The more I develop the work I am doing around “wellbeing in the workplace” the more I realise that we truly do need to accept that like many things there really is no “one size fits all” approach to this. What one person thrives on will be the undoing of another and I am sceptical of any person or system that claims to know the way, or that works for everyone. What one person finds to be their absolute truth will be the opposite truth to someone else, and the challenge comes in us taking responsibility for working out what works for us personally.
When attending events about wellbeing in the workplace it is great to see the acknowledgement that things need to be done. And much of what is being done is without doubt heading in the right direction. Initiatives around employees health and fitness that encourage healthier lifestyles have the potential to save businesses serious money long term not to mention a better quality of life for individuals.
The acknowledgement of needing to address stress in the workplace and trying to build emotional resilience is also a positive step. The total cost of mental ill health alone in terms of lost economic output to UK employers is estimated at £30.3 billion per year. (Centre for Mental Health 2009) In tricky economic times it is obvious that saving some of this cost is essential. Many companies have faced cutbacks, putting ever more pressure on employees and much is being said about how we can increase productivity and staff engagement, and on what can be done to encourage employees to “go the extra mile”. The challenge of work/life balance becomes ever more under the spotlight as many employees struggle to reach tough targets and consistently take work home with them as a result of the constant stream of emails and messages bleeping through on their mobile phones. We have now even got into the habit of “just checking a few emails” whilst on holiday so if we are not careful our “holiday” becomes “working from a different office location”.
The positive side of technology is that without too much effort we can now find plenty of advice and guidelines online as to what to do to improve our wellbeing. I personally feel that we need to help people to develop self awareness, something that has a massive impact on the choices they make and the impact those choices make on both them personally and on others. Helping people to identify for themselves what is it that maintains their own wellbeing, and what leads them away from it empowers them to take responsibility for their choices.
A really simple way to start to become more self aware is to start noticing your posture and how you are breathing at random points through the day. Developing good posture not only saves us energy but helps us to stay more grounded, centred and more open to others.
I teach a practice I call “the single breath practice” which is literally just to take a deep, conscious breath anytime you are losing focus, stressed or tired. This helps us to re-energise and to bring all of our energy into that present moment. These two simple techniques can bring amazing results and it is often the simple things that are the most powerful – it is also the simple things that we often dismiss as being “too simple to work” but the choice is ours whether we use them or not. Improving our own wellbeing as well as others doesn’t always mean we need to make radical changes, sometimes it’s just a few small tweaks here and there that can be life changing.
In addition to posture and breath there are many things that contribute to our wellbeing and here are a few more that play their part:
• The more energy you give to positive thoughts the more powerful they become and the more impact they have on your life.
• Give yourself permission to take time to relax. It is during a relaxed state that our rest and repair goes on, helping us to stay physically healthy.
• Learn to accept yourself more and be the best version of yourself you can.
• Make sure your life includes fun, in whatever form that takes for you personally!
• Regular exercise and a nutritionally balanced diet helps our body, mind and our mood.
• Don’t be afraid to ask for extra help when you need it, we all have ups and downs through life.
• Be as generous and kind as you can, and enjoy the world sending exactly that right back at you!
• And a personal favourite of mine is simply to remember that every single moment is a new beginning, and every single day a whole new day. It is never too late to make a new choice, to change our mind, or to begin again.
As much as there is now a wealth of information out there about ways we can improve our wellbeing ultimately it is down to us to take personal responsibility for our own wellbeing and the choices we make. We need to look beyond superficial symptoms and get to the root of our issues, and we need to be ready to choose a better way. That may sound obvious but how often do we self sabotage ourselves by not doing what we know makes us feel better. We need to really want a better quality of life, to be prepared to make some changes if need be, and we need to support each other to make those changes.
One important point experts on the subject of employee wellbeing agree on is that initiatives have to come from the top and that without management buy-in little can be achieved Some leading companies really do go the extra mile to look after their employees as they know full well the benefits that brings and that without people there is no business. Others are slowly being encouraged to start to look at this subject and I hope it continues to climb further and further up the agenda. I would also suggest that actions speak louder than words. Having a great mission statement on paper but failing to live it is a quick way to lose employees trust let alone respect. And this leads me to something I suspect is one of the biggest causes of workplace stress and that is the way we treat each other. As the below quote says, social wellbeing is also a contributing factor of health.
Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. World Health Organisation
It may well be the rose-tinted view I like to see possibility through but I can’t help but feel that the way we have been “doing business” is in need of a major overhaul not just in evidence of the financial problems we have created in the world but also that the fashion of the way a “savvy” business person created profit at the cost of others is now becoming fast outgrown. We must be failing to see the bigger picture if we think it is clever and good business to screw other people’s prices down to increase our personal gain for a good deal. It seems like an empty victory to me to make profit only from taking away from others. Whilst a business may make money this way what is the hidden cost of all they destroy or ruin to do it? Ultimately we all pay for those we ruin. We will never get the extra mile from anyone we make feel worthless. What cost is the goodwill we lose by paying invoices late in the name of being shrewd? Many of us now are trying to support fair trade suppliers but fair trade starts at home too from the way we treat each other, from employer/employee relationships and co-workers, to how we deal with everyone we share business with. Learning to better understand how we ourselves tick can only serve to help us to understand and support each other more, something that greatly contributes to our state of wellbeing.
The feelgood factor that comes from being generous, kind and thoughtful is infectious. Our hearts soften when we observe another show an act of kindness or goodwill, and it reminds us that we too have that within us. When we act from that place we become even more creative at problem solving and see new opportunities to create even more. Perhaps some of us have just forgotten the habit of giving without a need for return. In fear of scarcity we have been taking and often abusing those that give generously. How much stress could we remove by simply becoming a little more generous with each other, of seeing more opportunities to show goodwill than just opportunities for profit?
I think that the subject of wellbeing is now moving into a second and even more promising stage as we have now reached the point that we no longer think of a wellbeing agenda as only being the picking up of those who have totally burnt themselves out, but of us all realising that life is well worth living and wellbeing is about living well. There is no point at all in getting to the latter years of life and looking back on a stress-filled life, rather that we look back fondly on a life not only lived well but full of a sense of joy and achievement. In this developing era the change starts with our own personal choices. As Gandhi said, we need to “Be the change that we wish to see.” We have to start to look at the relationship we have with ourselves and how that creates the relationships we have with others in the world we continue to create.
I believe that the very purpose of life is to be happy. From the very core of our being, we desire contentment. In my own limited experience I have found that the more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of wellbeing. Cultivating a close, warmhearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease. It helps remove whatever fears or insecurities we may have and gives us the strength to cope with any obstacles we encounter. It is the principal source of success in life. Since we are not solely material creatures, it is a mistake to place all our hopes for happiness on external development alone. The key is to develop inner peace. Dalai Lama
In my rose-tinted view of us creating a new world I want to live in a world where we remember how to truly support each other, to remember that at the end of the day we are all one and the same. I see that the companies that work ethically and honestly, with the wellbeing of all at the heart of their values can’t help but succeed. Those who seek profit for profit sake, at the cost of others, will ultimately pay the cost themselves as they put nail after nail in their own coffin. Wellbeing in the workplace surely has to be about more than bottom line figures.