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Can We Simplify Wellbeing?

Interview with Aaron Jarden

When it comes to helping leaders improve their people’s wellbeing where do you suggest they start? Top-down? Bottom-up? Everyone at one time? Wish you had a simple framework to help organizations figure it out and take action?

Given that employees with higher levels of wellbeing are much more likely to be engaged, productive and healthier it makes sense for organizations to have robust wellbeing programs in their workplace. However, when regular health checks or going along to yoga sessions feels like just one more job requirement rather than giving us a much needed break, our wellbeing can be undermined by the programs that are implemented. Research suggests that when it comes to wellbeing programs, some employers seem to be missing the point, and what is actually needed to improve wellbeing is a happier workplace. But would this approach seem too ‘soft’ or should you hit them hard with the scientific lingo?

How can you introduce this wellbeing approach to organizations?

Recently I asked Dr. Aaron Jarden, a senior lecturer in psychology at Auckland University of Technology and a leading organizational wellbeing researcher and consultant about the most effective way he’s found to embed wellbeing programs into workplaces. While Aaron noted that this is an area needing more research, he’s found the use of a simple ‘me’, ‘we’ and ‘us’ framework can be understood by anyone in an organization, from front line workers to CEOs. “It gives me a practical language to get others on board, to understand the concepts, and envisage how the strategies will be implemented” said Aaron.

The’ me’ part of this focuses on the individual employees, and the things they can do to at a personal level to improve their wellbeing that require little, if any resources from their organization. For example, it might be discovering their strengths and finding ways to use them as they go about their work.

The ‘we’ is aimed at the relationships between people in the workplace. It might be the employee and their manager, the employee and their team, or others they interact with on a regular basis. This is where interventions like creating a more giving culture, fostering high quality connections, or cultivating a growth mindset environment can be invested in.

The ‘us’ level means taking a whole of the organization approach. It may involve doing a wellbeing audit or committing resources to establish an organizational-wide program. And draws on positive organization methods such as appreciative inquiry.

So is it best to start with the me, we or us?

Aaron suggests there’s no right way to start implementing a wellbeing program. He has seen it successfully start from the bottom up - ‘me’, as well as top down -‘us’ level and recommends each organization carefully consider their context, resources and commitment before they begin. He has found however, that getting senior management buy-in can make the process a whole lot easier.

Aaron is also finding that investing in micro-interventions–small simple actions that take little time and resources- at each level can make a real change to workplace culture and individual wellbeing.

He shares three approaches for introducing a wellbeing program in the workplace:

  • Building awareness - of what a good day at work actually might look like. When Aaron goes into an organization it’s the first question he asks, and he always gets a stunned silence in reply. He believes it’s because employees don’t spend time thinking about this or perhaps don’t even think they have a right to feel happy at work. But by building an awareness of a good day in the context of the actual workplace is an important first step in implementing a wellbeing plan.
  • Taking a ‘top down’ approach – most senior leaders and managers have been taught a range of traditional skills that they draw on to provide the results they need. So introducing new systems requires getting them to believe that what you are offering will help them achieve at least the same, if not better results in areas such as engagement and productivity. By introducing ‘us’ level micro-interventions any manager, regardless of competing priorities, can find the time to implement actions and experience the real benefits these provide.

For example, one of the organizations Aaron works with have the senior leadership team regularly report to the CEO about employees who are doing really well. This small practice ensures leaders are continuously looking for the good in their people. Then every Friday lunch time the CEO catches up with one of these employees, and chats about what it is they enjoy about their work and why they value being part of their organization.

Taking a bottom-up approach – there are a range of micro-interventions at the ‘me’ level that people can practice to improve their wellbeing. Keeping in mind that not all interventions suit everyone, and it’s important to find the activity that best fits with you.

One of Aaron’s favorite ‘me’ micro-intervention is a simple three-breath exercise that can help you pause, relax and get into a positive state of mind. So on the first deep breath, you focus on becoming aware of and relaxing your physical body. On the second breath, you focus on what you’re grateful for right in this moment, not in the past or future. And on the third breath you consciously cultivate an intentional state that will serve you well in your task at hand –it might be tapping into one of your strengths such as curiosity, open-mindedness, or critical thinking.

How can you make your approach simpler to get organizations on board with wellbeing programs?

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