our jobs and meet our customers’ needs if we are trying to have great leaders, create and maintain a great culture, with the best people in the best roles, and topping up the fruit bowl and organising a lunchtime mindful run around the park?

My challenge to us all is: how can you do great jobs and meet your customers’ needs if your people are leaving their best selves at the door, or worse their best selves are lost even to them, in the stress of life and the job?

What are your thoughts?

Yours as ever,

The WellbeingatWorkDr

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