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Wellness is Inherently Personal

We are now far enough through the disruption of the global pandemic to have a good picture of the impacts on work and wellness. All eyes are on determining the parameters of the new normal. Some concepts are solidifying: expectations of a hybrid work week, a rise in roles advertised as remote, normalising of salaries in regional areas. In Australia we have seen an acceleration of tree changers resulting in the housing market growth in regional centers outpacing cities for the first time.

While wellness at work is a rapidly growing focus for organisations big and small globally; nailing down a definition is elusive. “The question of what ‘wellbeing’ means and its definition has perplexed philosophers for centuries, and remains ... open to ongoing debate”, notes Karen Gillespie in “What is Wellbeing?”. The use of terms on an almost interchangeable basis such as: ‘wellness’, ‘subjective wellbeing’, ‘emotional wellbeing’, ‘psychological wellbeing’, ‘health’, ‘life satisfaction’, ‘happiness’, ‘flourishing’, ‘thriving’ and ‘quality of life’ adds complexity. Descriptions that capture a more complete sentiment include:

Wellbeing is about more than living ‘the good life’: it is about having meaning in life, about fulfilling our potential and feeling that our lives are worthwhile…our personal or subjective wellbeing is shaped by our genes, our personal circumstances and choices, the social conditions we live in and the complex ways in which all these things interact. (Eckersley, Hamilton, & Denniss, 2005)

Wellbeing is more than just happiness. As well as feeling satisfied and happy, wellbeing means developing as a person, being fulfilled and making a contribution to the community. (Shah & Marks, 2004)

“all the things that are important to each of us, what we think about and how we experience our lives” is the guidance from Gallup.

A key theme in these attempts to define wellness is the acknowledgement of it being inherently personal. I.e.

The triggers that negatively impact wellness as well as the key attributes to balancing wellness vary from person to person; the impact of the exact same situation can vary wildly from one individual to the next.

Another critical factor is the understanding that wellness and health are not synonymous. Health, vitality and energy are important components of wellness and often easy entry points for connecting with an individual about the larger and more complete concept. However neither physical fitness nor absence of illness automatically translate into thriving across all wellness attributes.

My personal education and experience would state that fitness and health are also not synonymous and the extreme end of fitness would no longer be considered healthy but that is a topic for another blog.

Thriving, where an individual is experiencing all of their life very positively, is defined as an individual having a positive experience across all key attributes of wellness. Multiple sources reference 20% as the number of individuals who identify as Thriving. This puts the other 80% in the Striving, Struggling or Languishing ranges creating a clear opportunity for organisations to initiate improvement with a significantly increasing skew towards Struggling since the pandemic began (GLWS, 2021) Gallup reports employees who are thriving are 81% less likely to seek out a new employer in the next year and 41% miss work less as a result of poor health. Investment in wellness to move employees toward thriving has ROI potential with savings from reduced attrition as well as increased productivity.

Gallup evaluates wellness through the interplay of 5 areas: Career, Physical, Social, Financial and Community placing career at the top in its overall impact. The Gallup Net Thriving (GNT) index as described in “Wellbeing at Work” by Jim Clifton and Jim Harter promotes identifying an individual's personal wellness experience with two simple questions. On a ladder with ten rungs with the top being your best possible life and the bottom being the worst possible life; 1) what rung are you on now & 2) what rung do you think you will be on in 5 years. This can be a simple and easily applicable technique for managers to initiate conversations with employees and can easily extrapolate to the 5 areas.

Global Leadership Wellness Survey (GLWS®) takes a simultaneously deep and broad approach to determine the wellness of an individual. GLWS uses ~120 questions to evaluate across: Authentic Relationships, Meaning, Purpose and Direction, Resilience & Emotionality, Vitality & Energy, Balance & Boundaries, and Intellectual Engagement. Additionally GLWS addresses the ‘whole person’ by evaluating both ‘WorkingWell’, attributes of wellness in the workplace, and ‘LivingWell’, attributes of wellness outside the workplace. It is a definitive multi-dimensional framework of wellbeing. GLWS integrates resilience and mental toughness, alongside the other psychological and social aspects of wellbeing in addition to the foundational elements of physical health, vitality and energy: sleep, rest and recovery, exercise and nutrition.

With its comprehensive approach, 75% of GLWS respondents report a positive impact and a third enact changes from simply taking the assessment i.e. even before reviewing their results. Following debrief on results, 95% report taking at least one positive step to improve their wellbeing and very strongly endorse that they feel:

Better about managing stress and pressure

Clearer about how choices affect wellbeing

More energy and/or improved performance levels

Positive about the wellbeing initiative being provided by their organisation

More observant of others’ wellbeing

More and better conversations about wellbeing are taking place with their team/colleagues

A new phenomena identified in Gallup's recent workplace data is a divergence of engagement & wellbeing. Employee engagement is defined as the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals. Historically these have moved together where an increase in engagement was generally represented by a concurrent increase in wellbeing. With the changes in workplace practices since the onset of the pandemic, wellbeing is reducing despite engagement remaining strong. This is a critical point that necessitates organisations take a different approach to employee wellbeing. Activity to drive engagement is well entrenched and effective. Wellness activity that acknowledges and acts on the needs of individuals, beyond health and fitness, must be in place to arrest this trend. Among professionals and senior leaders, an analysis of 50 senior professionals’ wellbeing undertaken immediately prior to the first Covid restrictions in Australia compared with the same professionals six months into the pandemic showed an 8.2% reduction in leaders’ sense of meaning, purpose and direction derived from their work, and a 7% elevation in the risk of burnout. (GLWS, 2021)

The stats coming forward about wellness are both not a surprise and at the same time shocking to see in print. Maika Leibbrandt stated recently at the Gallup at Work summit that the percentage of thriving Americans is at an all time low at 46.5% and on par with the GFC in 2008.

