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Community is the Missing Link

18th April, 2019

Gabi Macra




Is community the missing link in our workplace wellbeing programmes? The answer, simply, is yes.


How Important is Community

Think of the last time someone “hurt your feelings” or “broke your heart”.  These phrases exist in our language because social pain is as visceral as breaking a bone. Matthew Lieberman’s book Socialtalks about exactly this phenomenon, we are wired to connect and social pain is as real as physical pain.

 

Our need for positive human connection is as important to our health as the need for food and water.  A recent article in Mindful puts community as a core component of healing saying community IS medicine.

 

So how important is community?  Let’s say we agree at this point that community is VERYimportant in our lives.

 

Community in Workplace Wellbeing Programmes

Full time employees in the UK spend on average 36% of their waking lives at work with this figure going as high as 70% in specific industries and professions.  Based on those statistics alone it’s not a huge leap to say that our sense of connection and community in the workplace is important to our overall health.

 

In our personal lives we’ve moved towards managing and measuring our health via Apps; MyFitnessPal, Headspace and Sleep Cycle to name a few.  

 

Workplace wellbeing programmes are following suit and often centre their solutions on digital, technology-based programmes focussed on information sharing and data collection.  


It’s not all tech though as companies are increasingly recognising the diversity in their people’s wellbeing needs with a recent Forbes article, Seven Employee Wellness Trends for 2019,listing personalisation as a key trend.  

 

However, the article went on to list AI, technology and going digital as the premium solutions to personalisation.  It suggests using the approach of “ask your people for feedback” as a backstop if digital solutions are not in the budget.

 

I would argue that going online for our health is taking us further offline from the core ingredient of community and that wellbeing programmes centred on community with technology as an enabler are the most effective.

 

In today’s world digital is powerful and data is king.  Both are here to stay and both can have significant impacts on our wellbeing, for the good and for the bad.

 

Moving towards the good let’s look at using technology to drive community-centric solutions for wellbeing.  In my opinion, technology may be the tool, but community is the answer.

 

Adopting a Community-Centric Wellbeing Model

First and foremost, flip the model on its head.  Unfollow the pack and let the diversity in your workplace directly drive the diversity and inclusion in your wellbeing model.

 

1.    Ask: Find out what your employees want to see in their workplace wellbeing programme.  This is your why and the why informs the how.

2.    Listen: There will be common themes.  Use them as directional markers.

3.    Empower: Empower your employees to lead the charge.  Find the leaders behind your common themes and empower them to build communities together.  People respond much better to things that they believe in and create versus things that are done to them.

4.    Try new things: Don’t be afraid to trial new things.  Have a go at a mindfulness course .  It might be your best decision so far.

5.    Diversity & Change: There is no one size fits all and no fit is forever.  Be willing to have a range of offerings and to adapt over time.

6.    Find a few universally impactful items: Go for some easy wins.  

7.    Simple Measures : Look at ways to keep your pulse on the overall wellbeing of employees and use this as your marker over time.  Be simple and consistent.

8.    Community IS the Secret Ingredient: Creating a sense of connection and community isn’t just about strengthening connections within your workforce.  Connect with your local community to supercharge your wellness and ultimately your business.

 

Case Study

So here is an example of how the model above works in practice.

 

Up until August 2018 I had a 9-5 job working in the European division of a large global insurer.  Yoga is a core practice within my personal wellbeing and, having met various people within my organisation who felt the same, I took the initiative and set off to find a way to bring yoga into the local office in London.

 

The Proposal

I wrote a proposal for trialling yoga in the office.  The trial was cost neutral:

·       Venue : office space out of hours

·       Instructors : two qualified yoga teachers working in our office volunteered

·       Equipment : branded company yoga mats from a corporate event earlier that year

 

Attracting over 200 signatures of support the trial period was approved.  This outcome was in spite of resistance from some of the Execs and ambivalence from all but ONE Exec who quickly signed up to be our sponsor.

 

The Trial

The trial ran for two months with over 130 people joining the group.  Classes were oversubscribed week after week.  Ages ranged from 20 to 60 and the split of males and females was close to 50/50. We had a wait list and had to turn people away!  People from other offices contacted us to see if we could help them start something similar while others who couldn’t make the scheduled times asked if other offerings were coming.

 

Mid-way through the trial a survey was conducted with staggeringly positive results;

·       70% indicated yoga had a positive effect on their health and wellbeing

·       Of those attending 100% indicated a reduction in their stress levels, 33% reported improved sleep and 20% felt an increase in their confidence.

 

And best of all free-form feedback showed just how much Real People DO Yoga:

“[Our teachers] turned me from a very inflexible man with the thought that yoga is 'for girls' into a slightly less inflexible man and that I was wrong... thank god this is Anonymous... I've enjoyed my sessions a lot! …”


The Outcome

The yoga group is still running strong, long after my departure.  Budget has now been allocated and the group are looking at ways to make it more accessible to the wider employee base.

 

The Lesson

The example above is of an employee led initiative and at its core, it is a story of community.

 

In a world that is ever increasingly more technology driven, are we missing the key ingredient of community?  We are wired for connection and community needs to be at the core of workplace wellbeing.

Gabi Macra

Gabi Macra is committed to making workplace wellbeing accessible and community based. She is the co-founder of OpenMind Wellbeing, a managed service that brings yoga, meditation and mindfulness into workplaces. She spent 12 years as an Actuary in the corporate world using yoga and meditation throughout to stay grounded. In January 2017 she started teaching yoga and founded Real People do Yoga focussing on accessibility and inclusivity. Earlier this year, Gabi joined OpenMind Wellbeing where she is enjoying the wider scale impact she can make growing wellness communities in and around our workplaces.

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