In my last blog post I put forward some thoughts on Personal Resilience and began to consider how can organisations can best support and encourage individual responsibility for wellbeing.
This week I want to look at some of the ways managers can support their teams and play an active role in helping others to recognise the responsibility and ownership they have over their own wellbeing.
A manager who understands and appreciates the capacity and preferences of their team can readily recognise and act to alleviate unhealthy levels of stress. By flexing to the personal interests and strengths of team members they help to develop a healthy and socially supportive working environment
Managers should also be encouraged to consider their own reactions to any wellbeing improvement strategy, and the implications of their attitude, mindset and behaviours on other people.
Manager as Coach
A sharp focus on the role of “manager as coach” can have a particularly striking positive effect. A coaching-based approach to management can lead to increased performance, improved retention, reduced absence, greater motivation and an increased capacity to cope with change. In the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world in which we operate, many employees are suffering stress and indeed sheer terror in the face of uncertainty. A manager-as-coach can be invaluable in helping people to deal with this perpetual lack of control.
In order to be effective, coaching should be employed as a core approach to management rather than a stand alone element. Although many managers will have gained the positions they are in due to personal qualities that stand them in good stead to be a coach, a commitment to a more considered coaching approach requires support and upskilling.
It’s not all easy – managers need to be prepared for some difficult conversations and uncomfortable truths. They also need to be equipped with the knowledge, skills and support they need to effectively deal with any issues raised.
Implementing workshops that provide the opportunity to practice and share experiences of what good coaching looks like can create the foundation for a coaching mindset and culture. We have witnessed dramatic results by using GROW as a performance coaching model, combining listening, questioning, giving and receiving feedback and goal setting with emphasis on creating consistent language that is readily transferable across the whole of an organisation.
When making the move towards a coaching style of management, it is important to frame it in a positive light. Managers and reports should see it as a developmental rather than remedial approach – nobody is being targeted or put in “special measures”, it is simply a move towards a method of management that brings clear benefits on an individual, team and organisational level.
It is becoming increasingly evident that wellbeing strategies which focus on the positive rather than the negative have greater sustainability. Rather than simply recommending outputs, an effective manager will start by creating opportunities for dialogue around what makes the individual members of their team feel good. Again, a positive rather than remedial approach is the key. When it comes to personal wellbeing plans, positive goals (aiming to fulfil a new behaviour) are more consistently achieved than negative goals (i.e. quitting a “bad” habit). Managers should be encouraged to make an effort to find out what people’s priorities and ambitions are and to look for ways to support these wherever possible. Creating opportunities for travel, considering flexible contracts, engaging with community partners - approached in the right way, these support mechanisms can be of mutual benefit.
What we need to see is a marked shift in focus from limiting negative stress to maximising positive wellbeing, with leaders encouraging and supporting their teams to respond to pressures in a positive way, improving both vitality and performance. A positive approach to risk can also be modelled and encouraged by managers. Promoting opportunities for innovation – turning risk into opportunity, works exceptionally well in a VUCA world.
Success through Partnership
An individual’s ability to cope – their resilience – lies at the centre of the wellbeing at work discussion. Wellbeing increases when a blame culture is dissipated and as individuals we begin to take ultimate responsibility for how we manage ourselves, how we interact with others and how we ensure we are as well as we can be. Only ownership brings wellbeing.
Yet no man is an island. Peers, reports, managers, senior leaders – every single person in an organisation can play an active role in helping others to recognise the responsibility and ownership they have over their own wellbeing, and the negative and positive effect their actions and behaviours have on the wellness of others. A healthy culture is one which fosters honest dialogue, realistic aims, encourages support and challenge at every level and sees individuals connected to and engaged in a common vision.
When it comes to wellbeing at work there are no magic quick-fixes. A piecemeal approach is unlikely to yield sustainable results. Event-led or perk-led solutions soon lose momentum, and ad-hoc attempts to address wellbeing can even do harm, with their ineffectiveness perhaps being the most memorable thing about them. It is far wiser to get the fundamentals of leadership and management right first, thus creating an appetite for responsibility.
For many, the appetite will already be there, and these people are of great value to you. Identify these individuals, who are likely to span various departments and different levels of hierarchy, and engage them as Wellbeing Change Agents. This cross-functional group have the uniting factor that they are the kind of people who will embrace change and will naturally tend to influence others, creating motivation and momentum around healthier ways of working and living. They can prove as invaluable as senior sponsorship, if not more so, when it comes to creating engagement and buy in throughout the organisation.
The task of improving the wellbeing of a workforce is indeed a daunting one. It is reassuring, however, that it is best achieved through the very people development initiatives you are probably already investing in and working hard on. There is no reason why it cannot be aligned perfectly with your leadership development, management development, talent management and graduate development efforts, and if these initiatives are designed with employee wellbeing in mind, then you may find you don’t even need a separate budget for it. It is also hugely motivating to think that, should you achieve what your wellbeing strategy sets out to do, you are playing a key part in changing, even lengthening, the lives of those talented people around you.