Business performance and employee wellbeing are often pitted as conflicting with each other. However, far from being mutually exclusive, they are in fact intrinsically connected. If you create the type of culture that promotes wellbeing, everyone wins – your company, your people, and you as a leader.
In this blog article, we look at the root causes of its cultural challenges and provide practical tips that leaders can implement right away to start making a positive difference.
When we talk to clients, one of the biggest issues we hear is that people are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work they have. This relentless pressure to deliver means people feel they cannot take any time out to look after themselves – physically, mentally, emotionally – to restore a positive sense of wellbeing.
To improve the wellbeing of your people, you need to get to the root causes of what is causing them to feel stressed, frustrated, and unhappy at work. While there could be many contributing external and deep-seated personal factors, it’s worth exploring whether some contributing causes can be found in your culture. This approach is what is often missing in corporate approaches to wellbeing. The prevailing philosophy is that as long as you provide people with Mental Health First Aiders and other great tools and interventions, that their wellbeing will be looked after, and you can keep demanding more and more of their time and energy.
But this thinking is inherently flawed. It fails to address the underlying cultural issues that are impacting wellbeing. And this culture will be fuelled by beliefs and mindsets about what is needed to survive, and thrive, at your organisation.
You may have a high achievement, results driven culture. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s a very legitimate cultural strategy. It also does not mean that you have an unhealthy culture, but where it can start to be detrimental to wellbeing is when your people believe they have no choice but to deprioritise their own wellbeing and routinely work under pressure or for long hours to try and deliver these results. These beliefs could be ill-founded, but if they are widespread across your organisation, then they become a reality, and no amount of Wellbeing Days are going to make a difference.
Because we are driven to assimilate, we’re constantly seeking messages about what we must do to fit in, what is expected of us and what is valued. Messages come primarily not from what is said, but from what is done. Culture is created through these unspoken messages people receive from what we at Walking the Talk refer to as behaviours, systems, and symbols. Here, we look at each in turn and offer a few suggestions of tangible activities you can do right away to promote a high performing and healthy culture.
We pay particular attention to what people are doing around us: how they interact with others, how they conduct themselves. This teaches us what is expected, and we adjust our behaviour accordingly. From our experience working with organisations of all shapes and sizes, we have identified three behaviours leaders should dial up to increase wellbeing in high achievement cultures.
Often people tell us that they don’t feel empowered to manage their personal wellbeing and that they are expected to consistently work at the expense of their own health. Yet when we speak to their leaders, there is often no such expectation.
We’ve found that prioritisation is a key challenge for most organisations. If you as a leader can repeatedly demonstrate to your team how you prioritise, and help them do the same, it can have a massive impact on wellbeing.
In cultural terms we’re referring to specific processes, policies, structures, and measures that underpin the way we operate. These also send strong messages about what is valued and as a result, they shape people’s behaviour.
In a high-performance culture, there is a lot of emphasis on winning and achieving results. People generally enjoy celebrating milestones. To show that it’s not winning at any cost, review your formal and informal reward and recognition systems to acknowledge people who model balancing performance and wellbeing.
You need to ensure you have right-sized your objectives for the team members you’ve got, especially if the business outcomes or the size of your team has changed since the team objectives were set.
Consider how the decisions you make send a clear message about what you value. Use these symbols to send unambiguous messages that the wellbeing of your team is important. Here are two typical symbols that leaders can use to signal their intent.
Avoid rewarding and promoting managers and leaders who ‘break’ their teams in order to deliver the targets. We’ve all heard stories of toxic leaders who are tolerated because they are top performers. Making bold decisions around who leaves your organisation is an important symbol that would send a strong message about what is truly valued.
Making small adjustments to the team meeting can dilute pressure in your teams.
And even when you have the best intentions, there will be times when people are stressed. Under stress people are much more likely to get things out of proportion and start justifying why something can’t happen or start blaming other people or they simply use avoidance tactics. They go into victim mode. We call this going ‘Below the Line’ mindset and it blocks performance. A more helpful mindset to tackle the obstacles we all encounter, is to take an ‘Above the Line’ mindset where people feel like they have a choice and an ability to respond, no matter the circumstances.
When either you or your team are faced with challenging circumstances, explicitly take an Above the Line approach by exploring "Okay, given the situation, how do we choose to respond?". Immediately, they will feel more empowered and take positive action, rather than sliding into a downward spiral. It takes time and intention, but coaching your team into an Above the Line mindset is incredibly helpful for their, and your, wellbeing and importantly, it drives action and performance.
Creating a performance driven culture that also fosters wellbeing doesn’t happen overnight. But by taking some of the practical actions listed above, you can strike a good balance. And remember, wellbeing is not something you ‘do’ to your organisation, but is the outcome of a healthy culture.
Contact us to begin your culture transformation journey.