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Cultivating belonging for lasting wellbeing at work

Dive into the buzz surrounding employee wellbeing and uncover the reality behind the lavish perks and initiatives.

The buzz around employee wellbeing is louder than ever. We’ve all seen it – the perks, the initiatives, the well-meaning attempts to support mental and physical health in the workplace. But here’s the kicker: research suggests that despite the huge amount of time and money being poured into these programs, they might not be hitting the mark.

Companies around the world spent around US $61.2bn on wellness interventions in 2021. That amount is projected to grow to US $94.6bn in 2026. The latest research, which analyzed data from 46,336 workers across more than 230 companies, found nearly all interventions failed to benefit employee wellbeing.

Perks are resources, not solutions

Let’s break it down. Companies are going all out – gym memberships, sleep and meditation apps, discount schemes, extra days off – you name it. Yet, when it comes to actually improving employee wellbeing, many of these interventions fall short. And the reason why they don’t work is because these “perks” are just giving people resources, not solutions.

The truth is, true wellbeing isn’t just about adding more coping mechanisms to an already stressful environment. It’s about tackling the root causes of stress and fostering a culture of support and belonging.

Creating true belonging

So, what’s the missing piece of the puzzle? Enter workplace belonging. It’s about creating an environment where every individual feels valued, respected, and included. This is not just a warm and fuzzy concept – it’s backed by solid research. Studies have shown that a sense of belonging is closely linked to improved mental health and overall wellbeing.

As an executive coach, I’ve seen it firsthand; I often encounter this scenario with my coachees. You can have someone who seems to be doing everything right – following therapists on Instagram, practicing meditation with Headspace, ticking all the boxes – yet they remain stuck. Why? Because they haven’t delved into the underlying reasons behind their behaviours and responses. Without understanding the root causes, fostering true belonging, or challenging their limiting beliefs, the resources are useless – unless you know why you need them.

That’s why it’s crucial for employers to meet their people halfway. Yes, offer support and resources, but also invest in understanding the underlying behaviours and beliefs that impact wellbeing.

Embracing individual differences

It’s so important to consider diversity. Wellbeing isn’t one-size-fits-all. It’s about recognizing and respecting the unique needs of each individual. Whether it’s through coffee mornings or feedback sessions, creating spaces where everyone feels heard and valued is key.

Furthermore, it’s essential to consider factors like boundaries and flexible working. For many working parents and carers, the priority isn’t meditation apps  – it’s the ability to work flexibly or remotely. Recognizing and addressing these needs can significantly enhance employee wellbeing.

It’s essential for companies to ask themselves: What does wellbeing mean for everyone in our organization? And, how can we tailor our approach to meet the individual wellbeing needs of each person?

Disentangling wellbeing from mental health

All of this said, it’s important to draw a clear distinction between mental health and wellbeing. I’ve noticed a trend of lumping mental health and wellbeing together, but, while they are closely related, they’re not one and the same. Mental health encompasses a broad range of issues beyond wellbeing – from clinical diagnoses and trauma responses to medication and everyday stressors. It’s hugely important for companies to address both, but conflating the two is incredibly risky.

Making this distinction is crucial. For example, we’re currently witnessing a concerning increase in cases of postpartum or postnatal mental health challenges. It’s vital to avoid lumping these kinds of issues together with general wellbeing or lose sight of the seriousness of mental illness.

Another important aspect to consider is neurodiversity. According to some research nearly three-quarters of neurodivergent employees experience mental health issues. This highlights the importance of understanding each individual’s unique needs, particularly those facing barriers to performance, and providing tailored support.

Measuring success

Additionally, companies need to clarify their desired outcomes. What are you aiming for, and how do you measure success?

Staff surveys can be valuable tools for understanding how work impacts wellbeing and identifying areas for improvement. They should ask the questions: “How much does your work affect your wellbeing?” and “What could be done differently at work that would improve your wellbeing?”

The bottom line: wellbeing isn’t just a box to tick – it’s a journey. It’s about fostering a sense of belonging, understanding individual needs, and creating a culture of support and inclusivity. And as we navigate this journey together, let’s keep one thing in mind: when employees feel like they truly belong, that’s when the magic happens.

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