Beyond Yoga and Massages: Creating a Culture of True Wellbeing at Work

Last week, there was a Financial Times special report on Wellbeing. This was a full 4 page pullout just on Wellbeing. I see the FT as a hard nosed financial newspaper that reports on serious stuff so for them to see it fit to dedicate four whole pages to Wellbeing means that Wellbeing has left the fluffy margins of what HR does to tick a box and is beginning to be taken seriously.


I am no genius but I have always known that there is a direct link between wellbeing and productivity. To me it is just common sense. When people feel well within themselves, they do better. This is not rocket science so why has it taken so long for organisations to make wellbeing a core part of their strategy to increase productivity?


Thankfully, there is now tons of research to back the link between productivity and wellbeing. But, here is the interesting thing; perks and wellbeing initiatives is not where it is at. A lot of workplaces wear their wellbeing initiatives as a badge of honour but the provision of perks and initiatives are not enough. To produce a productive workforce who are firing on all cylinders, they have to fully engage with those initiatives in the right environment.


According to a 2022 survey done by Deloitte, the three main factors that had the biggest impact on workplace wellbeing are:


  1. Leadership behaviour
  2. Job design
  3. Working practices


This means you can have all the yoga and desk massages that you want in the workplace but if you have a bully or someone who is inexperienced or worse still one of those people who everyone knows behaves badly but is considered to deliver so everyone puts up with their bad behaviour, for a manager, your wellbeing will compromised.


In all fairness, it is easier to pay for massage therapists to prance around the office giving desk massages than to take on a heavy weight of a senior manager, entrenched in their unacceptable way of delivering results. It is also easier to provide a stress management app than to change your stress inducing working practices such as long hours and billable hours.


Now that wellbeing is being taken seriously, well, by the serious newspapers anyway, I wonder if organisations are finally going to get the message that they cannot keep tinkering around the edges. Now is the time to get deep down into the excavations.


Organisations will have to invest in management training to ensure their leadership is not a chronic source of stress for their workforce so that when real unavoidable stress comes along due to some unexpected work condition, the stress apps can come in handy. Also let’s face it, some people should never be allowed to manage people!


Workplaces will also have to review their working practices and culture. Is the culture one of turning a blind eye so long as the person is delivering or one of zero tolerance when it comes to bad behaviour? Is there flexibility in the way of working or is it rigid work conditions?  When it comes to mental health, the level of autonomy that an employee has plays a huge part in how they feel.


Is it a Bro culture where the women are made to feel like they are only there to do the office housework? I once worked in a leadership team where I was the only female and needless to say I always walked out with the minutes of the meeting. Yes, I am incredibly organised and out of a team of three male colleagues, I was the only one that used to walk into those meetings with a notebook so maybe I was asking for it, but surely we could have taken turns?


Anyway, I am really pleased that wellbeing is now becoming fashionable in the corporate circles but please, let it not be a passing fad. You can’t just point your employees to the perks and initiatives as that is not enough. You have to do the responsible thing and provide the right environment and culture where it is easy to be well so that you can be productive.