Wellbeing Science Institute

The Elephant in the Wellbeing Room

A Perfect Storm of Global Challenges;

COVID-19, climate change, an increasingly uncertain economic and political environment, have ensured wellbeing is a priority for every organisation and their employees.

Organisations around the world recognise that many of their employees are stretched to breaking point, physically, psychologically and socially. In response, many attempt to address the issue by logically, focusing on the wellbeing of their people.

While such an approach may seem logical most companies will waist their money waste their and here’s why.

Investing in Employee Wellbeing requires investing in Organisational Wellbeing. Because Employee Wellbeing Organisational Wellbeing are inseparable. There can be no Employee Wellbeing without Organisational Wellbeing and companies need strategies and strategies and plans for both
In the first of a two-part series, I will outline how companies can create Organisational Wellbeing and thereby remove one of their employees’ biggest barriers to their wellbeing; the culture they experience, every day.

The 5 Drivers of Organisational Wellbeing

1. Strategic Clarity

Organisational Wellbeing means having a clearly articulated vision, strategy, and goals that all staff understand and can relate to personally.

Having such strategic clarity can also provide a sense of mission, purpose and meaning for employees.

Strategic clarity also provides the basis for effective organisational performance and lays the foundation for genuine leadership accountability. Without strategic clarity, accountability is fantasy.

2. Effective Leadership at all levels

Effective Leadership, at all levels, is a fundamental driver of Organisational Wellbeing. While the leadership roles people hold may differ, junior to experienced, or different parts of the organisation, the science and evidence behind their leadership behaviour can be remarkably similar.

Poor leadership simply frustrates and disengages people.

Unfortunately, most organisations invest far too little in helping leaders understand even the basics of human motivation, behaviour, and effective communication.

Organisations need leadership systems in terms of philosophy, principles, practices and behaviour.
Leaders also need accountability to do their job effectively. This includes people leadership. It is a surprise to many leaders when informed that leadership accountability is a two-way concept.

Leaders should hold team members accountable for keeping their promises and ensuring their best efforts. At the same time, leaders are themselves accountable for treating people with trust and fairness and helping the become more effective at their job.

The only way to have leaders at all levels working with common and related purpose is to provide every leader with the people leadership skills to do their job. This applies equally to first-time leaders and senior executives.

Leadership is the art and science of getting goals accomplished with and through people. But if leaders don’t have the necessary people leadership skills, they have little chance of engaging their teams or achieving common goals.

3. Learning at all levels is practised and valued

For many leaders learning and development is something that other people need. Rarely do leaders role-model learning and development to set an example for their teams. Even less common is the leader who openly admits he or she needs to get better at something. Many leaders believe it is a core skill to wear the mask of invincibility rather than admit a weakness or development need.

Surprisingly, few leaders know how to give their team members useful advice about the areas they could potentially improve their performance. Some even deliberately try to avoid such conversations claiming they are too busy.

Organisations can and should equip all leaders with the skills, practical and conversational, to develop their staff. Helping leaders develop these skills is one of the most significant organisational wellbeing initiatives a company can implement and it has a long term pay off.

Staff learning and development also requires an investment combined with a mindset that does not view such investments as simply costs. Very few organisations bother to measure the effectiveness of the learning and development initiatives. Consequently few organisations know the true return on their investment (ROI) of their people development practices.

4. A positive, inclusive, diverse and safe environment

When it comes to culture most organisations prefer window dressing over substance.

Few organisations have a culture strategy that recognises and leverages the direct link between their strategy, leadership, and people. Even fewer, also have clear strategy to improve their culture that leaders, at all levels are accountable for implementing, while most organisations complete engagement surveys, employees collectively groan completing them.

Everyone secretly knows that there is only one winner from this mysteriously entrenched activity – the companies who sell and administer them. It’s certainly not the employees, because everybody knows that by the time anything is finally done in response to the surveys, it’s almost always too late.

A positive, engaging, inclusive, diverse, and safe culture creates trust, gives people a sense of belonging and drives discretionary effort.

The path to creating a positive, engaging inclusive, diverse and safe culture begins with asking staff what is working and what needs to be fixed or improved. As staff know the most issues in the organisation that need fixing or improving, they usually best placed to develop solutions. All their bosses need to do is ask.

Understanding and creating psychological safety is a key element organisational effectiveness. Attributes of psychological safety that have been found to be effective in fostering greater productivity in teams are:

  • team members all speaking in equal amounts
  • team members engaged in active listening with each other
  • inviting team members to contribute to decision-making and to providing feedback
  • team members modelling behaviours such as asking questions and asking for help
  • responding positively when others ask questions or request help

Research has consistently shown that psychological safety improves team and organisational performance, individual productivity, and employee engagement. Despite this fact few organisations make psychological safety training a core aspect of leadership development or people management training.

A safe working environment also means not treating people like machines, not working excessively long hours, encouraging people to take to invest in their physical psychological and social wellbeing and having leaders’ role-model such behaviour.

5. A positive employee experience for every employee

As management consultants McKinsey have highlighted, employee experience has 3 key elements:

  • social experience; relationships, teamwork, social climate; work experience,
  • work organisation, work control and flexibility, growth & rewards and
  • organisational experience; purpose, technology, and physical environment.

Few organisations have the courage to track these 3 elements and even fewer ensure leaders are accountable for employee experience outcomes.

Only Half of the Wellbeing Picture

Understanding and implementing the 5 key drivers of Organisational Wellbeing lays the foundation for employee wellbeing. Investing in employee wellbeing before the 5 drivers of Organisational Wellbeing are well in place not only limits return on the wellbeing investment but has the added effect of disengaging employees.

In the second part of this series, I will outline how to design effective Employee Wellbeing Programs and address the most common mistakes that companies make when they try to get it right.

Steve Johnson is CEO of the Wellbeing Science Institute, a wellbeing education and consulting company, head-quarter in Australia.