Paul Crittenden writes for Forum Strategy on how organisational wellbeing begins with leaders

Let’s talk about pressure!

As a CEO, you’re probably aware that people around you are struggling with pressure, and that it seems unresolvable.  You may even be that person.

Pressure is endemic.  As professional couples more frequently start their families later in life, they find themselves parenting school aged children well into their forties or early fifties.   As lifespans increase, those same families will likely be supporting and caring for elderly parents at the same time.  It’s easy to see the pressure all this puts on family time and energy.

At work, an increasingly digitally connected world means we have finally given up the quest for work / life balance and have capitulated to work / life integration, with little separation between work and home. Work priorities and many aspects of family life are managed digitally ‘on the go’. 

The result is constant and unrelenting pressure.  Life is lived ‘always on’, with a feeling of ‘getting through’ the week – of surviving rather than thriving.  Many are experiencing overwhelm like never before, often struggling with ‘business as usual’, let alone trying to be agile, upbeat and innovative. 

A different conversation

We need to start talking about how we position Wellbeing as a foundation for excellence.

As I’ve been talking to senior leaders during the Covid -19 pandemic, a new word has entered the vocabulary in almost every conversation.  That new word is ‘pivot’ – to ‘sharply change direction around a point’.  It reflects an understanding that exceptional circumstances demand exceptional action.  In turn, it recognises that as leaders we need to be more, well, pivotal!

We are at a profound bifurcation point in the world of work, and we all have a choice – we can allow excessive pressure to drive us to relentlessly work harder, faster – leading to a rise in ill health and diseases of despair, or we can rise to a new level of awareness, insight and leadership.  If we choose to do so, we can, by making wellbeing more central to our business strategies, create workplaces that foster wellness at their core.   

I believe it is time for us to have a different sort of conversation about health and wellbeing. 

For decades, anything beyond ‘Health, Safety and Welfare’ sat largely in the ‘ought to’ box, with leaders believing their responsibly ended at Policy, Practice and PPE.  Reluctant policy deployed through an HR initiative is no longer enough.  Keeping people happy and keeping sickness and staff turnover low are survival strategies – a response to a problem – in much the same way that some people only service their car when it starts going wrong!  

We need to start talking about how we position Wellbeing as a foundation for excellence.

Healthy work environments allow us to experiment, learn and grow at pace.  When we put health and wellbeing FIRST and give time, space, and permission for reflection and connection, we create a chance to build character not just capability.

A new philosophy

Increasingly, staff wellbeing is becoming strategically relevant, culturally embedded, and CEO led.

A successful Wellbeing philosophy puts boldness front and centre – daring to challenge the status quo and take risks.  Engaging people, raising their awareness, providing them with support and options, and then trusting them to take proactive responsibility for their own wellness. 

It’s a philosophy that risks putting home first, and work second, recognising that exceptional performance always stands on solid foundations.  Embracing the ‘whole person’, not just the employee generates profound uplifts in engagement and commitment.   

Increasingly, staff wellbeing is becoming strategically relevant, culturally embedded, and CEO led.  It is refocused entirely from statutory obligation and loss mitigation – onto building capable, enthused, resilient pools of talent capable of delivering sustainable results in ever-changing, constantly challenging work environments.   People who can pivot, persevere, and pivot again.

Leading a Well Workplace

A CEO committed to Wellbeing provides visibility, participation and prominence to it.  They model the way, share their personal wellbeing challenges and reveal their vulnerability.  They demonstrate empathy, breeding a new understanding of the value and importance of health not just in moral terms, but in real terms.  We see a shift from managing with authority, to leading with heart.

In a weird synergy, the factors that are accelerating our lives are also providing the means to better cope with them.   Technology enables leaders to adopt more effective, modern, person-centric methods of encouraging and engaging with wellbeing.   To ensure participation Wellbeing support must be responsive, dynamic, entertaining, modern, and relevant to the individual.  In an age where Apps rule, where we Zoom, Teams, and WhatApp, and follow ‘influencers’ on social media, Wellbeing has become accessible, mainstream and always-on, just like life. 

And all of this is underpinned by a fundamental shift in intent, from resolving a health or wellbeing issue, to helping the person show up fully alive and ready to set the world on fire.

Making it happen

For the majority of organisations, health, fitness and wellbeing are not their core business.  To attempt to excel in these areas without the relevant expertise would be ill advised.  There is an emerging sector of experts and partners to tap into in the Wellbeing sector – from mindfulness coaches to nutritional experts and private medical insurers.  Utilising this expertise ensures a better chance of deploying an effective wellbeing strategy.

Modern CEOs are taking this very seriously.  Many work with a wellbeing coach to ensure they are on top form, promoting their own success and achievements to encourage buy-in at all levels.  By demonstrating sustained application and interest in their own health and wellbeing they inspire others to emulate them – the simple message is ‘this is what it takes to make it here’.   If you‘re a class leading CEO, you’ll be driving the Wellbeing agenda and signalling the importance of wellbeing as a business essential, not a ‘nice to have’. 

Paul Crittenden in a Leadership consultant and coach.

Forum Strategy is currently leading a #TrustLeaders Wellbeing Steering Group, in partnership with Schools Advisory Service, to support the sharing of best practice across the sector.

Our Summer #TrustLeaders magazine, #WellbeingSummer, can now be accessed here: https://www.forumstrategy.org/trustleaders-magazine-portal-wellbeing-in-focus-summer-2020/