Julia Schmidt examines wellbeing in the workplace and challenges us to become Wellbeing Ambassadors
Many of us associate health with getting regular medical checkups, eating fruit and vegetables, and exercising periodically. However, the modern way to approach health and wellbeing shows us that “real life” has consequences that can negatively influence the overall state of our health. Factors such as financial stress, job insecurity, caring for aging parents or sick children, and stressful environments, can have a significant impact on our wellbeing, health, and productivity.
Laura Putnam, author of the book Workplace Wellness that Works – 10 Steps to Infuse Well-Being and Vitality into Any Organization lists eight elements of wellbeing to help us understand the importance of considering these multiple areas when designing a workplace wellness strategy. The areas are interdependent, but each element feeds off the others.
The Different Elements of Wellbeing
Let’s look at what each one of them means and make a self-assessment that will help us identify activities that we can initiate in our workplaces to improve wellbeing. Establishing a regular wellbeing assessment routine will allow us to continuously improve our own standards in the different areas of wellbeing and strengthen our presence as Wellbeing Ambassadors.
1. Physical Wellbeing = the Basics
Laura Putnam explains that physical wellbeing is considered as the foundation for overall wellbeing. It can be associated with our survival needs. These basic needs are related to getting enough physical activity, eating well, and sleeping enough.
“Healthy eating is a matter of doing what we already know: Load up on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Eat fish, go easy on red meat, and minimize the bad stuff – sugar, salt fried foods.”
We all know that the human body was made to move and that it works best when it is active. On average Americans are sitting 9,3 hours a day and sitting has become the “new smoking.”
“Sleep is perhaps the most overlooked area of physical wellbeing, but potentially the most essential.”
There are many ways to improve physical wellbeing during the working hours and commute. I want to invite you to make a self-assessment and check what you are doing and find out what you can do more, and better. Many activities can be practiced individually. However, involving your colleagues will boost engagement and endurance. Engagement is contagious; everything we do influences the decisions of others.
- How often am I taking the stairs instead of taking the elevator?
- Am I creating opportunities to let my teams have walking breaks during seated meetings and training events?
- How about creating a routine to stand up every 30 minutes, stretch, and do one lap around the office?
- How often do I choose to communicate with colleagues in person rather than via e-mails?
- Can I hold more standing and walking meetings and encourage my colleagues to do the same?
- Can I start using my lunch break for short workouts?
- Am I encouraging my colleagues to use the ergonomic desks we already have in the office?
- Can I stand while making phone calls or doing other tasks?
- Shall I add walking to both ends of my commute? Can I drive to work, park farther away or add a walk around the block?
- Can I consider cycling to work?
- Can I encourage my organization to install bike racks to make bicycle commuting more convenient?
- How about instilling workplace opportunities for exercise during the day including team sport (like ping pong, basketball) and solo fitness opportunities (yoga, walking, running, exercise facility)?
- Can I implement a healthy workplace canteen program in my workplace?
- Am I ordering healthy food for meetings and events and ensuring that we have fruit available in different areas of the office?
Improvements in health and wellbeing are attained by changes in behavior, by making the right choices.
Healthy eating and physical activities must be combined with a good sleeping routine. Studies published in recent years have shown that many sleep problems including insomnia, early morning awakening, and daytime tiredness are associated with smaller brain volumes.
- Am I creating a device-free, work-free, pet-free environment in my bedroom?
- Am I practicing pre-bedtime relaxing rituals?
- Am I saying no to late-night television or work in front of a laptop?
- How often am I sending emails to colleagues late in the evenings?
2. Emotional Wellbeing = Resiliency
Emotional wellbeing is less about what happens to us in life and more about how we respond to what comes our way, says Laura Putnam. Being resilient will allow us to have infinitive power in how we react to the different personal circumstances we may face in life.
One of the most significant obstacles we may face in building resilience is stress, or more specifically long-term stress. In his research, the neuroimmunologist and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral science Firdaus Dhabhar at Stanford University found out that short-term stress can actually enhance immune function and increase performance. The important thing then is to prevent short-term stress from turning into long-term stress and keep in mind that short-term stress – the good stress – is an excellent source of energy.
To stay on the right side of the stress spectrum, we need to maximize the “resting zones” that exist between the bouts of short-term stress. For example, you can (1) optimize the practice of lifestyle factors like sleep, nutrition and physical activity; (2) leverage physiological buffers such as spending time with family and friends, expressing gratitude and being kind to others, showing extra compassion and giving appraisals; (3) participate in restorative activities such as meditation, yoga, mindfulness, walks in nature, dancing, music, writing, painting, and fishing.
- Am I bringing mindfulness activities to my workplace?
- Am I creating a work environment that allows people to focus on one thing at a time?
- Am I letting my teams and myself switch off as many distractions as we can?
- Am I valuing my colleague’s opinions and showing appreciation for their collaboration?
- How often am I expecting myself and my colleagues to act infallibly?
- How often am I celebrating team achievements and milestones?
- Am I focusing on the best side of people and the victories we are conquering together?
3. Financial Wellbeing = Effective Management of Resources
Without financial security, it is difficult for many of us to feel safe and secure. Financial wellbeing will allow us to cover our basic needs: housing, food, clothes, vacations, travels, etc. Beyond covering these needs, financial wellbeing will actually be about spending our money wisely and how we feel about our finances.
A growing number of organizations have started to help their employees get financially savvy: reducing debt, saving for retirement and the children’s education, planning for emergency expenses, and handling daily finances.
