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Rethinking Workplace Wellbeing – Who’s Responsibility is it, Anyway?

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World WellBeing At Work Week 2023 is fast approaching.

Whilst prioritising employee wellbeing is a year-round commitment, this global awareness event, originally established by WellBeing World, offers us the opportunity to review our workplace wellbeing; to reflect on how our employees are faring, how our policies and practices impact their wellbeing, and how we can cultivate a healthier, more sustainable work culture.

Sponsored by Deloitte LLP, the week runs from 13th to 17th November, and each day we will feature a different article on various aspects of achieving wellbeing at work.

One question that often arises is: ‘Whose responsibility it is, anyway?’. In an era of blurred boundaries between work and personal life, the lines of responsibility for individual wellbeing are increasingly unclear. It’s evident that employee participation is crucial, as individuals ultimately bear the responsibility for their own health and happiness.

Nonetheless, organisations also have a significant role to play in fostering workplace wellbeing. It’s not a matter of a 50/50 split, but a 100%/100% commitment, where individuals and organisations equally share pivotal roles.

The next question that follows is: ‘How do we achieve it?’

Experience shows that true workplace wellbeing is achieved when employees perceive their workloads as manageable, when they find meaning and purpose in their tasks, receive adequate support, feel heard and respected, and when they cultivate healthy relationships in the workplace.

It’s about getting the fundamentals right.

Organisational Responsibility

Organisations play a crucial role in promoting workplace wellbeing. This begins by ensuring that employees have the necessary tools, time and resources to complete their tasks. Equally essential is creating a conducive environment and culture that prioritises and safeguards the health and wellbeing of their employees.

Research demonstrates that workload is a key factor. Overloading employees is a significant source of workplace stress, and manageable workloads are paramount. Employees should feel their work makes a difference, and managers should foster a culture of respect, inclusivity and support. Toxic behaviour should be addressed at all levels throughout the organisation, with no exceptions.

High-performing workforces are not built on pushing employees to their limits. For instance, tech giant, Apple, prioritises flexibility and freedom, granting employees autonomy directly linked to performance.

Employees can choose how and when they work, motivating them and instilling a sense of ownership and trust. Such examples illustrate that business success need not come at the expense of employee wellbeing; indeed, it can enhance it.

Individual Responsibility

Employees also have a significant role to play. They are not passive recipients but active participants in their own health and happiness.

This includes prioritising self-care through a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, a balanced diet, adequate sleep, and stress management; proactively seeking help when faced with challenges like stress or anxiety; maintaining a work-life balance by setting boundaries; pursuing continuous growth through lifelong learning; and engaging in open communication to address workload stress and challenges.

Balancing Act

In this symbiotic relationship between individuals and organisations, both parties must strive for equilibrium. Wellbeing is no longer just a buzzword; it is recognised as an essential business imperative. When individuals take responsibility for their health and wellbeing, and organisations provide support and foster a conducive environment, both parties benefit.

A Shifting Paradigm in Workplace Wellbeing

Wellbeing strategies have traditionally concentrated on the individual and are reactive and short-term. Such strategies, often characterised by one-off events and perks, fail to address the systemic issues causing workplace stress. It is evident that these approaches are insufficient in isolation, and frequently fails to yield positive results. Employees have reported stagnating or even deteriorating wellbeing, and it’s time for a paradigm shift in how we approach workplace wellbeing, emphasising the role of business leaders and the work itself.

The New Approach to Workplace Wellbeing

A 21st century paradigm shift emphasises proactive, holistic, and data-driven strategies. This approach quantifies wellbeing, breaks down silos, and addresses the root causes of stressors within the organisation. Key elements include quantifiable metrics, proactive solutions, cross-functional collaboration, and a focus on processes and policies.

Rather than waiting for issues to arise, this seeks to prevent them, requiring the cooperation across all departments and functions, involving leaders, managers and employees alike.

Expanding the Definition of Wellbeing

The traditional categories of mental, physical and emotional wellbeing are important, but they are only part of the broader picture. This new approach expands the definition of wellbeing to encompass various factors, including the nature of the work itself, the overall employee experience, the culture, lifestyle choices, and financial stability; with both organisations and employees recognising their shared – and yet equally important – responsibility in shaping employee experiences.

Our own workplace wellbeing protocol focuses on a wide range of factors comprising:

W – Wellbeing a Strategic Priority & Board Imperative
O – Open Communication, Listening & Employee Voice
R – Resilience & Relationships Inside & Outside of Work
K – Kindness, Compassion & Understanding of Needs
P – Processes for Psychological & Physical Safety
L – Leadership Skills, Development &  Accountability
A – Appreciation & Recognition of Employee Input
C – Culture, Teamwork, Trust & Respect
E – Environmental Energy in the Workplace & Hybrid

While it may not be an organisation’s duty to be solely responsible for improving employee happiness, it is undeniably their responsibility not to worsen it. This change in perspective shifts the focus from individual wellbeing initiatives to the workplace, overall; quantifying wellbeing, breaking down silos, and addressing root causes of stressors, specifically and holistically.

Creating a Future of Work

Embracing this new approach fosters a future of work that prioritises belonging, flexibility, and trust. This future emphasises inclusive cultures and an environment that allows employees to bring their full energy to work. The traditional approach is no longer adequate. Ideally it is a 100/100 shared responsibility with each party fully invested in reducing stressors, expanding the definition of wellbeing, and creating a positive workplace culture that recognises and prioritises human needs, and fosters true wellbeing.

World Wellbeing Week 2024

June 24 – June 30

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