How to Promote Well-Being at Work
In 2022, Ipsos surveyed over 23,500 adults across 34 countries about the state of their mental health. The results were astonishing: One-half of Americans and 60% of participants across all 34 countries reported feeling stressed to the point that it impacted their life. And about 56% of Americans had reached the point where they could not cope at least once in the previous year.
According to the 2022 Global Status Report on Physical Activity by the World Health Organization, the impact of this mental health crisis has been keenly felt across many businesses, along with a decline in physical health that is adversely affecting productivity and absenteeism. The problem is particularly acute among business leaders, who face stress levels previously experienced by only a minority.
Today the buzzword is “well-being,” and its link to “full engagement” has caused companies to rethink their productivity strategies. “We have been more focused on the issue of well-being since the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Christelle Delavaud, personal development product manager at Cegos Group. “New work habits and remote activities have accelerated since 2020 and we have entered a digital age where we spend hours behind our computer screens.”
Two other issues have influenced the rise in mental and physical illness — the blurred lines between professional and private life and marathon-like work routines, where employees barely get time to breathe. For leaders dealing with crisis after crisis — the uncertainties caused by global conflicts, increased costs of living and inflation to name a few — the pressure is relentless and often overwhelming.
The Drive for Better Health
Well-being is now the focus of corporate social responsibility (CSR) for many companies, who consider the physical and mental health of their employees to be a cause worth investing in because it directly influences stability and long-term performance.
The Full Engagement model was created by performance psychologist Jim Loehr and journalist Tony Schwartz. It promotes individual awareness of how we manage our energy and how far we are “fully engaged” in our own well-being.
“We must analyze what level of stress we experience when involved in a particular activity,” explains Christelle. “Is it positive stress that helps me perform or is it negative stress which is bad for my well-being? Am I aware when I enter a bad stress situation or an episode of prolonged stress? What can I do to get out of it? Awareness, clear thinking and action are our best allies.”
The theory goes that our energy oscillates throughout the day. We spend energy on various activities, such as work and travel, and build energy through rest and physical exercise.
Full engagement requires a balanced investment of energy across four dimensions (physical, emotional, mental and spiritual) and involves developing a set of rituals that become automatic over time. By achieving the right balance of energy, we can become fully engaged in our work as well as in our personal lives.
So, what kind of practices can we engage in to help balance our energy across the four dimensions?
- Physical: Many of us lead sedentary lifestyles, especially those of us with desk jobs, yet physical exercise is crucial to keeping us healthy. Our physical health also has a direct impact on our mental health, so it is important that employees prioritize their physical health. Physical activity three times per week, regular breaks at work and taking the stairs rather than the elevator can help learners build energy throughout the day. Encourage learners to stay hydrated as well.
- Emotional: It’s important to keep our emotions in check, so we can deal with pressure points in a calm and reasoned way. To help learners achieve this, encourage them to turn off their phones for long periods during downtime, shutting down computers and other distractions to give 100% attention to those they are interacting with. These habits create strong, positive energy in learners’ work and home lives and keep negative emotions at bay.
- Mental: Our mental state dictates our performance at work, it’s important to encourage learners to maintain their mental health by avoiding stressful situations when possible. Defining priorities for the week to focus on, sparing 20 minutes of the day for reading and writing down the most important tasks for the next day can help learners prepare mentally for a more positive life experience.
- Spiritual: Regular reflection and a calm attitude make a huge difference to our performance, too. For example, encourage learners to take 10 minutes to meditate, look at a picture that reflects a positive view of the future and, before bed, reflect on the attitudes they had that day that brought them closer to living their purpose and those that drove them further away. The result will be a more balanced attitude to life that will positively impact their performance.
CSR can play a role in encouraging employees to lead a healthy lifestyle. Paying for gym memberships, offering yoga classes or even providing massage services all contribute to improving employee well-being. While some leaders may sneer at these initiatives as a trivial waste of money, such programs can and do provide tangible benefits.
Massages and yoga, for example, help those who sit at a desk all day to reduce episodes of back pain. However, CSR can only do so much. “Ultimately, employees themselves must take ownership and responsibility for their mental and physical well-being, and not simply rely on company benefits,” says Christelle.
To start, employees can commit to using the Full Engagement model to create a better sense of well-being that will improve their performance.
For training professionals looking to roll out employee well-being initiatives, there are several strategies to adopt:
- Advocacy from the top.
Management can raise awareness among employees by celebrating the results of their hard work in a presentation, while reminding them to balance their energy levels and take time out. This adds weight to the message and shows empathy.
- Promoting mindfulness.
Providing wellness resources and opportunities, like a team hike or yoga class can help employees take a step back and put into perspective how they take care of themselves. Managers can also encourage meditation. Five minutes of meditation is scientifically proven to be a real benefit to your mental and physical health.
- Leading by doing.
Leaders across the business should lead by example and show employees how to establish productive behaviors and habits in their daily lives. This will have a positive impact on morale, especially if people are inspired by what they see from those higher up.
- Time for timeout.
Create spaces for relaxation, which allow for breaks in the daily routine. Regular breaks keep the mind fresh and focused and significantly improves productivity.
Many of the pressures we experience today will remain. Rapid change and uncertainty are now a part of life, so we must take extra care of ourselves and our colleagues to deal with these issues.
If companies take a determined approach to boost well-being at work through training and other efforts, and employees take responsibility for their physical and mental health, we can look forward to a world where fewer people report extreme stress levels and are far happier in and outside of the workplace.