The direct impact on your people’s mental health and performance with a strategic wellbeing strategy

Workplace Wellbeing Strategy

Wellbeing strategies beyond benefits and gimmicks, creating impact through behaviour and culture – from Petra Velzeboer

A wellbeing strategy may be filled with vision and action plans but unless it’s brought to life through behaviours, habits and culture, it’s just a dusty document sitting in the cloud.

Firstly, if you want your wellbeing strategy to directly impact your people’s mental health and performance, you’ve got to align it with your business objectives. So often, these are vastly separate conversations but when we truly understand the connection between thriving people and business, we begin to connect the dots and speak the same language of change and forward action.

The amount of people who create a wellbeing strategy who are at breaking point or on the fast track to burnout is immense

There are many reports highlighting the costs to businesses of poor mental health including the Thriving at Work  (2017) report and WHO guidelines (2022) however, many wellbeing strategies are still focusing on a benefits approach (where to go if you’re struggling, most likely outside of the business) alongside gimmicky wellbeing activities (yoga, self-help apps, healthy smoothies etc) and forget to think about meeting culture, work inefficiencies, lack of clarity, leadership and micromanagers, digital distractions, scheduled focus time and rest and recovery for maximum success long term.

Here are a few tips to help you get your wellbeing strategy right:

Blue Sky thinking

So many wellbeing strategies focus on awareness days and pillars of wellbeing (i.e. Emotional, Physical, Financial, Social) but forget to define a strong north star, a vision of what good looks like and how they’ll know they’ve gotten there. 

Wellbeing is a broad topic of course and it can feel challenging to cover everything all of the time, so your strategy should enable you to build on ideas slowly and consistently over time, reducing overwhelm and giving you a structure to communicate your vision to others with.

Find your influencers

There will be like-minded people who understand your approach and want to help across all levels of the business – the trick is to be able to find them and provide manageable ways for them to get involved in showing the way through their behaviours and how they repeat messages of health throughout the working day (not just on awareness days).

1 in 4 of us have experienced poor mental health at some point in our lives so even if you think it’s not really a problem where you are, there will be many people with stories who are passionate about creating change, they just need permission to do so. Senior leadership can often create the biggest impact as it’s through their actions and words that permission is given to others to invest in their wellbeing as well as pushing themselves to reach potential in a sustainable way.

Align your communication strategy 

The bigger the company the more strategies will be running concurrently and the more different departments may be competing for budgets or attention of employees. When so many of us are saying engagement is low or we want higher engagement in our initiatives isn’t it better to ask questions like:

  • Is this initiative fit for purpose?

  • Can we coordinate our comms so as not to overwhelm people?

  • Is our messaging aligned to performance messaging?

  • Is the language we use uplifting and empowering?

Reflect on the varied departments in your business (i.e. DEI, HR, Wellbeing, Networks etc) and whether they are working in siloes or are we on the same side thinking primarily about culture and inclusion linked to business objectives.

Measure impact

Impact can be measured in a variety of ways and it’s important to leave room for intangibles – for example, how do you quantify the impact of a conversation – you can’t and yet, we know that conversations boost connection, team morale and a feeling of belonging. What you can measure however is whether you are retaining talent, output and project outcomes, absence and information on stress, resilience and mental health in engagement surveys, feedback on training sessions etc.

The question is, do you create a story from your data that enables you to identify gaps and informs your wellbeing strategy year on year?  Often we are reviewing data in isolation, losing out on information that can give us a holistic view of what we need and where we’re headed.  Crucially, if you want people to trust you with their opinions, you’d better be ready to let them know what you’ve heard and how their thoughts inform your strategy and approach – otherwise, you’ll find engagement dips on this too.

You’ve got me, who’s got you?

Leading by example also means starting with us! We may be challenging others to live differently, but the amount of people who create a wellbeing strategy who are at breaking point or on the fast track to burnout is immense.

We’re afraid of vulnerability thinking everyone thinks we are perfect in this department and so we create a divide between the reality of being human and how people perceive us. It is powerful to have a strong vision for where you’re headed while also doing the brave work of showing up and doing the work daily.

Petra Velzeboer is a psychotherapist, executive coach, CEO of PVL and author of Begin With You: invest in your wellbeing & satisfaction at work

Petra Velzeboer

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