There are so many references made to wellbeing and wellness, it’s the new catch phrase and tag line for most every product or service. Even products that you would never have considered part of the caring industry, such as a well known stationary supplier suggesting that by using more of their pens and paper each day, you may experience improved wellbeing…??
Historically, when it comes to the wellbeing of an organisation’s employees, it’s tended to follow one of two approaches.
With Wellbeing not being fully understood or embraced, the first approach is typically low touch and low cost such as a one off guest speaker, lunch time yoga or corporate team entry fees. These programs can often have little impact or long term value to an individual’s situation and effectively no impact to the organisation’s bottom line.
The second approach tends to focus on mental health awareness, training and EAP programs. While this is valuable, it narrows the focus too much on the crisis situations. There are people that are unfortunately struggling with mental health issues or are deemed to be a higher risk group due to family history or trauma. For others mental health issues slowly develop over time and are only addressed once they experience diagnosable symptoms. Like a boiling frog, these symptoms don’t develop overnight. Mental health issues can develop due to challenges of life and prolonged periods of stress.
Earlier in my career, I had first hand experience of this. I was in my late 20’s and just moved to Sydney after a number of years traveling and working overseas after university and I was looking forward to establishing my life back in Australia. I moved to a major city where I had a few close friends. I then fell into my first permanent job but it involved working long hours in a highly pressured profit driven environment. I was under personal financial stress as the salary was low, had no savings and had to work a weekend job to cover expenses. While also trying to build a life in an expensive city. After 18 months in this job, one day I just could not physically function, experienced my first of many panic attacks and periods of uncontrollable crying. Only then did both myself and my employer recognise something was very wrong. I was sent to a clinical psychologist and given only a short period of time off work. The experience had caused me to suddenly lose confidence that I could be a fully functioning adult and support myself. I avoided family and friends as I couldn’t explain and felt shame for what I was going through. Not to mention the impact at work. Only after many months of focused seIf-care was I able to regain some sense of confidence and control. Since then, life has had its challenges, but I have never let myself become the boiling frog again.
Looking back, while I’ve always reflected on that period as an invaluable life lesson, it could have all been avoided through awareness and investment in personal and employee wellbeing and what that looks like for each person at a preventative stage not just applying the clinical model once there was a diagnosable mental health issue to treat.
Wellbeing is unique to each individual and has added complexities based on life phase or age or gender or ethnicity or personality traits. Wellbeing can be about fixing a problem created by a trigger event that highlights an aspect of life that needs to be addressed. Wellbeing is also about prevention and building the foundations of a more healthy and productive longer life. The challenge is though, wellbeing is often about selling a future promise. Will it be worth it? Research and personal experience suggests it will, but we can’t be certain. But just like the uncertainty the anti-ageing beauty industry has tapped into, we may not want to take that gamble.
As an organisation or an individual, where do you start? Based on the principles of the global wellbeing index and Maslow’s hierachy, we have developed the Hierachy of Productive Living. Organisations and individuals can better understand what stage of wellbeing they are experiencing, and then where to focus resources and programs to support improved productivity, engagement and long term wellbeing.
WiserLife’s Hierarchy of Productive Living
Whether you are looking at this as an individual or you are running an organisation or leading the HR function, identifying at which level you are currently and where you aspire to be, will help identify the most valuable approach to improve personal wellbeing of employees in your organisation.
If we use the analogy of an engine pistons, each of the elements at the self-care level is a piston. When well tuned and working together, the engine runs smoothly. If one or more has been neglected or breaks down, the performance of the engine will be compromised. Before individuals can look after an organisation, they need to first be confident they can look after themselves.
Security & Significance
Individuals need a sense of safety to perform at their best. Is there constantly a threat of redundancy or retribution for failure? For individuals to move to the next stage of productive living, they need to feel free to experiment, develop and take responsibility in their work. This freedom and being recognised for their contribution creates a greater sense of accountability and emotional investment in their work and the organisation. This stage of wellbeing relates to the internal communication, employee recognition and creating a culture of innovation and collaboration.
Communications & Relationships
What is the individual’s relationship with the world they live in? Is it positive and energetic? Is everything a fight to win or lose or possibly see themselves as a victim? Do they operate from fear or possibilities, having a lense of cynicism or trust? When an individual can understand how they interrelate with the world around them and what outcomes that creates, they may then be able to develop interpersonal and communication skills that create positive and productive outcomes. From there a greater sense of connection and community can be built.
Inspiration creates energy and momentum to achieve outcomes and relates to what an individual or organisation stands for. Inspiration can come from the organisation’s leadership, clear organisational strategy and shared focus or for some from a sense of making a positive difference it the world. For some individuals one of these may be enough, however all three of these can create an organisation of inspired, engaged and focused employees.
Like self actualisation in Maslow’s hierarchy, not everyone attains or even aspires to this level. Having a greater purpose reaches into the unknown. It is the clarity of a greater vision and ideals, that keeps individuals and organisations moving towards a purpose which can’t be measured in material or financial gain.
There is no one approach or cure all to create wellbeing, which is why we’ve developed a framework that allows each individual or organisation to identify their specific needs.
As we all live longer and the rate of change is felt throughout every organisation, the investment in individual and organisational wellbeing will become increasingly important to build and sustain a healthy and productive workforce and community.
WiserLife was set up to support individuals and organisations to ‘Whole Life Wellbeing’. For this, WiserLife uses a four pillar model incorporating; a persons sense of purpose; financial wellbeing; health and wellbeing; and lifestyle. With this model and tailored programs organisations can support their current employees as well as employees transitioning due to redundancy across all the elements of healthy and productive living and the Whole Life Wellbeing approach .