An organisation is well when its people are well.
The thought struck me during a recent conversation with a client that social wellbeing could be a catalyst, indeed a bit of a Trojan horse, for improving wellbeing as a whole.
Evidence of wellbeing is found in the presence of wellness, rather than the absence of illness, as advised by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
That’s not to trivialise at risk, and clinical elements of wellbeing, but rather to view wellbeing as a spectrum, or “Whole-istic’ wellbeing as I see it.
In a recent Linked In article I described the paradigm shift required from ‘managing’ wellbeing to ‘enabling’ wellbeing. The article outlined the 3 sub-elements of wellbeing defined by the WHO as :
– Physical wellbeing: Occupational health/Body management/Mind- body practices
– Mental wellbeing: Mental conditions/Daily life challenges/Personal growth
– Social wellbeing: Connection/Contribution/Celebration
Sadly, whilst many organisations create well intended, and sometimes ad hoc , wellbeing strategies, they might only be addressing certain sub elements of the Whole-istic spectrum, which might deliver the intended result, or , after an initial period of visibility and enthusiasm, seem to stall and aren’t sustainable.
Social Wellbeing – A Trojan horse?
Back to the conversation with my client.
We were discussing social wellbeing, and the social value and impact of celebration as opposed to recognition.
He spoke longingly of the good old days, when someone having a birthday would be celebrated by the team, a cake would be provided and people would stop what they were doing for a moment and celebrate the individual. It had so much more value than an email, or a line in the monthly newsletter or company website, yet tougher times had meant that there was no longer budget or time available. Really, for a cake?
In my masterclasses I share a number of case studies where high performing organisations have prioritised social wellbeing, and the simple and inexpensive ways in which they do it. I outline practices that are ingrained in their culture and not compromised regardless of trading conditions.
When I reflect on how these high performing organisation value and resource the 3 social wellbeing sub elements of connection, contribution and celebration, my thought is that this could have to have a positive impact on mental and emotional wellbeing.
And this is where the concept of the Trojan horse comes in.
Social wellbeing is not a silver bullet, and there are necessary conditions and requirements for directly attending to physical and mental wellbeing needs, however, from a return on investment perspective, I believe that improved social wellbeing will have spin-offs and deliver benefits in terms of mental and physical wellbeing.
Social wellbeing also has the marked advantage that it is perhaps an easier a more acceptable topic, and once people understand the “why “ and the personal benefit for them, there is definitely some low hanging fruit to be found in focusing on social wellbeing as part of an overall wellbeing strategy.
The current state of social wellbeing
This will differ markedly between organisations, countries and work roles, ranging from totally awesome to totally absent
Little or no social interaction at work
A recent study by Graeme Cowan, founder of RUOK, found that 1 in 4 Australian employees have zero social connections with colleagues in their workplace.
There would be a plethora of reasons as to why this may be the case, however, the impact on overall wellbeing is real.
Extended absenteeism due to lack of social wellbeing
Recent Return to Work studies have shown that employees who have no sense of belonging or strong social connections at work take up to four times longer to return to work.
Unrealistic targets, time pressure and stress
A recent headline in the Sydney Morning Herald read … ‘Lunch in their cars’: Workers battle stress and trauma in their job” With this came the story-line that three in five of more than 25,000 workers surveyed say they have experienced poor mental health in the past 12 months.
It’s not inconceivable that perhaps their bosses under similar stress are eating their lunch at their desks.
Contrast this with a comment from a wellbeing masterclass participant in London recently, describing a culture of great wellbeing he worked in the construction industry, where lunch was taken daily in a temporary canteen, and the boss came and shared his lunch during the lunch break with a different group each day.
The way forward
My belief is that it’s up to leaders and organisations to create the conditions that enable wellbeing in all its forms, and this includes social wellbeing.
Thought leaders and organisations across the globe seem in agreement.
- Harvard’s Shawn Accor talks about “managers switching team members on to the benefits they receive in providing social support to their peers.”
- Zappo’s have taken a systemic approach and included social wellbeing in personal KPI’s, with the coaching and understanding of why it’s important, and they make resources available.
Leadership and culture expert Rosa Antonia Carrillo, MSOD , describing her new book, The Relationship Factor in Safety Leadership, couldn’t make the case for social wellbeing any better:
“The answer is found in the importance of human relationships and the social systems. People rely on them for validation, emotional support and ultimately, survival.
So to transform an organization you must transform the relationships.”
Our challenge as leaders is to become really clear on our people’s real social wellbeing needs, and shift our focus to creating conditions for social wellness rather than trying to manage illness.
“When a flower doesn’t bloom you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.”
Alexander Den Heijer