It’s 5pm, there’s a healthy blanket of snow on the ground, the temperature has just hit -2 degrees and the “Beast from the East” is due to fully hit Ireland over the next 24 hours. I’ve just returned home after getting a few fire logs for the night. On my way back home, an observation from a book I’m reading at the moment (Flourish by Dr Martin Seligman) popped into my mind, which is the weather has many similarities with our notion of well-being.
Weather is a construct, it doesn’t exist per say in that it’s a word we have made up which captures other elements that are real and measurable. We can’t measure the weather per say but we can measure elements that make up the weather like rainfall, snow, temperature and sunlight. All of these elements (and others) combined give us a clear picture of the weather. As highlighted by Seligman, well-being is also a construct in that on its own, it is somewhat meaningless and impossible to measure. However when you break it down into its component parts, which include health, relationships, meaning and other factors, it is very measurable and indeed something that can be significantly improved with intention and focus.
This week the weather has impacted our performance at work. Specifically it has stopped many of us from getting to our place of work, meeting our clients and carrying on our business. Despite the amount of time we talk about the weather in Ireland, most of us (myself included) are not weather experts but we do know when it stops us going about our business. Well-being is both similar and slightly different. It’s similar in that it has the ability to stop us in our tracks from working and performing at our best when it’s diminished or when it goes off the rails completely. It’s different in that I would argue unlike the weather, we all are experts on our own well-being. By and large we all have good idea what’s required to nourish our own sense of well-being. The challenge, I would suggest, in actually maintaining our well-being is more a behavioural one than a knowledge problem.
As somebody who does my best to proactively look after my own well-being, works in this space with organisations and who is currently doing a research thesis in this area, I think the time may be upon us when we collectively move beyond wellbeing as it is currently perceived in Ireland and especially in business organisations. While initiatives like the “national workplace wellbeing day” (which takes place on April 13) and IBEC’s “keep well mark” are absolutely worthwhile and well intentioned, I think “the trick” that many organisations are missing is the tangible behavioural, cognitive and commercial link between well-being and performance. Many companies will engage in once off activities where possible that encourage the well-being of employees and of course these are to be commended. However, the perception and underlying belief that many senior business leaders still have is that these types of “feel good” initiatives are things they do to show some goodwill towards their employees and they will do them from time to time. This is akin to exercising a few times a year. It’s not going to do you any harm, it is commendable but it will do absolutely nothing to meaningfully improve your health and well-being.
So what does moving beyond well-being look like? For me beyond well-being probably means actually dropping the use of the word or at the very least changing our collective perception of it. To senior business leaders who would like to enhance engagement, enthusiasm, innovation, energy, leadership and the performance of your people, consider the following:
- Begin with a clear intention to use the science of well-being to enhance organisational performance.
- Shift your mindset from well-being to total corporate health.
- Systematically measure the well-being (i.e. corporate health) and current performance levels of your people.
- Implement an organisation wide programme to specifically improve corporate health
- Link corporate health to performance
- Measure the results of your programme
- Celebrate your success and continue to evolve your approach
In a global business environment where the ability to lead, innovate, navigate change, empower and truly energise employees to consistently be at their best, there is an enormous amount of low hanging fruit being left behind by most organisations. That low hanging fruit is neglecting to link well-being to overall corporate health and performance.