How to foster wellbeing as a leader

14th September 2021 by Ellie Thompson

Wellbeing is crucial to our survival, our sense of self and our success on both an individual and societal level. When it comes to wellbeing in the workplace, conversations about wellbeing are certainly more commonplace now, which is a welcome shift in the narrative.

But this is so much more than just the latest buzzword.

We need to create sustainable processes that ensure we keep thinking and talking about wellbeing, and that starts with the right leadership.

Members of the D&A team around a table in the office. In focus is Atif, a brown man wearing glasses, a black shirt and blue waistcoat. He is speaking and looking intently at Giedre, a white woman with blonde straight hair, who is sat to his right.

Wellbeing definition

Wellbeing can simply be defined as the state of how you’re feeling and doing, physically and mentally. This refers to both your emotions at one particular moment in time, but also more generally to your overall experience of health, happiness, and comfort. Because of this, wellbeing is a deeply unique and personal thing, making it impossible to create specific benchmarks for what good or bad wellbeing might look like.

It’s an essential consideration of diversity and inclusion, and the relationship goes both ways; taking an inclusive approach to defining and supporting wellbeing is crucial. We can only create a meaningful wellbeing strategy if it’s founded not on objective outcomes related to mental or physical health, but on an acknowledgement that each individual will experience wellbeing completely differently.

As an organisation, our priority must be on creating an environment and culture that upholds wellbeing as an institutional value, and therefore allows everyone the space to achieve whatever wellbeing looks and feels like for them.

Why is wellbeing so important?

If it isn’t enough to just know that looking after your team’s wellbeing is the right thing to do, pay attention to the many diverse business benefits of robust mental health and wellbeing in a workplace.

Poor wellbeing leads to:

  • Loss of profits. Deloitte reports that poor mental wellbeing costs UK employers up to £45billion per year, due to the combined costs of absenteeism, presenteeism and staff turnover.
  • Lack of productivity. Research has shown that employees with poor mental health are 10% less effective in their work.

And it’s not just about avoiding negative consequences; positive wellbeing creates positive effects and not solely through the costs you’ll save but through improvements to productivity, business reputation and employee engagement.

How can you create a culture of wellbeing at work?

A lot of the shifts you can make as a leader to embed a culture of wellbeing in your organisation are actually low cost and easy to implement.

Model wellbeing

Adam Hyland, Co-founding Director at Diversity and Ability, shares how he helps create an open culture of wellbeing and mental health at D&A: “Leaders need to do just that, and lead by example. Employees need to see authentic buy-in from the top, so we as leaders need to be talking about wellbeing and implementing it into our day-to-day working.”

This doesn’t mean constant positivity; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s important to be just as vocal about moments of personal stress, sadness and disappointment as you are about your moments of happiness and success. Doing so means rejecting the dangerous culture of toxic positivity, where there’s pressure to be constantly optimistic and suppress negative emotions, in favour of an environment that welcomes honesty and openness.

And model this honesty around mental health in tandem with sharing the steps you take to look after yourself. In Mental Health First Aid training, participants are given the ‘homework’ of allotting themselves a ‘happy hour’; a one-hour period where they do something that fills them with joy, happiness or comfort. This is something you should make a daily practice. For Adam, this means spending time with family, going for walks, or watching football. When you as a leader take this time for yourself and are upfront in sharing it with your employees, you’ll witness others beginning to follow suit.

Finally, take advantage of structures that help you work out where you could be doing more to support your own wellbeing and that of those around you. Mind’s Five Ways to Wellbeing gives us all a great framework for the diverse acts of self-care that help us keep ourselves healthy. What’s more, we’ll show you how to implement these steps to wellbeing in your workplace.

Make the small shifts that have a big impact

Sometimes, the most effective ways to affect culture change are by making lots of small, easy but sustainable shifts. For example, at D&A we’re firm advocates of the effects of Wellbeing Wednesday. For us, this means creating a conversation in our internal community on anything wellbeing related, sharing everything from the moments of connection to nature we found during lockdown to pet photos on International Dog Day. Bringing a team together, especially one that’s neurodiverse and operating remotely, creates feelings of collective experiences and shared joy.

Recognise where it’s worth investing

Although lots of the shifts are low effort and low cost, wellbeing is one of the areas where your time and money investments will without a doubt pay off. Employers who invest in organisational wellbeing are rewarded with a massive return on investment of an average of £5 for every £1 spent. So spend the time to upskill your team with mental health workshops and training that genuinely changes organisational attitudes to wellbeing. And alongside organisation-wide initiatives, spend time reaching out to individuals. We’ve provided one-to-one support to employees in the form of a wellbeing coach or mentor, creating vital space for people to process their emotions and develop proactive strategies that safeguard their mental health.

What are the signs that you’ve created a culture of wellbeing?

When you’ve successfully created a culture where wellbeing is respected and prioritised, you’ll know. You’ll see and hear conversations about mental health and mindset becoming commonplace. You’ll notice a gradual incline in the take-up of your wellbeing initiatives as people learn it’s safe and beneficial to engage. And you’ll see a happier, more loyal, and more productive workforce where people want to be and feel like they belong.

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