July 9, 2021
One of the problems facing businesses right now isn’t the so-called mental health pandemic, it’s that no one seems to know what to do about it. The increased focus on employee mental health and wellbeing has seen progressive leaps in the conversation that were unimaginable 10 years ago. Even the most cynical manager has had to concede that the circumstances of the pandemic have raised the profile and importance of taking care of your employees. The reaction is knee-jerk. Companies want to do something about their employees mental health and wellbeing and they want to do it now. Whatever ‘it’ is. The appetite is there, but they can’t find the menu.
As an evidence-based clinician, I specialise in delivering wellbeing strategies that are practical and tangible. It’s important for companies to move past the ‘fuzzy’ and into the deliverable. Whilst everyone has a different approach, I cannot roll my eyes hard enough when someone starts telling me about their wellbeing strategy and the fact they have introduced on-site (or virtual #HybridWorking) yoga for their employees.
Apologies if I sound fed up but, truth be told I am. I sit on many wellbeing professional groups, and time after time I hear people talk about an amazing meeting they went to, which ended in a mindfulness practice or a seated yoga practice, ergo that company has an incredible wellbeing strategy. Let’s be clear. Unless that company is also addressing their HR policies, their communication approach, their leadership training and their management structure then they don’t have a wellbeing strategy. The problem isn’t the yoga in of itself. The problem is a total lack of foundation underneath it.
Many companies interpret a wellbeing strategy as lettuce in the canteen and yoga on the lawn and consider that a job well done
This is not a unique failing. Many companies interpret a wellbeing strategy as lettuce in the canteen and yoga on the lawn and consider that a job well done. More so it’s popular. Many employees welcome the approach and enjoy the benefits. However, it is not a strategy. A lack of yoga is not the problem affecting your employees’ wellness. If you have poor people infrastructure, with complicated policies, and issues of bullying and harassment, then all the yoga in the world is not going to support your employees’ wellbeing. It is your rigid management approaches that need more flexibility, not your employees.
As anyone who has tried to sell a wellbeing strategy will tell you, language is key. You need to be able to present a business case, presenting metrics, measurements and evidence. For every one person who loves the idea of yoga, there will be many others who cannot think of anything worse and inwardly cringe, or outwardly criticise, this approach. You have to have a strategy that transcends different areas of the business or you will never embed it.
I do feel the need to point out I have nothing against yoga. I am a qualified yoga teacher myself and regularly practice for my own individual wellbeing. But would I advocate yoga in a company or business setting? Perhaps. Would I recommend it as part of a wellness strategy? Absolutely not. Only when every other foundational and supporting structure has been put in place, can yoga or any other additional wellness practice be the icing on top. Yoga, mindfulness, personal therapy may all have a part to play but they are not a strategy.
Ideally you want your wellbeing strategy to ensure that individuals don’t need yoga and mindfulness to simply get through the working day. Of course, if your employees want to partake as part as a healthy lifestyle then the benefits of healthy eating and yoga cannot be denied. Nor can they be oversold as the panacea to all your workplace ails.
You need to be able to demonstrate an inclusive wellbeing strategy for all. If you focus on healthy eating and yoga then you will attract that population within the workplace who already engage, which is great, but not inclusive. Your wellbeing strategy needs to account for everyone and you need to remember the objective. You are not trying to engage everyone in specific lifestyle choices. That is not your role, nor the role of your wellbeing strategy.
The purpose of your wellbeing strategy is underlined by a do-no-harm principle. Your workplace won’t harm your employees, and vice versa. You need to address your D&I initiatives, your encouragement and engagement with your neurodivergent employees. You need to make your HR policies simple and easy to understand and engage with. You need to increase psychological safety and create an environment where people can make and own their mistakes, using them as learning opportunities. You need to take a zero-tolerance stance on bullying and harassment. These are just some of the bare bones of a wellbeing strategy.
Next time you are in a meeting about your wellbeing approach remember that employee wellbeing is the fuel that powers your business. Without your employees, you can’t deliver anything. Create a strategy to support them to be at their best, on and off their yoga mats.
Dr Stephanie Fitzgerald is an experienced Clinical Psychologist and Health and Wellbeing Consultant. Stephanie is passionate about workplace wellbeing and strongly believes everyone can and should be happy at work. Stephanie supports companies across all sectors to keep their employees happy, healthy, safe and engaged. Follow her on Instagram @workplace_wellbeing
Image by RENE RAUSCHENBERGER