Corporate Wellness Programmes: A Fresh Perspective

It is no secret that the CoVID-19 pandemic brought a vast amount of unexpected stress into the lives of people across the globe. During this period there was a 25% increase in prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide according to the World Health Organisation. Feelings of loneliness, concern about loved ones, fear of infection and, financial worries are among the many stressors that have led to this increase.

After numerous months of working from home, employees have either returned to the office or have settled into a hybrid working model. Employee wellness programmes are well positioned to facilitate this transition, but the question is: Are these programmes too narrowly focused on individual self-care and one-on-one interventions at the expense of other psychological needs?

The pandemic caused a significant disconnect between individuals and their critical support systems, which exacerbated the levels of stress, depression, and anxiety. Re-connecting is considered to be a powerful antidote to this silent pandemic. Offering self-care solutions at the individual level fails to consider the importance of belonging to optimal human wellness, and counterintuitively serves to reinforce the disconnect. What is needed instead is a way to foster interpersonal connections and build a sense of community between employees.

In an article written in the Harvard Business Review it is mentioned that “the solution requires a totally different approach to workplace suffering. Rather than focusing on self-care, we need to be better at taking care of each other. This begins by framing employee distress as a collective rather than individual problem. It then entails creating and fostering what we call ‘relational pauses’. This approach allows organizations to build more substantive and enduring foundations for genuine well-being and, ultimately, operational effectiveness.” These moments of connection promote genuine interactions between your employees that will in turn impact their wellbeing at the individual level.

Giving employees individual perks such as at home wellness programmes, health or wellness tips, access to health apps and so on only perpetuates the feelings of isolation, which may ironically worsen their mental health. This individual support idea needs to be flipped on its head with an alternative focus on how you can encourage your employees to feel like they are not struggling alone.

Create a sense of belonging

We all have a strong desire to feel a sense of belonging, a sense that ‘we are in this together’, even those who identify as more introverted. Creating this unified feeling encourages employees to build genuine connections, which in turn fosters a community feeling that they have missed out on since the onset of the pandemic. Framing a shared understanding of what they have been through and that they don’t have to suffer in silence promotes an authentically supportive workplace. Creating a conducive environment of this nature, where employees feel unified, combined with the idea that we are stronger and better together serves to mutually enhance both individual wellbeing and productivity.

Set aside time to boost genuine connections

Once a sense of belonging is created in the workplace, employees will feel more open to collaboration, which is known to be a key ingredient in organisational success. Open a space for discussions where employees can work together to find an answer or simply share frustrations, joys, and concerns in an informal way. Think of team meetings more as focus groups where ideas are encouraged to emerge in the natural flow of conversation. The key is to shift employees away from solving problems in silos towards a more collaborative and creative spirit where the ‘new normal’ can be navigated in an uplifting and fruitful manner.

Let’s relate to each other

When people are given permission to relate openly to one another about things that they have experienced it allows for more authentic conversations, thereby boosting their sense of wellbeing. It also creates a context of ‘I am not alone in this’, which helps people to see their reality in less extreme ways. When someone shares their unique experience of overwhelming anxiety, depression, or stress they open the opportunity to give and receive empathy and acceptance, which serves to alleviate the burden. Sharing with others helps us to work through things from different perspectives other than our own, which is typically limited and incomplete, and allows us to think more clearly. Someone else might have some tips or tools that could help us to resolve unpleasant feelings and find the most effective way of moving forward.

Sharing makes you more self-aware

After employees take time to discuss their shared experiences, they will start to learn more about themselves. They might start to notice more about how they have handled situations in the past, what their emotional triggers are, and how important it is to take time to reflect and work through them.

Creating a sense of belonging in your organisation

It is important to set aside time to allow for these interactions to happen. We understand that time is limited but ultimately the time spent in authentic engagement with others will boost each employees’ wellbeing which in turn positively boosts productivity. Here are some examples of situations that you can leverage for ’relational pauses’:

  1. Incorporate into daily/weekly team meetings: Use some time during your regular daily or weekly meetings to allow for open discussions surrounding employees’ experiences. Prepare a few prompts or reflections that will encourage an open discussion, “In what areas do you currently feel in control?”, “What changes would you like to see in the world?”, “Describe a memorable moment that you had in the past week” etc.
  2. Heated situations: When a meeting or a situation has become heated in the work environment allow for a moment away from the issue and encourage your team members to discuss what they are experiencing. Encourage employees to listen from a place of curiosity (“not knowing”) to counter any temptations to interrupt or play the ‘blame game’.
  3. Build it as part of your culture: Consistently giving your employees the opportunity to speak their mind will create a healthy expectation within your company culture. It is even recommended to share something you have experienced to show vulnerability and understanding. This will encourage others to do the same.
  4. Build on your current wellness program: You may already have a few wellness activities in place at your organisation. Adapt these activities to incorporate time for open discussions. This can be included as part of regular fitness classes, wellness events, webinars and so on.

The workplace is a safe space for all

In the past, the work environment may not have been the appropriate place to discuss the realities of personal life. But now is the time to create that space for your employees. It is up to leaders to act as role models and create the change so that employees feel comfortable to share their own experiences. Contrary to traditional thinking, this approach is unlikely to degrade levels of professionalism and productivity, while additionally allowing for growth and collective wellbeing that will resonate positively through your organisation as a whole.

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