Turning well-being aspirations into everyday reality

If we have the research, data, programmes and policies, what is preventing us from turning well-being aspirations into everyday reality?

Why do I come to work with a smile on my face most days?  After more than 30 years with PwC, that’s a question I ask myself!  Part of it is about the challenge, the fresh opportunity to learn and develop that I still find, after many roles over many years. Some of it is the achievements I can look back on, the successes I have enjoyed and the change I have been able to help bring about. Some of it is about reflecting on how I have been able to flex my skills to suit a variety of roles, re-invent myself and embrace new ventures. But mostly it’s about the people, the lived experience and how it feels to be here.

We’ve spent a lot of time understanding what makes our people want to work here, stay here and give their best. Listening to what our employees said led to the development of the core values which underpin our culture – key amongst them being care, doing the right thing and acting with integrity. I see all of these as major enablers of well-being – encouraging people to focus on looking after themselves and each other. Well-being is central to who we are, to the service we offer to our clients and the way we interact with each other and our communities.

Confident conversations

What does this look like in practice, in terms of everyday behaviours and experiences?  I believe that healthy and happy employees share a number of core characteristics.

Firstly, they feel empowered to prioritise their well-being, and this empowerment comes from their leaders talking about it and also demonstrating their own well-being behaviours. Taking care of ourselves – mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally - is the norm and expected.

They have access to tools and resources to help them in this and these are continuously promoted with their impacts demonstrated, through people sharing their stories. Resilience is seen as a key leadership and business skill, with training provided to help employees maintain and build their resilience. People know that they can speak up if they need help and the right support will be offered, they will not be judged. They trust that this is the case and are comfortable talking honestly and openly about how they feel.

Confident well-being conversations take place every day, between colleagues, with managers, in teams and in the workplace – these conversations are supported by training and other initiatives to ensure people have the necessary awareness and skill-set. People do not ignore others who are struggling, worried about saying or doing the wrong thing, or making matters worse – but show care for each other, without fear or apprehension. We feel valued, heard, considered and recognised in ways that are meaningful, personalised and authentic. 

Our recruitment, performance management, reward, and development processes are underpinned by our values – and it’s not just what we do, but how we do it that’s recognised. Did we neglect our health and happiness to get the job done? Or did we ensure everyone had the flexibility to manage their work deliverables alongside what else they have going on in their lives, what matters most to them, what makes them tick, what keeps them sane and feeling on top form? Did we realise that sustained performance comes from prioritising recovery, not from endurance and extreme working? 

Performance at all costs  

So all of this would certainly put a smile on my face – and probably most of those around me – and the majority of you! But how far is this the reality for me, for my organisation, for all of us? What gets in the way of these simple truths? After all, it’s not ‘rocket science’ is it? 

In a world where we are tech-enabled, this should enhance flexibility, but in practice can often mean being ‘on’ 24/7. When we are focussed on who we are competing with for the next great assignment, what we have to do to stand out, this can mean working harder for longer, not working smarter.

When performing is all that matters, looking out for each other and ourselves takes up time we don’t think we have, it’s a luxury we can’t afford. Where is the incentive to prioritise well-being when those who are promoted seem to have sacrificed their health and happiness to achieve this?   

Whilst input is valued more than output and hours worked means commitment, going ‘above and beyond’ means no time for ourselves, our loved-ones, our life goals. So for me, what’s important for a healthy and happy workforce is pretty clear – we have the research, we have the data, most of us have the initiatives, programmes and policies.  

What’s far less clear, and where the real challenges lie, is in what is still preventing us all from living these pretty simple truths? And what can we all, as individuals and in our organisations, do to deal with the obstacles, the ingrained behaviours, the systemic issues, that continue to get in the way? How can we successfully bridge the remaining gap between our well-being aspirations and the enduring everyday reality? What will be the I come to tipping point that will broaden the smile on all our faces as we come to work each day?

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