Is your wellbeing strategy resilient to the pace of change?
26th September, 2018
Dr Gavin Weeks
Let’s begin by taking perspective on what we know: we know
that improving mental health is a positive
both for individuals and businesses. Crucially, we also know that
there are things we can do to positively impact mental health. Take, for example,
Practices for a Life Well Lived from Professor Kelly Wilson
of the University of Mississippi . In short, his practices are:
Minimise your exposure to chemical and social
toxins (the latter simply referring to ensuring that we don’t spend all of our
time in emotionally unpleasant environments)
Ensure you get enough sleep
Eat highly nutritious foods
Move your body every day
Practice mindfulness every day
Cultivate positive social networks
Do something every day that contributes to a
sense of meaning or purpose
Practice small acts of self-compassion
But do we really look
These aren’t a silver bullet, nor are they the single
authorised list of practices for improving wellbeing. I include them because
you’ve no doubt seen them before. But here is a question: do you actually do
all of those things? Do you make time for them in your working day? If you are
a manager do you create the space for your team to do the same?
If your answers to those questions are a resounding ‘yes’
then congratulate yourself. You are demonstrating that resilience is a practice
and no doubt reaping the benefits. You may, however, have read it and noticed
some gaps (just how much do I do that
meditation practice?) If you’re a leader in business you might even have
thought about the environment your people are exposed to (is it a positive
social network or one full of social toxins?)
Taking a step back
Organisations like Business
in The Community and the Mad World Forum offer so many positive
examples of great practice in mental health but I think we need to take a step
back and consider the challenges faced by employees and leaders implementing,
so that we can ensure that we create the kind of environments that empower
individuals to improve wellbeing and build resilience. I think there are two
challenges that we need to acknowledge.
Challenge 1: the
winds of change
Talk to anyone in a corporate role and you’ll rarely hear
the environment described as ‘stable’. It is not uncommon for people to undergo
yearly restructuring and, if not, a major change project. Indeed, in Deloitte’s
2017 Human Capital Trends report, 88% of over 10,000 leaders saw ‘Building the
Organisation of the Future’ as an important task. The pace of change is
unlikely to slow down.
Change tends to have two effects. First, it demands of us
that we do things that we are not used to, perhaps have never done before.
Second, it drains us of time. Time that we could be using to do those very
things that make us more resilient to change in the first place: it is a classic
Challenge 2: the
digital elephant in the room
Much of the changes we are seeing in businesses is driven by
technology. That changing technology is a further challenge to our minds. Neuroscientist
Adam Gazzaley from University of California, San Francisco, argues that the way
that we engage with technology means that we are more distracted. In his words,
we have ‘ancient minds in a high-tech world’ and we are suffering a cognition
crisis. At the very least we risk becoming more distractible. At
worst, our relationship with technology presents yet another risk to mental
Put these two factors together: the challenge of organisational
change and an increasingly distracted mind cognition crisis; and we have a
recipe for reduced wellbeing and worsening mental health. At best, this is not
the kind of context in which we can do our best thinking or bring our highest
levels of creativity.
Reasons to be
I don’t mean to paint an apocalyptic picture here. We are
not doomed. In his book, the Distracted Mind, written with Larry Rosen,
Gazzaley offers some very familiar recommendations for dealing with the
cognition crisis that he articulates:
Take time away from technology
The parallels with the 8 practices I referenced earlier are
clear. Maybe there is no such thing as a new idea but there are many good ideas
that never quite got implemented.
Resilience practices are not a silver bullet. We can’t
meditate or run ourselves out of the challenges of the modern working world.
But these things are the foundation on which we can build, on which we can be
more thoughtful about how we enact the changes that are being asked of us.
How can we keep
wellbeing on the agenda?
If change isn’t going away and technology is only getting
more distracting, what can we do to ensure that wellbeing and resilience stays
on the agenda? What might get in the way of creating environments in which
people really prioritise wellbeing? Recently, in development programmes, my
colleagues and I have been talking about the 4Rs of change. These are the key
influences on organisational behaviour change. I believe they apply to
wellbeing as much as any other major change:
Rules – the rules of the game at work: is individual wellbeing really important or
given ‘lip service’?
Routines – the working practices and habits
that we adopt: are resilience practices
part of the routine or what we do when the ‘real work’ is done?
Rewards – the actions that get reinforced: what are the (often subtle) consequences of
taking time out to look after one’s health? What do people learn they have to
sacrifice if they want to get ahead in their career?
Relationships – the people around us and the
influence they have: are there supportive
networks around wellbeing and resilience?
I believe that organisations need to think about
these four areas to develop a really meaningful wellbeing strategy, one that is
itself resilient to the ever-blowing winds of change.
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Dr Gavin Weeks
Dr Gavin Weeks is fascinated by the challenges people face in responding to a changing world. He is a clinical psychologist and consultant whose work is focused on helping people make values-led changes. He spends about half of his time designing and delivering leadership development programmes, bringing his understanding of human psychology and change to major strategic challenges. He balances this with work with individuals and groups as therapist and coach, focusing on personal development, mental health and wellbeing. Whilst he is fascinated by the complexity of human behaviour and conscious that we are far from having all the answers, he draws particularly on behavioural psychology, Acceptance and Commitment therapy and mindfulness-based approaches.