The patience of workplace wellbeing 

If we are to move to a place where wellbeing in the workplace becomes a way life, part of the daily discussion and employees feel safe and free to ‘say it as it is’, tell the truth and ask for support without shame or potential personal impact to their career, there is only one place this can come from – a change in culture. 

In its simplest terms, culture means ‘how people behave when no one is watching.’  That’s the key right?  The important part.  Workplace wellbeing just happens, no one needs to be watching, a company isn’t trying to meet an audit requirement or win a contract, it is just part of daily life in the workplace setting. Workplace wellbeing should never be for show or to meet a target or tick a box. 

A good leader said to me once, changing culture in an organisation sometimes feels like you are trying to turn an oil tanker with a teaspoon.  Is this why companies and organisations tend to opt for the easy option of just ‘doing’ wellbeing to their employees rather than engaging them in the conversation, understanding employee needs and creating employee centric wellbeing programmes that stand the test of time? 

Changing culture takes work. It takes strong leadership and as I like to call it, a ‘change maker’ that is willing to put their head above the parapet and stand up for what is right, to create an approach to change that makes sense and delivers for the company, the employees, the stakeholders and society at large.  Changing culture takes patience. 

Amanda Fajak of “Walking the Talk”, says that the standard belief is that culture change takes 2-3 years to occur. A timeframe that is becoming increasingly unpalatable in our world of rapid change. A company’s business model might have changed twice in that time, you might have a new executive team, possibly a new CEO.” 

It looks like she and I agree on the fact that it takes time to change culture and that it is one of the deterrents to people engaging in change in the first place. 

Over the last 3 years, I have worked with companies that over and over again are looking to tick a wellbeing box by delivering an initiative that ‘they think’ is the right thing to do by their employees. 

The outcome, every time, hands down; low engagement, lack of understanding of the ‘why’ this initiative is important; poor take up, unnecessary spend, and damage to the perception of employees feeling and knowing that they are not being heard or understood. 

Recently, I met with a company that were looking at wellbeing approaches for their people and were pretty open minded in their approach in doing so. Driven by the purpose of doing the right thing by their employees (predominantly male), they were frustrated with why they had created opportunities for their workforce to engage in the wellbeing agenda, provided them with tools and resources but take up was poor and feedback missing the mark in terms of their expectations.  So why was this the case, and why had a recent initiative that came in at a cost of £6k for this company fallen so flat?   

Through conversation, we established that this particular initiative was launched without any consultation with employees, so it was questionable if they even saw a need in the intervention or if they were engaged enough to see its benefits.  We also established that the initiative was launched through an email, no outline of its features offered, no headlines talking about the advantages or benefits, no story telling. Moreover, the delivery method was by webinar, no interaction, no engagement through discussion, Q&A or even a remote chat box. 

If this is how wellbeing is being delivered to the masses, we can clearly see that this isn’t going to shift the dial on changing the culture of workplace wellbeing. But this is the normal approach adopted still in so many cases. 

In summary, we can change culture in less than 3 years, but companies need to understand the importance of the approach as well as the effort and time that should be afforded towards such change. 

Take it easy, go one step at a time and steady your energy and focus: 

Companies often try to change too much too soon, wellbeing culture change takes planning, time, strategy, and patience. Leaders need to manage their energy, spend time in the discovery phase, understanding the ‘as-is’ state of the company prior to embarking on making change. Staying laser focused can help and being true to 2 or 3 changes to begin with at most. 

Investwell from the start will save energy, time, and money overall:  

C-suites who delegate culture down the line; only discussing it at the odd meeting or two, won’t resolve or change a thing. The more execs can keep the change conversation alive and part of daily discussion, the quicker the movement will be created. 

Which brings me to leaders and role modelling:

Leaders set the tone and control the culture. Employees truly follow a pattern of ‘I see, so I do.’ Thus, if a leader is passionate about wellbeing change and creating a culture of wellbeing at work, they must role model what they want that to look like and create a positive action following by doing so. Leaders should always remember that they are on the stage at every move.   

Bottom-up innovation  

As discussed before, leaders set the tone of wellbeing culture, but what a big mistake they would be making if they thought that they knew best. Bottom-up innovation at grassroots level is critical to managing change that can be delivered in a ‘you said so we did’ kind of style. 

Look for your change champions. They are there, waiting to lead the way and support the ideas of the organisation, they believe in the common purpose and trust their leaders. They are strong influencers and are often role models. Spend time with these employees, they might just be the energy that is needed to turn the tanker! 

As someone that knows, because I’ve been there and I lead wellbeing change programmes like this every day, wellbeing culture change and transformation can happen as quickly as 6 to 12 months but for stickability, all ingredients going into the change need to be considered carefully. 

Change takes courage, patience, time, and effort. Ticking the wellbeing box requires no effort at all. Your employees are watching you, waiting in the wings to pounce on your failed promises. 

‘Nothing worth having was ever achieved without effort,’ said Theodore Roosevelt. 

‘Anything that just cost money is cheap,’ said John Steinbeck 

‘I will happily sit and watch this wellbeing webinar for 2 hours, without understanding why or what the benefits are. Then afterwards, I will make some amazing changes to the way I live and I will look after myself better,’ said Nobody Ever