Hidden Truths

Hidden Truths

Organisation Health & Wellbeing

Health and Wellbeing. It’s topical. Organisations are either talking about it, have some things that seem to address it (at face value anyway) or have really made actual progress.

The basic fabric is always there (or should be), like terms of employment covering agreed working hours, breaks, health insurance, medical leave, annual vacation and so on. All standard conditions that should enable a basic healthy workforce but rarely stand up and do the trick on their own.

Beyond this, extra ‘options’ are often provided and positioned as an approach to positively addressing health and wellbeing. For example, sports and fitness programmes, memberships or facilities, yoga classes, mindfulness sessions, counselling support mechanisms etc. All good stuff, yes?

Well a lot of time and money can and is being invested in providing these additions, which is a good thing, but interestingly these factors operating alone have not been proven to significantly affect actual organisation wide health and wellbeing outcomes.

So what’s missing?

Working over the last decade in and around the area of health and wellbeing with our clients, we have noticed and begun to unearth a pattern of hidden truths that really underpin health and wellbeing outcomes.

1. Individualisation – people really are different

A lot of health and wellbeing approaches assume that once there is a variety of standard options in place then they are sorted. There are lots of examples of this. However, even with the strongest breadth of options available, success is limited if there is no supporting mechanism that can address people’s individual needs, aspirations and circumstances. Successful initiatives provide a variety of options but also help people personalise engagement and outcomes. They help people ‘own’ and choose what is right for them and best suits their needs in a granular way.

So… yes, organisations need to have a wide offering, but crucially, there must be a supporting mechanism that helps people to individualise their own focus, preferred style of engagement and types of outcome. We all have normal, often radically different needs from each other. Start with that in mind.

2. Permission – giving it is not enough

Here’s what this boils down to, you can have all these great conditions and options in place but unless leaders and managers walk the talk and actively make use of them, then employees are unlikely to engage with them either.

Example 1 - A manager verbally encourages his team members to use their full lunch hour to get out of the office and take a break (face value permission) however that same manager rarely, if ever does so themselves. This conflict of words/conditions and inaction can actually negate the ‘sense of permission’ experienced by team members.

Example 2 - The contracted working hours for employees in an office based team ends at, say 5pm for example, however the manager consistently remains at the office until 7pm, therefore the employees feel they have to either remain in the office as well, or feel like they are doing something slightly wrong by leaving ‘early’. Again the conflict of manager actions against conditions can significantly influence actual employee take-up. Work life balance (or lack thereof) is the most significant reported challenge in the health and wellbeing space.

So… leaders and managers actively making the most of the health and wellbeing conditions, and by default, setting the organisational norm, is one of the biggest enablers in giving real permission for employees to do the same. Leaders and managers, get on board!

3. Flexible working hours – a double edged sword

Flexible working hours has to be a good thing for health, right? Well yes, and no. Research shows mixed outcomes on this. There are a couple of things at play here. One is the ability to self-regulate. If you can, fantastic, if you can’t, then you are likely to work significantly harder and longer than in ‘normal’ working hours. Another is the way people are managed (or rather not) when working flexibly. It’s counter intuitive. People are often more likely to overdo it so their managers actually need to stay closer to how they are working remotely and support them to avoid this.

So… good outcomes from flexible working hours happen when managers and employees have clear dialogue about realistic expectations and healthy working parameters.

4. Culture – moments of truth

Culture can obviously significantly undermine health and wellbeing or significantly enhance it.

Example 1. Celebrating and rewarding people working way too hard (badge of honour) therefore actually encouraging and expecting that behaviour, rather than recognising this is a system and/or management failure and addressing it so it is not repeated.

Example 2. Consistently putting clients/customers first and responding to high workload client requests at short notice, rather than pushing back for sensible timescales.

So… if culture is key, what does your culture prioritise in reality? What does it celebrate? What are your moments of truth? Take a look around, what do you see? If you’re serious about health and wellbeing, what do you need to change in your culture?

In Summary

Normal working ‘conditions’ and ‘options’ may provide the context for health and wellbeing however, individualisation, permission, managed flexibility and culture often combine to set the reality of people’s working health.

Dean Mounsey is General Manager at Impact Australia.

More about our approach on Wellbeing in the workplace can be found here.