Burnout is an increasingly common term. WHO includes Burnout in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an occupational phenomenon defined as a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. WHO characterises burnout by three dimensions:

feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;

increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and

reduced professional efficacy.

Gallup notes: 76% of employees feel burned out at work sometimes, and 28% report feeling burned “very often”! GLWS data gathered from 3,300 leaders and senior professionals indicated that even before the pandemic more than 1 in 4 in executive roles felt their workloads “always” or “usually” placed them at risk of burnout and only 8% said burnout risk was never an issue. People identifying as being burned out are 63% more likely to need time off. DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast 2021, with more than 15,000 respondents, supports this finding noting 60% of leaders indicate feeling “used up” daily. Daily! 86% of high potential employees ranked as at risk of burnout! This indicates significant risk of both absenteeism and attrition. Additionally, beyond people being absent more often, a common effect of burnout is presenteeism, when sick workers come to work, work at levels that are less than optimal, and/or risk infecting others. Presenteeism costs the Australian economy $34 billion each year according to ProBono Australia. Gallup notes poor wellbeing costs the global economy $322 billion.

So what can you do about it?

Educate your leaders about the full breadth of wellness

Enact a lead by example culture

Enable and support middle managers wellness awareness and capability

Encourage language that normalises wellness discussion

Expand wellness programs beyond physical health

Engage validated tools and practices to identify current state

Enforce prevention over catch up

To enact a cultural change that is truly embedded and impactful will take time. To adapt the age old Chinese proverb: the best time to start a wellness culture was twenty years ago and the second best time is now.

Many organisations already know their employee engagement attributes. Many already have, possibly quite sophisticated, health programs in place. I’ve personally had great experiences with funding of swimming and yoga memberships and step team challenges. A quick surf around the web shows very clearly that there is a strong alignment between “wellness” programs and health; Physical activity, nutrition, cessation of tobacco and moderation of alcohol intake. These are all great and I’m not suggesting they are not an important part of the equation, but alone they do not address the broader concept of wellness discussed above. A statistic from the recent Gallup at Work summit noted that only 4% of wellness programs evaluated included components beyond health. Further to this only 24% of staff participated.

“Authentic relationships”, “meaning and purpose” and holistic consideration of the living well, beyond work considerations, are rarely core discussion points in regular 1:1s. These can be uncomfortable areas for leaders to discuss with their staff. Individuals often see the topics related to wellness as being personal and confidential. A tool and assessment that objectively delves into these topics can reduce barriers and allow managers and staff to initiate these important discussions.

A top down approach is important with C suite leaders and senior management leading by example in the actions they personally take, the empathy they have for their people and teams, and encouraging wellness language. Additionally, middle managers will carry a large share of the load: taking direction on how to communicate a balanced wellness message, as well as being a primary interface to individual contributor staff. In all cases, leaders understanding their own personal wellness status is critical to being able to influence others.

The wellness culture change is additive to managers’ core responsibility; they need to be a mentor, be a coach, be a wellness advocate, AND be maniacally focused on the targets and business outcomes expected in their role. Many will embrace this and run with it, but there is still ramp time. Some will come around slowly. Some will reject it as outside their core competency and many will have a degree of discomfort/lack of skill. External expertise supported by validated reliable tools will ensure a fast start for organisations starting this journey while allowing those already underway to increase the effectiveness of existing programs.

GLWS Value Proposition:

Engaging with a credentialed GLWS coach allows a dedicated and focused expert, backed by a robust and comprehensive tool and experienced workplace wellbeing community of experts, to rapidly identify the current state of an individual, team or organisation’s wellness. The tool has been developed by experienced organisational psychologists with a deep understanding of how organisations work, to exacting technical standards while also being engaging and palatable. Based on extensive research,the GLWS is currently unmatched as an individualised wellness measure. GLWS includes the required breadth and depth to be effective at an individual level and also rolls up to aggregates for measuring and improving team and organisational wellness benchmarks. Starting with the leadership team is encouraged as it promotes culture change and adoption from the top.GLWS has been applied to support:

Executive coaching

Team coaching

Wellness programs

Diversity and Inclusion initiatives

Leadership development programs

A customised rollout by accredited wellbeing experts ensures the approach to every rollout fits with the specific objectives and size of each organisation. Options to ‘teach your team to fish’ with accreditation of internal team members as part of a sustained program can be arranged as part of an ‘enabling wellbeing’ capability uplift.

Impacting individual employee wellness to improve organisational wellness can have a significant impact on productivity, retention, and many aspects of employee satisfaction.

Don’t wait until more people are languishing. The option to improve your staff and organisational wellness is here now.

Ross Rotherham - Leadership & Wellness Coach

GLWS Accredited Practitioner

Individualisation | Analytical | Communication | Learner | Arranger

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