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2024: The ‘deeper works’ of tackling the wellbeing crisis

Wellbeing as we know it will change as we move towards a pivotal moment when real listening and forming deeper relationships take the place of superficial corporate strategies.

Wellbeing as we know it will change as we move towards a pivotal moment when real listening and forming deeper relationships take the place of superficial corporate strategies.

Since pandemic times, much corporate focus has been on mental health, yet in the future more employers will focus on a deeper-level of attainment, reaching a place where employees can ‘thrive’ and ‘flourish’. People won’t just feel ‘Ok’, they’ll be aligned to their sense of purpose and they’ll be fulfilled in meaningful workplace relationships, where there’s empathy and understanding.

It may seem like an unlikely end goal, but great results can be achieved when employee flourishing is prioritised and conversation, true listening and compassion join together.

For the last few years, wellbeing has largely been experienced as a transactional based activity in organisations. In part, this has been because of the pandemic where there have been many people encountering a range of emotional wellbeing issues, as well as physical and financial ones. Many organisations have stood up and responded by putting in place a lot of resources to support the issues. Solutions have stretched from podcasts and exercise classes to apps. But they aren’t likely doing the one thing that would help resolve more effectively – creating deeper and better relationships.

And collectively, we need that. We’re living in a world where we have never been more connected, yet at the same time, we’re facing a mental health crisis of many people suffering from loneliness and feelings of isolation.

One of the main ways around it isn’t rocket science, but it is proving complex to do: building strong relationships, where we are creating and using time to spend with people and if possible, helping them navigate some of the challenges that they’re facing. This can be seen as ‘deeper works’.

Consider this analogy. If wellbeing is a cake, many organisations have largely been operating at the ‘icing’ level and not cutting through to the cake itself.

Wellbeing is complex, and a fairly new conscious process at work, but most would agree, we’re not shifting it far enough yet. Businesses haven’t witnessed a significant shift in the numbers of employees not needing support yet. Interestingly, the UK is still seeing the levels of stress and anxiety that were found during the Covid-19 pandemic. The issues have shifted but the levels remain the same. Inpulse data proves this. From over 100,00 points of UK data across dozens of clients, in 2022 the benchmark for positive wellbeing was 64% as we end 2023 it stands at 65%.

Just think: 1in 3 employees are experiencing negative wellbeing at work. Of concern is that the core issues associated with wellbeing don’t appear to have been solved by the repeated focus on transactional activities.

What is being seen is an increase in coaching. This neatly returns us to a concept that we need to focus on – relationships, with ourselves, others, and potentially a spiritual purpose. With 1in 3 employees in the UK experiencing negative wellbeing what we’re seeing and hearing across dozens of board rooms is an openness to explore new ways to solving this major problem. Corporates are now open to exploring that in a way that they certainly wouldn’t have been 5-10 years ago.

Mind, the charity aimed at improving the lives of all people suffering with mental health problems, reports that as many as one in four people will experience a mental health problem of some kind in each year in England. That’s a quarter of the population so is both significant and a cause for concern.

Why are people taking more sick days than ever and why are they struggling with their mental health? What is the reason people are working as hard as they ever were?

It is entirely possible that most people are dealing with some sort of civil war within themselves. And or they may not be at peace or in good relationships with others, both in and out of work. This is a fundamental root cause of what affects wellbeing and needs to be addressed. And if organisations don’t deal with the ‘cake’ as a priority, there is little point spending time on the ‘icing’.

Changing rates of reaction
Real change starts with a conscious acknowledgement that the relationship that a manager has with an employee is fundamental to employee flourishing.

This change is about physically allocating time to hold conversations to help them deepen into better relationships. It’s one of the most important things a team leader can do in their week because it allows for true connection. In essence, managers can begin to ‘see, hear, and feel’ issues, and link those to the impact on productivity, presenteeism and absence.

Fundamental things are happening in people’s lives and it’s important for managers to understand more. One small example is when a manager at a corporate hadn’t realised that one of their team was grieving for a parent. While they wondered why work wasn’t being done on time and why the employee seemed to be feeling low, they were so busy they hadn’t taken the time to ask.

The reality is that real life events are happening all the time, but team leaders may not be aware of them because they are not having real, regular conversations, or importantly, giving their time to building relationships and trust with those around them. It’s highly likely that had that manager taken time to stop and talk to the employee, they would have gone home feeling more valued and supported. And it’s vital here, to remember that managers of all seniorities need to be talking with their teams.

Recently, a pharmaceutical company explained the frustration and anger that was rife in their culture. A new manager arrived and worked out that a lot of this was due to two departments in conflict with one another. The manager simply went to one of them and listened to the issues they were experiencing, and then did the same with the other team before bringing them together and finding common ground for resolution. The teams work together far better now. It’s a tale as old as time, talking to one another – albeit with a large dose of organisational diplomacy.

How far have we come?
We’re no doubt in the green shoots of ‘flourishing’ becoming a core part of wellbeing. There are progressive companies – for example, a large transportation company’s HR Director mandates team managers have a minimum 15 minute conversation per week with each of their direct reports – which are making significant progress. Their engagement scores are up 50% over the last year (admittedly from a low base).

We need to consider too, that the new generation of employees becoming managers will be actively looking for this new and improved workstyle. Take Greta Thunberg, the Swedish activist, perhaps not a total example of this generation but her meaningful life is about protesting for what she feels is right. Money and its pursuit are likely no longer the main driver for many. Generation Z are not sticking with the same employer for a long period of time, and if employers fail to build deeper relationships, they will likely move on even more quickly.

Largely, organisations may indeed be stopping people from flourishing, so instead, employers need to think of businesses as greenhouses, growing their people and investing in them.

The role of managers and leaders, too, in promoting this, will become more prominent as we move to that future. They will be recognised as key figures in fostering a sense of connection, support, and empathy within their teams. There will be a focus on tailoring support to individuals’ specific needs. This applies even more as AI and robotics come into the workplace, as the point of difference with humans becomes our emotional intelligence.

And there will be a shift too, to an emphasis on human-centred solutions rather than relying solely on technology or apps. This shift towards greater acceptance and understanding will contribute to a more supportive and happier work environment where employees flourish.

How to move to flourishing
There are three main areas to champion flourishing: internal wellbeing, interpersonal relationships, and a sense of purpose beyond ourselves. You could say inward, outward and upward. Each step needs focus to help employees to thrive.

Having a higher level of emotional intelligence, deeper affiliations with line managers and others plus a sense of purpose – be that spiritual, the universe, life or love – are interconnected elements that matter equally on the journey to higher contentment and ultimately a state of true flourishing.

Employers need to move beyond the concept of investing in wellbeing programmes and strategies and get back to the basics of spending time talking to employees, understanding who they are, what makes them tick and how to support them to flourish.

Moving towards conversational peace is a change in direction that will help many. This is about how much time we spend in active listening, growing relationships and real conversations that plug in to how people are feeling. The icing looks very good, but there is no doubt we need more substance.

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