Well-being is hard to quantify, so it often ends up in the bucket of projects “we will get to one day when we have time.” Yet making sure your team is physically well and psychologically safe is a constant for all team leaders.
I run a coaching practice with a focus on collective well-being, kind leaders and positive workplaces – all informed by a growth mindset. Prompted by my observations of a very fatigued workforce in late 2021, I started questioning what was really going on and looking for ways to better support my clients in a very practical way.
The importance of well-being, particularly mental health, has always been a focus of mine. Around six years ago, after extensive research, I developed an Engagement and Well-being Index – a survey for my clients to complete as a kind of conversation starter. I have found the Index particularly useful over the past two years as it has often helped clients get some clarity around exactly what they need to address when it comes to living at their best, what’s missing, what needs more attention and what is working well.
In the Index, I’ve outlined five pillars of life engagement and well-being:
These pillars are integral to good overall health and engagement in life. ‘Connection’ is the foundational pillar, as our relationships affect the other pillars in multiple ways. Healthy relationships, that sense of belonging and the self-worth we gain from contributing to the lives of others can inform our purpose and how successful we feel, affect our health and allow self-expression/creativity to flourish.
Organizations have a role to play to support employee engagement and well-being. Being an employer of choice equates to good workplace culture. At work, people can foster positive connections, feel like they belong, develop and maintain a sense of purpose, feel competent and be at their best.
Research from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) suggests one-fifth of the Australian population experience a mental health disorder at any point in time and burnout is common. The workplace can be a major contributor – between 15-45%. As Byung-Chul Han alludes to in his book The Burnout Society, multitasking, “user-friendly” technology and the culture of convenience are producing disorders affecting our mental health and well-being. Stress and exhaustion are not just personal experiences but affect the very fabric of our society.
The United Nations’ Sustainability Development Goals recognize that in order to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all, Decent Work and Good Health and Wellbeing be accessible to all. Leaders of any kind and in every setting have a significant role to play in ensuring workplaces are not only positive and enabling, but are psychologically safe.
As a coach-mentor to middle and senior leaders mainly in the public and university sectors, I have noticed a shift in my practice around how people are navigating this “next-normal” and their priorities as a result of the COVID years … the pandemic that just won’t go away. For many, it has affected their well-being – the way they work, the way they live, the way they travel and even the way they think. Our collective relationship with “stress” – how we define it and what reactions we have to it – has a lot to answer for regarding our overall well-being. It’s worth challenging.
My message to leaders has been two-fold: First, to better understand that stress can be both positive and negative, and is a vital part of personal growth and our ability to adapt.
Second, a commitment to challenge our mindsets to maintain resilience and good mental health. When we are stressed or under duress, we have a propensity to want more control, and to keep ourselves and loved ones safe. As a result, our world shrinks. We become more set in our ways and less likely to take risks; we find justification for our actions, judge or blame ourselves and/or others, feel ashamed and operate with a sense of scarcity (not enough money, time, sleep, energy, resources, friends, skills). Sound familiar? In other words, we take shelter in a fixed mindset.
Change and uncertainty are stress-full. They require some discipline to constantly check in to see what conversations are going on in our heads. Are we taking responsibility for those things we can control with a possibilities mindset? And, conversely, are we letting go of what is beyond our control and influence? I call it conscious living – underpinned by gratitude and kindness.
The question remains, as leaders, how do we keep our teams engaged, curious and connected? It starts with you! Challenging your mindset every day and looking at the world with curiosity; accepting those things we cannot control and taking responsibility and looking for possibilities with those things we can. Trusting and bringing your people along the journey with you. In other words – model the way for others, and they will follow.