- Can I put financial wellbeing on the agenda and make my executives understand the importance of investing in this element of wellbeing?
- Is there any possibility of implementing a financial education program for employees?
- What about implementing lunch and learn sessions to share relevant information to improve financial wellbeing?
- Can I encourage the company to invest in individual counseling, classroom education, online information or gamification to help employees improve their financial wellbeing?
- Am I using my influence to help my executives make the right decisions to improve organizational health and wellbeing?
4. Social Wellbeing = Love and Connection
Social wellbeing is vital to our health. It is associated with having a sense of belonging and being in contact with other people. Belonging means acceptance as a member of a group.
A sense of belonging is a human need just like the need for food and shelter. Some people see themselves as connected only to one or two people. Others believe and feel a connection to all people the world over, to humanity. Workplace loneliness has become a real problem in many workplaces. Some employees struggle to find a sense of belonging and their loneliness is physically painful for them. Isolation, research shows, can create a downward spiral of negative decision making. Those who are lonely have a harder time exercising self-control and are more likely to give in to destructive habits.
A sense of belonging to a workplace and a group of colleagues improves our motivation, health, and happiness.
People who feel appreciated are most likely to produce the best work. So, let people know their value to the organization, the culture, the team, and to you. It is time to look around and see how you can make a difference that your coworkers and team will love!
- Am I showing interest in my colleagues’ work, ideas, and hobbies?
- Am I choosing to talk and listen to people rather than focus on my smartphone during the conversations in the canteen?
- How often am I stepping out of my inner circle and starting conversations with people from other departments?
- How often am I encouraging my teammates?
- What do I do to keep my relationships healthy at work?
- How am I reacting when I see a team member feeling lonely?
- Am I contributing to a culture of gratitude in my teams?
5. Career Wellbeing = What We Do
As Laura Putnam says, “career wellbeing is what we do every day – and the corresponding level of fulfillment that we experience.” It is directly related to the human need for esteem and achievement.
We spend a significant amount of our time working and therefore our careers play a large role in defining our identity. Our jobs can dramatically shape our wellbeing. Work is an important part of life!
Career wellbeing is feeling good about the work you do. In our work, we want to feel pride, excitement, happiness, satisfaction, inspired, energized and valued. Positive work experiences that produce these feelings strengthen our overall state of health and wellbeing.
- Am I encouraging my organization to create meaningful job descriptions?
- Do I have a job description that reflects my strengths, interests and mission?
- Have I considered building an internal network to allow sharing and learning, training, networking, and career development?
- Am I assisting my team of assistants in identifying their strengths and interests?
- Am I offering opportunities for skill building and continuing education?
- Do I make sure that supervisors and managers are all on the same page and embrace the opportunities to show employees they are valued?
6. Community Wellbeing = Where We Live and What We Give
On a very elementary level, community wellbeing is about feeling safe where we live, having places to play, and belonging to a community that reflects our values and preferences. These conditions are essential for us to flourish and fulfill our potential. This element of wellbeing is associated with the human need for self-realization.
When we love our community, we give back through volunteering – a positive and successful way to contribute, add value and achieve the full development of our abilities and talents.
Volunteering as a member and former National Chairman of IMA (International Management Assistants) Norway reminds me that I can share my expertise, go out of my comfort zone, make a difference and contribute actively to build a stronger association of administrative professionals.
According to research from Gallup, giving back “promotes deeper social interaction, enhances meaning and purpose, and a more active lifestyle – while keeping us from being too preoccupied with ourselves or getting into harmful emotional states.”
The workplace itself is also a community for its employees. Social and community wellbeing are interrelated. The power of giving back and feeling connected to where we live and work can be tremendous. It always feels good to support others!
- How am I giving back to my workplace?
- Is my organization promoting or sponsoring volunteering activities?
- How can my organization encourage teams of employees to volunteer?
- Is my organization offering financial grants to charities?
7. Environmental Wellbeing = Good for the Earth, Good for Us
This element of wellbeing relates to our higher need for self-actualization. Environmental wellbeing is characterized by being aware of the interactions between the environment, the community and ourselves. It is a significant source of motivation for the growing generation of millennials entering our workplaces. Focusing on environmental wellbeing is crucial for retaining talents and attracting new employees.
- Am I supporting my organization in optimizing resources and conserving through mindful use and limiting waste?
- Am I aware of my surroundings at all times?
- Do I recycle?
- Do I volunteer time to worthy causes?
8. Creative Wellbeing = Authentic Self-Expression
Creativity is strongly associated with autonomy, motivation, and innovation. This element is also related to the human’s need for self-realization. Creative wellbeing at work contributes to employee empowerment, engagement and great levels of autonomy.
Research shows that creativity improves wellbeing. A recent study in the Journal of Positive Psychology (Tamlin, Conner, DeYoung & Paul, 2016) indicates that engaging in a creative activity just once a day can lead to a more positive state of mind.
- Do I contribute to a workplace culture where people can ask questions, be curious and make decisions?
- Am I supporting an organizational culture where the risk of failure is accepted as part of the deal?
- What can I do to implement more time for creativity when working with my teams?
- What might my organization achieve by unleashing more creativity?
Now it is time to set goals and objectives to help close the gaps identified in your assessment – and take leadership! You have to position yourself as a leader while also engaging the existing leadership of your organization. It is time to think and act as a leader.
Let’s cultivate more positive emotions at work by fostering high-quality connections with others, gratitude, kindness, hope, and finding ways to leverage off our strengths – those things we are good at and enjoy doing. When you do that, you are being a true Wellbeing Ambassador.
The time is now!