Let’s Talk About…Wellbeing

It is all too easy to sacrifice wellbeing to modern business culture, says Davina Greene.

Davina Greene is The Personal Strategy Coach – a coach, trainer, and People consultant based in Dublin, Ireland. This column was first published in Irish Tatler magazine. 

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Hands up who has made it through the last six months without hearing the word ‘performance’ in a business context. Almost nobody? As expected.

Businesses strive for strong performance, their leaders talking about little else. However, a culture of organisational performance and productivity is not always a culture of individual health and wellbeing.

To achieve performance, the individuals of whom the performance is expected need to be capable, mentally and physically, of providing the requisite levels of input. A “whole person” comes to work, and each “whole person” brings certain behaviours, expectations, habits, impacts and distractions, alongside differing levels of self-knowledge and self-care. Add to that the fact that each “whole person” has different levels of understanding of what is going on around them, with emotional intelligence often underdeveloped. Executive Teams expect that any ‘human’ knowledge that managers receive during coaching (if provided) is being cascaded back down into teams, for better relationships and understanding across the board. Most of the time, those managers are not that interested – they never said they wanted to be a coach/trainer/counsellor/parent/cheerleader/shoulder-to-cry-on; rather, they very heavily favour their technical role. Indeed, a 2015 survey by the CIPD, the organisation for HR professionals in the UK and Ireland, shows that 43% of HR professionals believe that mental health in the workplace is getting worse. Of the hundreds surveyed, 51% believe they are losing working days to mental health issues. Despite allegedly rigorous recruitment and promotion processes, “poor management” is consistently cited as a reason for workplace stress.

I believe that there are actually four distinct areas that an employee needs to be facilitated in understanding, and monitoring continuously, in order to maintain wellbeing: Body, Mind, Self and Colleagues. Miss one, miss the whole point.

Sadly, it is often said that we are currently living amongst generations of humans who may never know what it is to feel well. People are increasingly in a work-trance, giving longer hours, barely moving, minimally hydrated and eating less-than-nutritious foods. This is not news – all of us have seen colleagues grow larger, develop black rings of exhaustion under their eyes, and crawl home to friends and family entirely devoid of energy. Yet, the cycle continues.

To the physical drain of stress, tiredness and demanding deadlines, add low behavioural understanding between colleagues, creating a minefield. We all know that positive working relationships are a key driver of employee wellbeing – however, niggling day-to-day agitations, misunderstanding and assumptions are, in my experience, far more cumulatively damaging than one-off, bigger conflicts. Organisations need to minimise stressors from the outset by arming everyone with the behavioural vocabulary with which to understand interpersonal activity. What traits are out there? Why do some excel together, while others clash? How do people see me? How should I handle a detail-craver, a control freak, a non-listener? Working relationships can only begin to grow quickly and constructively when obstacles to mutual understanding begin to be removed.

Unlike many, I don’t believe at all that an organisation should have to feel like ‘family’. I simply believe that work is a place you should leave after you have worked your contracted hours (start-ups, emergency situations and Executive roles possibly excepted) and with your health, mental and physical, still firmly intact. Too many businesses make the mistake of aiming continuous personal coaching at individual managers only; however, an employee can only solve a problem for herself if she a) realises that a problem exists and b) can name it (connecting a particular feeling to a particular lacking nutrient; understanding a difference between introversion, shyness, and low confidence). Real, solvable problems therefore go entirely unexpressed at ground level, in the absence of continuous education and focus, resulting in many employees feeling increasingly out-of-control. This is not a springboard for best performance.

Don’t give up on feeling well, sacrificing yourself to performance now rather than maintaining capability for performance over time, and favouring performance at work over performance at life. Is the effort taken from you matched by support given? Take responsibility and seek help as needed – now, not at 65!

The Rules

  1. Know your body: if you don’t feel as fit and healthy as you could be, take action!
  2. Know your mind: if you don’t feel as alert or self-aware as a healthy adult should, take action!
  3. Know yourself: outline a general strategic vision for life, know when you are off-track
  4. Know your colleagues: get familiar with traits and behaviours, to understand what is really happening around you.
  5. As an organisation, arm your employees with knowledge and time for maintenance of day-to-day wellbeing, and encourage individual responsibility.