Corporate wellness is a relatively new concept. But it doesn’t take a huge leap of progressive thought to know healthy workers make a healthy company and the healthier your employees are the bigger the bottom line.
For too long employees navigating the high-pressured world of corporate life had to do so in silence. For to speak your mind was considered weak or displayed vulnerability, both of which were not privileged in the working environment. However, things are changing.
The corporate world is realising the importance of wellness in the everyday life of an employee. And in my experience this is not merely being paid lip service but is being taken very seriously.
All of which is a very positive step forward for everyone working in this space.
A survey carried out by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Works found 22% of Irish workers experience stress ‘most of the time’ or ‘always’.
It said work-related stress (WRS) is the second common cause of work-related health problems after back pain. These statistics should serve as a warning sign to anyone charged with wellness in work.
So the big question facing managers in the corporate field is; how do we go about the business of improving wellbeing in our organisation? In my own clinical practice I see the fall-out when workers are over-stressed and feel they have nowhere to turn.
I hear the same narrative of being over-worked, having difficult relationships with colleagues and senior management, ethical dilemmas and burnout. So what would help to improve these experiences? I was trained in systems theory, so I have a particular insight into how systems organise themselves and how people experience themselves in the role they have be assigned within that system.
I regularly give talks to firms about the necessity to improve the wellness of their system so they can better support the people who work within it. It really seems to me that senior management are fully committed to the drive for mental health promotion in work.
It is very easy to think that the more work you do and the more time you spend in the office is a proxy of your seriousness for that job. But this is an anachronistic way of viewing work.
Being frenetically busy is just a sign you cannot manage your role, not that you are super committed and deserve a raise.
Listen to the narrative you tell yourself about your work and try to understand why you hold that belief. When I give these talks I outline four key areas that must be in place for a healthy system.
A connected working environment: When we feel connected at work it actually increases neural pathways in the brain. This sense of connection, science has shown, improves our wellbeing. The World Health Organisation says good health is not merely the absence of ill health, but also a state of wellbeing.
And wellbeing is directly linked to job satisfaction. So when we feel connected to the work we do and the people we work with it improves our overall sense of wellbeing.
Do what is right for your organisation: It is important the strategy you adopt is the right fit for your company. For example, there is no point devising a plan that you do not have the funding to implement. Or what I used to find was certain people got appointed the task of mental health promotion within the firm but they had no real interest in this area so they looked to other firms to see what they did and attempt to do the same.
This type of approach is doomed to failure because each system is utterly unique. And your plan must be bespoke to the demands of your organisation. Obviously a law firm will have different demands than a medical clinic.
Identifying particular risks: look at your organisation, what are the most prevalent issues staff talk about? Are the issues burnout, work overload or bullying? Devise a plan to improve whatever area you see as hotspots.
This may involve in-service in the case of bullying or having a psychology/psychotherapy clinic working with your company around mental health promotion. Listen to your staff.
Develop autonomy: The more we feel in control of the work we do and how we do it, the better we feel about ourselves. Michel Foucault says ‘where there is power there is resistance’.
If an employee feels their voice is not respected or listened to it will diminish their sense of self and make them pull against the organisation.
We spend, on average, 47.1 hours a week in work. It is a fallacy to think we can compartmentalise ourselves so that when we enter work we leave private and happy self at home. It does not work like that.
And the more we pay attention to creating an environment that both encourages and supports mental health promotion the more effective and happier we will be in the work we do.